Join Kristin Ellison for an in-depth discussion in this video Typeface in the modern day, part of Allan Haley on the Evolution of Typeface Design.
- View Offline
- What are the biggest challenges typeface designers are facing today? - Overpopulation. There are 150,000, 200,000 fonts out there. You can only see so many if you're a type user. It is very, very difficult to get the exposure that you want for your design. And everybody thinks their design is the best and gets upset if they're not promoted by the distributor or the foundry.
It's why so many are starting their own foundries, small boutique foundries. But there's a sea of typefaces out there. There is thousands of typeface designers or people calling themselves that. And it's just really, really hard to get that exposure. - Do you have any advice for people in terms of promoting their own fonts, ways they can go about doing that that might be beyond the norm? - The best ones are showing their fonts in use and are people who are naturally promoters.
If they were graphic designers primarily beforehand, and now they're typemakers, they were used to promoting their work, advertising their work for themselves. One of the nice things that a lot of distributors are doing is they're saying, "Give us an image. "Give us images of your fonts in use, "and we're going to put them up on our website." And there's some really great banners up there. The other thing is the backstory. If you can get your backstory on the typeface design in front of designers.
Everybody loves a backstory, loves to know what the thought process was, why you did this, why you think this is a good design. If you can get that story in front of people with a great image wrapped around it, that's the thing to do it. If you do it yourself, you can do it for yourself, you can do it through distributors. You can work with foundries that will take your typefaces in on an exclusive basis, and they will do that for you, and they've got more money to spend, quite frankly. - And designers spend tons of time creating these fonts and typefaces, they're a huge labor of love.
And then you put them out into the world, and they get pirated. It's a big problem. Is there any way for us to combat this? - Education. And I've worked with a lot of the more important design schools in North America, and know that this is happening, is that educators are telling their students there's something, somebody behind this. This is intellectual property, like it's music, you can't just, as easy as it would seem to be in a digital environment, a web environment, you just "It's there, it's digital, I can pull it down, "I can use it, it's my music." Somebody's behind that typeface.
What's helping this is also when those students get out into the marketplace, they are, if they're either working in a large company or they're doing work for companies, businesses, and businesses are getting hip to this. They understand what intellectual property's all about, and if you bring in a pirated font or ripped-off font into a corporation, the IT group's going to say, "Get that thing out of here." "We (laughs) can't afford that kind of stuff." Even if you're working you're a small studio, and you're working for smaller clients, it becomes the norm.
What happens is the larger companies have legal departments, and they're not going to go after small font pirates or some small studio. But if there's a large corporation out there that's using their fonts, and they don't have a license, you can bet they're going to go after them, and they don't lose. If you're a smaller foundry, an individual, you can keep records, you know who's using your fonts, and it's a matter of staying on top of those things and basically what most people believe, on my side of the fence, the type community side, is that most people would rather not be a pirate, rather not steal things, and if you point these things out to people that you know, it's going to cost you 50 bucks, but then you're legal, and you're doing the right thing.
You wouldn't want somebody stealing your design, would you? And nine times out of 14, people will say, "Yeah, you're right, you're right." I think people are inherently good, it's just education. You need to let them know what's the right thing to do. - What do you think of all the free font sites? - I don't think they're good or bad. I think they're just free font sites. There's a purpose for them. There's a purpose for free fonts. It is one way that some of these smaller design studios and independent typeface designers are able to get their typefaces out there.
They'll say, "Here, this is one weight of my family. "It's for free. "If you like it, come back, and you can buy more." That, I think, is a good thing. Yeah, there are bad font sites that are from Eastern Europe who are basically are ripping off libraries. And if you think about it, why are they giving those fonts for free? Why is somebody from Eastern Europe saying to you, or someplace in Asia, "I want to put something in your computer, "and I'm not going to charge you"? You have to think about that a little bit.
Anyway, they're inherently not good or bad, it's just what you do with them. - Right, but they could potentially be dangerous. - Yes, they could. Absolutely. It can put malware in your computer. There can be bad fonts in there. You go to do a job, it's 12:00 at night, (laughs) and your font blows up. What are you going to do? That's not with all free font sites, but it is something you have to be aware. You have to be a good consumer. That's what it really comes down to. And you have to know why you're getting a free font and be smart enough to figure out if it's a good free font.
