Selecting foundries for in-depth analysis
Communicating with the people who run foundries was in my opinion the best way to obtain specific information that I could compare. The following criteria were chosen for the foundries to be included in a more in-depth analysis. Because my goal is to portray the general state of the industry, I chose criteria that would result in a diverse array of foundries.
- Reputation and popularity (e.g., social media, press coverage)
- Relevance and influence (e.g., interviews)
- Diversity of foundry ages, locations, sizes (staff and type library), and marketing styles
- Diversity of custom and retail offerings
- Proximity (for the benefits of a direct interview)
16I asked each foundry a set of questions that would provide insight on various aspects worth exploring. Type making is still an industry, so I began by looking at questions pertaining to a general analysis of the trade. The survey was also, however, guided significantly by theoretical writings on type design. In addition, for this update of the study, we added a question about the tools used for drawing type and making fonts. Finally, the survey questions were adapted for each foundry.“How to Conduct an Industry Analysis”, Small Business and Technology Development Center
Foundries included in the study
I contacted 45 different foundries, of which 32 provided me with information (black). Additionally, for those who declined the offer or did not respond, I was able to find some data from existing articles and interviews (open bullet). Before sending a questionnaire or starting an interview, I informed myself about each foundry, at times finding data that answered one or more questions. I also returned to foundries that participated in the original 2011 report and updated their answers.
- A2 Types
- b+p swiss typefaces
- BAT Foundry
- Bold Monday
- Atlas Font Foundry
- Canada Type
- Commercial Type
- Dutch Type Library
- Enschedé Font Foundry
- Feliciano Type Foundry
- Font Bureau
- H&FJ (now H&Co.)
- House Industries
- Just Another Foundry
- Klim Type Foundry
- Lucas Fonts
- Mark Simonson
- Mota Italic
- Okay Type
- Process Type Foundry
How to read the graphics in this section
Many of the questions in the survey generated more than one answer. Therefore, the percentages shown in this section do not necessarily total 100%. The graphics simply reflect the most popular answers and the number of applicable foundries out of the complete survey pool. For example, if 20 out of 25 foundries mention “A” in an answer, A gets a value of 80%.
1. The everyday tasks of running a foundry
Q. What does a “regular day” look like for your business? How are duties divided?
- Emailing (a lot!)
- Fielding technical questions from clients
- Quotes for custom work
- Calculating / paying royalties
- Public relations
- Designing specimens and catalogs
- Promotional material
- Social networking
- Managing the website
- Resolving licensing issues
- Technical production
- Keeping up with the industry
“People would be surprised at how much time is spent answering emails and requests from clients.” — Angus R. Shamal, ARS Type
171819Aside from drawing type, running a foundry involves more tasks than one might imagine at first. Many of these are common and necessary to any business, but are, as many have called them, quite “boring”. Angus R. Shamal, who runs ARS Type by himself, comments that people would be surprised at how much time is spent answering emails and requests from clients. Administrative work is arduous; some foundries, like Process, therefore outsource it or hire someone to take care of such tasks. For a period of time, Eric Olson and Nicole Dotin of Process Type Foundry hired someone to take care of their “public face” specifically, so that they would not need to debate a blog post for weeks on end (according to Olson). Also, foundries that work as distributors for other type designers have a few additional matters to take care of. Type-Ø-Tones co-founder José Manuel Urós talks about taking fifteen hours every three months to calculate royalties and pay the designers, sort out the taxes, and manage checks from vendors.Angus R. Shamal. Email interview. Barcelona, October 19, 2011.Eric Olson. Email interview. Barcelona, October 11, 2011.José Manuel Urós. Personal interview. Barcelona, October 20, 2011.
202122Regular days are uncommon, although a few foundries are particularly structured. Eric Olson explains his daily schedule: from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., he only deals with phone calls and email. The time between 1 p.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. is dedicated to type design and production. “That all sounds pretty regimented,” he explains, “but it’s important to create spaces of time for work to happen.” It is the only way to find the appropriate focus needed for this part of the job. Sometimes it can be hard to follow a certain routine, since custom projects and customer support need immediate attention and take precedence over the rest of the work, says Rob Keller, cofounder of Berlin-based Mota Italic. Akiem Helmling, part of the trio Underware, declares simply: “The plot is not to have a plot.”Eric Olson. Email interview. Barcelona, October 11, 2011.Rob Keller. Email interview. Barcelona, November 7, 2013. Akiem Helmling. Email interview. Barcelona, October 18, 2011.
23Of course, taking part in the development of a type foundry does not necessarily imply it is a full-time job, or that it is the main source of income. Roughly a third of the foundries covered in this section only dedicate part of their time to this business. Some also work in the graphic design sphere, and a good number teach. Schedules are therefore organized around these projects, and it does not always leave a lot of time for the foundry. Now director of the Atelier National de Recherche Typographique in Nancy (France), Thomas-Huot Marchand has as little time to dedicate to his foundry 256tm as he did two years ago, back when he was juggling between teaching and graphic design work.Thomas-Huot Marchand. Personal interview. Barcelona, September 16, 2013.
24252627The size of the foundry is also relevant. Predictably, the larger the company, the more structured it is. Workdays are generally more defined and tasks more specifically divided among the employees. OurType, for example, operates a four-person sales office with regular hours. House Industries’ personnel works three days per week in the studio and the other two from home. The roles of each member are particularly defined, whether it is related to type design, lettering, inking, or art-directing the team. On the opposite end of the spectrum, where most type foundries are, working alone implies a different methodology, which has its own repercussions. Mario Feliciano, who runs his foundry by himself, explains: “As I work alone [sic] for so many years my work got blurred with my daily life… I could be busy all day, every day of week”. Ramiro Espinoza, of ReType, summarizes his day thus: “Lots of coffee and about 10 hours in front of the computer” balanced with physical activity. Discipline is fundamental, but one also needs “friends and a partner who understand your passion and the nature of your activity”. Corina Cotorobai. Email interview. Barcelona, November 9, 2011.Rich Roat. Phone interview. Barcelona, October 20, 2011. Mario Feliciano. Email interview. Barcelona, September 9, 2013.MyFonts newsletter: Creative Characters, Issue No. 63, October 2012.
Working from different locations
28293031A fifth of multiperson foundries are spread across different cities and, often, countries. However, this does not seem to be an issue for the members involved. TypeTogether cofounders José Scaglione and Veronika Burian work thousands of miles apart, but handle the distance by communicating every day via Skype or email. Underware members meet for a sauna a few weekends a year, and see each other during the design workshops they undertake together. And that seems to be enough: “If the three of us worked at the same location, it wouldn’t change a lot. The members of OurType, spread across two countries, attempt to meet and bring all staff members and contributing designers together once a year.“Veronika Burian & José Scaglione.” 8 Faces, Winter 2010.http://new.myfonts.com/newsletters/cc/200801.html Corina Cotorobai. Email interview. Barcelona, November 9, 2011. Corina Cotorobai. Email interview. Barcelona, November 29, 2013.
32Moreover, sharing a common studio space is not essential even when all foundry members live in the same city. The co-founders of Type-Ø-Tones are based in Barcelona, but work separately. All four come together to talk about submissions and decide what goes in the foundry’s library.José Manuel Urós. Personal interview. Barcelona, October 20, 2011.
2. Collaborations / outsourcing
Q. Please give a few examples of external collaborations. Are there any tasks that you prefer to outsource?
33343536Type foundries are not unconnected from one another. The type design field being reduced, many joint ventures are sparked between type designers from various foundries. One example is Exljbris founder Jos Buivenga and Martin Majoor, who meet twice a week to work on the typeface Questa in “harmonious collaboration.” Foundries that work as distributors also generally collaborate with the designers of the fonts included in their library. TypeTogether partners work jointly with designers to arrive at a finished product together, the duo helping out with design suggestions and post-production. In a similar fashion, House Industries started a long-term collaboration with designers and lettering artists for the digitization of their Photolettering catalog. Some of these designers also run their own foundry. For example, FF Meta Serif and FF Unit Slab were developed by Commercial Type cofounder Christian Schwartz together with Kris Sowersby of Klim Type Foundry, while Erik Spiekermann approved the decisions. In spite of Sowersby’s location (Wellington, New Zealand) the collaboration ran smoothly via email.http://new.myfonts.com/newsletters/cc/200909.html“Veronika Burian & José Scaglione.” 8 Faces, Winter 2010.Rich Roat. Phone interview. Barcelona, October 20, 2011.Kris Sowersby. Email interview. Barcelona, September 29, 2011.