- For many years, web designers only had a small handful of fonts, and in 2012, Monotype introduced Fonts.com with 7,000 web fonts? - Yes. - There are now 150,000. - Actually there are 40,000. - [Kristin] 40,000. - There are 150,000 fonts available from Fonts.com, and that includes both web fonts and desktop fonts. There are, it's right around 40, 50,000 web fonts. But it's still bigger than a breadbox. - [Kristin] Huge.
- Yes, huge. - And that was a Herculean effort on your guys' part. Can you talk about what went into doing that and what your role was? - It was one of the most exciting times for me being in that side of the typographic community. A little story. The first job I had, I was a type designer. I was a kid, and I worked for a company called Copyographic. And it was a time when it was this explosion in computer technology, and people were fighting for resources, and there was so much growth and so much activity going on.
It was just a marvelous time to be involved in it. Read Tracy Kidder's Soul of a New Machine if you get a chance. That's kind of what happened at Monotype with web fonts. That whole company, now it wasn't that big a company then, it was maybe 100 people, 150 people, everybody in that company was involved with that. marketing was involved with it, engineering was involved with it, font productization was involved with it. There were product managers, in fact, I was the product manager for a long time on that project.
And to see everybody come together on that was just, it was magical. It was crazy, because they were sort of doing things, trying to fix things on the fly, finding out that, oh, you just couldn't put a font up on the web and expect it to work, because all the hints are stripped out, so what are we going to do about that? And what they had to do was a lot on a smaller scale, like what Apple has done with iTunes, you had to go in and touch every one of those fonts. Somebody looked at them. Somebody ran it through at the very least, an optimization program, so that it would work at a certain level in a web environment.
People looked at it and said, "This font's not going to work. "There's nothing we can do with it. "It's not going to work in a web environment. "Fine, take it out of the web environment." It was magic. It was absolutely, it was a two-and-a-half, three-year really project, closer to. But it was just terrific. - How did you choose the first 7,000? - That was easy. The first 7,000 were primarily fonts that Monotype owned at that point. They did, they had purchased the Linotype library.
They had purchased ITC library, and there was the Monotype library, and in looking at them, what they did is they looked at all the agreements they had with external designers, internal designers, and designs that were done by employees, that was their job. And they chose those typefaces that they had the legal right to do that with. Beyond that, they reached out to the design community and said, "This is what we're doing. "We'd like you to be involved with it." "This is an agreement that will allow us "to do these kinds of things." - Did you get any pushback? - Sure, absolutely.
There are always skeptics. There's always a certain amount of fear out there with a new technology. And it's understandable. I mean these designers, it's their babies. They worked on them, and they take care of them, and all of a sudden somebody comes along and says, "We're going to put it in the cloud. "Isn't that a great idea?" (laughs) And you know, they say, "I'm not so sure that is a great idea." It's turned out that it was, but yeah, of course there was pushback.
- And as a product manager, what were some of your days like? What kinds of things were you doing? (Allan laughs) I'm sure it was a lot of different things. But kind of what were some of the things you did? - Well one of the things I learned was that I do a lot of things well, (laughs) but being a project manager wasn't one of them. I was delighted to be a part of the project, and I worked with the rest of the team, and we succeeded in meeting our goals.
It was difficult. And both myself and the VP I reported to realized that "Maybe you ought to do "something different next year, Allan." And I was able to do other kinds of things, but it's the first time I've done that, and it was difficult. It wasn't my skill set. (laughs) - Right. Well you were the director of words and letters. - I was. - What does the director of words and letters do? - What did the director of words and letters do? (laughs) It's a made-up title obviously.
I looked at what I was doing at the company, and I wasn't a typeface designer, but I was very much involved in determining what typefaces went into the library. I wasn't a marketing person, but I was very much involved in the marketing effort. And I produced a lot of content for the company, a lot of hard copy content, print content, and a lot of digital content for the websites. And I thought about that, and I said, "Well, words, that's the content part of it, "and letters, that's working with the typeface designers "and helping to choose those faces "and then actually working with the designers "as a type director in fine-tuning the designs "as they were developed over a period of time." - History and education and writing, would you say that that's kind of where your skill set lies? Is that fair? - Looking back on it, I realize that I've always been a type advocate.