“Although I draw less than I used to, I still get to draw, because I’ve made it a priority.” — Christian Schwartz, Commercial Type
373839Additionally, the work implied in running a foundry makes it difficult to do everything in-house. Font production, for instance, is laborious and time-consuming, and type designers are not necessarily web and graphic designers. Similarly, most foundries that get involved in non-Latin scripts rely on external help. Foundry members are generally open to outsourcing part of the operation. ARS Type founder Angus R. Shamal, for example, does not feel the need to do it all himself: “When I find that there is something needed to be done which either I don’t have the time or I can’t do as good myself, I [would] rather outsource it to experienced and reliable professionals.” Other type designers equally recognize the advantages of outsourcing. Peter Biľak, who initially took care of everything from programming to accounting himself, points out that delegating work saves time and allows one to focus on other aspects of the business. Similarly, Christian Schwartz comments: “Although I draw less than I used to, I still get to draw, because I’ve made it a priority.”Angus R. Shamal. Email interview. Barcelona, October 19, 2011.Peter Biľak. Reputations. Eye, Spring 2010.Christian Schwartz. “Why did I start a type foundry?”
404142Some foundries do not receive but provide such services. Tim Ahrens from Munich-based Just Another Foundry, for example, can help other foundries with font production work thanks to his experience. Canada Type and ReType provide similar services.Tim Ahrens. Email interview. Barcelona, November 3, 2011. Patrick Griffin. Email interview. Barcelona, July 8, 2013.Ramiro Espinoza. Email interview. Barcelona, July 18, 2013.
3. Custom vs. retail
Q. During the last few years, what proportion of time has been dedicated to custom type design versus type design intended for the retail market?
4344454647Not all foundries are involved in custom type projects. House Industries’ head Rich Roat, for instance, believes they are simply not the best people for the job. Others, like Vienna-based foundry Typejockeys, do little of it because custom type is an “almost nonexistent market in Austria”. In contrast, Textaxis head Iñigo Jerez only works on custom typefaces, and in some cases these typefaces become available for retail. Then there is the case of the former Porchez Typofonderie, which has grown and divided operations into two separate companies: Zecraft, dedicated to custom work only and Typofonderie, now focused on retail releases.Rich Roat. Phone interview. Barcelona, October 20, 2011.Michael Hochleitner. Email interview. Barcelona, November 3, 2011. Iñigo Jerez. Email interview. Barcelona, July, 17, 2013.http://typecache.com/interviews/03/
4849Custom work is a category of work that comes and goes, and it can be difficult to determine the exact amount of time spent on it. Nonetheless, a number of the interviewed foundries who do both retail and custom work were able to pinpoint approximately how much they spent on one as opposed to the other over the last few years. Even if there is a tendency to spend more time on retail fonts, answers were quite varied. Veronika Burian says that the custom design part is growing, but that retail “is still the biggest chunk, say 75/25”. For Paul van der Laan, partner at Bold Monday, it appears to be the other way around: “Custom jobs have definitely taken the majority of our energy for the last few years… around 65 percent of our time”.Veronika Burian. Email interview. Barcelona, November 3, 2011.Paul Van der Laan. Email interview. Barcelona, August 14, 2011.
As a rule, when a foundry receives a call about a custom job, that project becomes the priority, and retail work is put on hold. The goal is often to find a healthy balance between the two.
50515253It remains the case that bespoke type is an important source of revenue for many foundries. As a rule, when a foundry receives a call about a custom job, that project becomes the priority, and retail work is put on hold. The goal is often to find a healthy balance between the two. Mota Italic’s Rob Keller says that the current balance is appropriate (custom work represents approximately 20 percent of the foundry’s work), but that throughout 2010 bespoke projects were so time-consuming that they did not allow for progress on the foundry’s own work. Not every incoming custom proposal is automatically accepted, though: Ian Party from Swiss Typefaces explains that the foundry is selective about the custom work it takes on (around 55 percent in the last few years) because, in spite of the quick revenue it generates, retail work may be even more profitable than custom work after seven to ten years.Tim Ahrens. Email interview. Barcelona, November 3, 2011.Rob Keller. Email interview. Barcelona, November 1, 2011.Rob Keller. Email interview. Barcelona, November 7, 2013.Ian Party. Skype interview. Barcelona, July 29, 2013.
545556Extra revenue can be obtained by releasing custom work after the period of exclusivity has ended. As Schwartz points out, “Commissions are an excellent source of retail fonts. After all, the client has already proven there is some demand.” This practice is not widespread, however. Underware or Typerepublic, for example, prefer to offer full exclusivity to their clients and, often, it depends on the project.Christian Schwartz. “Why did I start a type foundry?”Akiem Helmling. Email interview. Barcelona, October 18, 2011.Andreu Balius. In-person interview, Barcelona, October 27, 2011.
4. Type design tools
Q. What tools does your foundry use for drawing type? (analog and/or digital)
What tools do you use for mastering fonts? (glyph/family management, interpolation, hinting, OT features, generation, etc.)
It is commonly assumed that type designers draw a lot. That is probably only half true, since roughly 50 percent of the interviewed foundries use analog tools in their type design workflow, usually for sketching initial ideas. This mostly consists of drawing on paper using pencils or various types of pens and markers. Still, it’s far from being a compulsory or particularly extensive step.
5758Indeed, the other half usually jumps to the screen immediately. Mario Feliciano, for instance, affirms that he never draws by hand. Canada Type cofounder Patrick Griffin explains that, depending on the project, the process may or may not include an analogue step: “With custom fonts where clients want a certain feel, we start with sketches on paper. With retail, it’s almost always a digital start.”Mario Feliciano. Email interview. Barcelona, September 9, 2013.Patrick Griffin. Email interview. Barcelona, July 8, 2013.
5960While FontLab remains the most used tool for both design and production / mastering work, one can perceive an effervescence in the type design tools sphere compared to a few years ago. Indeed, if we compare the results of this survey with the one carried out by Stephen Coles on Typophile in 2007, it is obvious that while FontLab is still on top, it is now surrounded by a variety of new tools. Alejandro Lo Celso. Email interview. Barcelona, August 7, 2013.http://typedrawers.com/discussion/350/2007-poll-on-type-design-tools
While FontLab remains the most used tool for both design and production / mastering work, one can perceive an effervescence in the type design tools sphere compared to a few years ago.
6162636465Especially in the drawing phase, many foundries have or are considering switching to a different application, namely RoboFont or Glyphs. Mark Simonson, for instance, is evaluating alternatives to FontLab: “My workflow is in flux at the moment”. Both Just Another Foundry and Mota Italic members have recently switched from FontLab to Glyphs for design work. Rob Keller explains: “I’ve been entirely happy with Glyphs, it does almost everything I’ve needed so far, and it is much quicker and more efficient than FontLab.” Swiss Typefaces members mainly use RoboFont in this step as well, and barely touch FontLab since, according to them, it doesn’t work very well on the new systems. According to PampaType founder Alejandro Lo Celso, these new tools permit a “better relationship with what one designs”.Mark Simonson. Email interview. Barcelona, August 2, 2013.Tim Ahrens. Email interview. Barcelona, August 1, 2013.Rob Keller. Email interview, on Barcelona, November 7, 2013.Ian Party. Skype interview. Barcelona, July 29, 2013. Alejandro Lo Celso. Email interview. Barcelona, August 7, 2013.
66Still, since for now FontLab appears to be the best option for the production / mastering phase, many type designers end up using this application combined with others such as Superpolator and a variety of scripts to arrive at a final font. Says Keller: “Glyphs is my main tool lately… However, I have yet to ship a final, properly produced font with it… If/when I need to produce TTFs, then for sure FontLab is the only option. Same for hinting.”Rob Keller. Email interview, on Barcelona, November 7, 2013.