And for the lion's share of my career, I've been an educator. I tried teaching. That's really, really hard work. (laughs) But I'm an educator in a different way. The pieces I write, the content I produce, the presentations I do, the things I do at educational institutions, that's all part of education. And it's something I really, really like. - In 2013, Monotype designer Toshi Omagari took Dwiggins' typeface Metro and gave it a facelift, and it became Metro Nova.
- Correct. - And this was a typeface that had fallen out of fashion, for lack of a better description. What was it about this that made you guys want to invest in it again? - Let me give you a little bit of backstory. When the precursor to what is now Monotype, was Afga Typographic Systems, purchased Monotype right around the turn of the last century, and for five years into that, there was this feeling among the people in Monotype that they were perceived as being old.
This was this old, dusty, fusty kind of company that really made metal typesetting machines, and they kind of looked down on themselves. They didn't have a real good corporate image, a personal, internal corporate image. And then something happened. Younger designers came in to the company, they started looking at the archives, and they said, "You know what? "There's some really great stuff here.
"Why are you turning your back on that? "There's some terrific stuff here. "There's also some stuff that really "needs to be updated." One of the first revivals was a revival of the Badoni family. Badoni was always sort of one of the pillars of the library of Monotype, and when they brought it into phototype, the mistake that was made was made by most foundries, is they said, "We've got to make all these fonts for phototype.
"We'll just go back to the drawings for metal type, "and we'll just make those be the basis "for phototype fonts." What they didn't realize or they didn't think about was that those drawings were actually skinnier. The typeface strokes were narrower than what was perceived when the metal type was pushed onto the paper. Designers knew that ink spreads, and there's a thing that happens there. So when that first Badoni came out, it was lighter, and it didn't look good, and people complained about it.
It took getting into the digital age for all our, one of the internal designers to say, "You know, that's not right," and they came out with a typeface called Badoni Book, which is a more robust version of that beautiful 1920s typeface. Metro, Metro Nova was one of the first. The company is now looking at a lot of older designs and bringing them forward with great success. A dear friend of mine, Rod McDonald, approached me, probably goes back three years ago, and said, "I want to do something with these "early 20th century Grotesques." And we talked about it, and I said, "Yeah, let's do that." And he came out with the Classic Grotesque family that is wildly successful.
They're adding to it, the weight's now, it's going to be a very large family. Recently they looked in the archives and found the sort of typeface that was drawn to be a reaction to both Univers and In Helvetica. It was drawn in the phototype era. It's Neue Haas Unica. And they said, "Let's release that. "Let's bring that forward." Actuallly it was Haas Unica, it was released by Monotype as Neue Haas Unica. They are currently in the process of pulling the final stages together for a very, very large series basically called the Gill Nova series where they're looking at the Gill library, the Gill designs, they're looking at Gill Sans, they're looking at Joanna, which was his slab serif typeface.
And they've made some experiments with that, and they're coming out with this full suite of revived Gill typefaces. So now they're doing new designs, and they're also looking back and really rejoicing in the heritage of the company, which is the right thing to do. Earlier on, we said that's how those classics move forward. You've got to bring them forward into the new technology and have them perform well in the type imaging environments that people are using of the day.
- And will those be marketed as a group? - Yes. They'll come out in November of this year, 2015, and it'll be a full campaign that will probably run the better part of 2016 to talk about these designs.
In this interview, a partnership between Lynda.com and AIGA, Allan talks to Kristin Ellison about typography: why typography inspires a passionate response from cognoscenti and laymen alike, how the evolution from metal-set to digital type has impacted interest, and why certain typefaces endure. They also discuss
- The qualities of a great typeface
- Advice for typeface designers
- The impact of craftspeople like Doyald Young and the Maker movement
- Marketing typefaces and combatting font piracy
- Developing Monotype's Fonts.com library
- Why Monotype reinvests in fonts like Metro and Gill Sans
- Leaving Monotype to consult
- What makes a good addition to a font library
- How to design a font to fulfill a gap in the marketplace
- What's on the horizon for typography