6768Aside from the tools mentioned earlier and pictured in the infographic, a few foundry members have mentioned other unusual tools. Process Type Foundry cofounder Eric Olson’s most used tool is “sadly the delete key,” as most of his time is spent editing and refining. And, for Paul van der Laan of Bold Monday, a good coffee machine is indispensable.Eric Olson. Email interview. Barcelona, August 5, 2013.Paul Van der Laan. Email interview. Barcelona, August 14, 2011.
5. Distribution choices
Q. “What motivates the way you choose to offer your retail fonts (whether exclusively through your own foundry or through resellers)?”
69Type foundries that work with distributors have various motives for doing so. Generally, distributors are used to complement foundries’ existing customer base. MyFonts is particularly popular because of its size, quality service, and foundry-friendly royalty terms. But it does not offer the best visibility, and its lack of editorial filter is a turn-off. FontShop is particularly favored by foundries who want their designs to be seen alongside work chosen with care. Foundries looking for greater visibility in Europe also tend to prefer this distributor. As for webfonts, many foundries have embraced Typekit, but more than one are unhappy with the limited earnings received. Alternatives to this popular subscription-based system include Fontdeck, Webtype and WebINK. Okay Type founder Jackson Cavanaugh is quite happy with his recent collaboration with Webtype: “I feel like they treat me like a partner rather than another anonymous product supplier (unlike the big font vendors)”. Interestingly, collaborations with vendors are not always initiated by the foundry itself. Distributors also invite foundries to include their work in their catalog.Jackson Cavanaugh. Email interview. Barcelona, August 5, 2013.
Two opposing views on distribution emerge. Some foundries prefer to make use of many distributors and thus reach a variety of customers, while others limit their choices or sell exclusively.
70717273747576From the interviews undertaken, two opposing views on distribution emerge. Some foundries prefer to make use of many distributors and thus reach a variety of customers, while others limit their choices or sell exclusively. The Underware trio, for example, do not want to force people to buy directly from their website. Collaborating with a variety of distributors makes sense because “every designer prefers a different distributor, and mostly they want to buy their fonts at one place”. Typejockeys cofounder Michael Hochleitner states: “We want our fonts to be used by a broad variety of customers; therefore, we like to disperse.” In contrast, other foundries such as Mota Italic are considering using a few distributors but they generally like the idea of “not being listed with every other font in the world”. Kris Sowersby, who retails directly through Klim and through Village, asks: “Why would I want to be thrown in with 30,000 other fonts, competing for space, promotion, and attention on the one website?” By selling in very few places only, Sowersby avoids the inconvenience of customers comparing offers from myriad distributors. Also, it is impossible to tell if by using many distributors the customer base is not simply redirected. Similarly, House Industries sells its typefaces exclusively to have complete control over their marketing; in the same vein, Swiss Typefaces member Emmanuel Rey explains that the foundry doesn’t only sell typefaces, but also an image of design that they want to control. Finally, a few foundries, like Typofonderie, have arrived at a middle ground. Typofonderie makes use of many distributors, but the complete versions of fonts are sold exclusively through the foundry’s website. Akiem Helmling. Email interview. Barcelona, October 18, 2011.Michael Hochleitner. Email interview. Barcelona, November 3, 2011.Rob Keller. Email interview. Barcelona, November 1 and 7, 2011.Kris Sowersby. Email interview. Barcelona, September 29, 2011.Rich Roat. Phone interview. Barcelona, October 20, 2011.Emmanuel Rey. Skype interview. Barcelona, July 29, 2013.http://typofonderie.com/
7778Some of the foundries studied only rely on vendors for the distribution of their fonts. Mark Simonson depends on a great number of vendors and uses his website solely to showcase his fonts. Sudtipos founder Ale Paul explains that distributors have larger databases, so he prefers having them solve everyday client problems.Mark Simonson. Email interview. Barcelona, October 22, 2011.Alejandro Paul. Email interview. Barcelona, July 27, 2013.
Q. Is your foundry targeting a specific kind of customer?
Designers appear to be motivated by their personal interest, creating typefaces they enjoy making, find interesting, and would use themselves.
798081828384According to the information gathered, type foundries usually do not have particular clients in mind, other than the general graphic designer, when designing retail typefaces. In the case of Canada Type, cofounder Patrick Griffin explains that they don’t want to risk becoming a “one-trick pony” and exclude others. Instead, designers appear to be motivated by their personal interest, creating typefaces they enjoy making, find interesting, and would use themselves. Bold Monday cofounder Paul van der Laan explains that most of their retail typefaces “are the product of a personal fascination (or in other words: a rather silly idea that just got out of hand)”. That allows them to strike a balance between retail and bespoke work. Peter Biľak, of Typotheque, prefers to focus on usability rather than on a target group: “First I create, then I think of how it can be offered to the public.” He admits that might not be the best idea economically — but that it works. House Industries’ head Rich Roat does not worry too much about customers, either: “If we do something that’s functional, designers will use it.” This thinking does not apply to all foundries, though: for one-person foundries like Sudtipos and ReType, design always combines personal taste with offering commercially viable typefaces to the public.Patrick Griffin. Email interview. Barcelona, July 8, 2013.Paul Van der Laan. Email interview. Barcelona, August 14, 2011.Peter Biľak. Reputations. Eye, Spring 2010.Rich Roat. Phone interview. Barcelona, October 20, 2011. Alejandro Paul. Email interview. Barcelona, July 27, 2013. Ramiro Espinoza. Email interview. Barcelona, July 18, 2013.
8586878889Besides, defining a target market seems to be rather difficult. The large size of the communications and the current changes in the market make it hard to pinpoint specific customers. Tim Ahrens of Just Another Foundry doesn’t believe that targeting customers is even possible in this business, because “everybody appreciates type design”. Still, some foundries do direct their work to a certain extent. Larger foundry FontFont differentiates customers based on their needs and thus offers four product categories that adapt to various environments: desktop publishing software, office, web, and mobile. A small but notworthy percentage mentioned that they would rather deal with high-end professionals, who appreciate quality work and are “able to distinguish between an original design and a rip-off”. Jean François Porchez of Typofonderie deplores the mediocrity of many typefaces found on foundries’ websites, and points out that this lack of quality is not always visible on screen. Corina Cotorobai. Email interview. Barcelona, November 9, 2011.Tim Ahrens. Email interview. Barcelona, November 3, 2011.Silan Kücükokur-Bartel. Email interview. Barcelona, October 31, 2011.Corina Cotorobai. Email interview. Barcelona, November 9, 2011.Jean François Porchez. Email interview. Barcelona, October 13, 2011.
90A minority of those interviewed also direct their work toward students. Andreu Balius, Typerepublic founder, offers a 50 percent discount to those who can prove their student status. This special price is generally directed at Spanish students, but he has not yet refused a demand from another country. Balius, who teaches as well, believes that students who have access to fonts learn to value the work of typeface design.Andreu Balius. Personal interview Barcelona, October 27, 2011.
91Rather than identifying customers, many referred instead to the intended uses of their fonts, whether general or specific. Veronika Burian, for example, comments that TypeTogether’s typefaces are centered on editorial design, and that the studio logically direct its work toward professionals in that field. But, in the end, a variety of customers have access to them.Veronika Burian. Email interview. Barcelona, November 3, 2011.
Q. What marketing strategies are you using to gain more visibility and sales?
929394Generally, type foundries, especially the smaller ones, do not advertise extensively. Many have no time or energy to do so, or are simply not interested in that aspect of the business. Process Type founders know that they could do a better job: “We joke that if a marketing strategist or business manager met us, they’d fire us!” Some, like Pampatype founder Alejandro Lo Celso, admit that dedicating more time to marketing fonts would probably have a positive financial effect. Mark Simonson, however, who advertises in design magazines, says it is hard to tell if this effort has an effect on sales. He adds that “the best kind of visibility for a typeface is having designers seeing other designers using it in their work. How you get that to happen is the trick.”Eric Olson. Email interview. Barcelona, October 11, 2011.Alejandro Lo Celso. Email interview. Barcelona, October 20, 2011.Mark Simonson. Email interview. Barcelona, October 22, 2011.
“The best kind of visibility for a typeface is having designers seeing other designers using it in their work. How you get that to happen is the trick.” — Mark Simonson
959697Social media seems to be the most widely used method of increasing visibility among type foundries. “The good thing about the internet is that anyone can get noticed if they do interesting work,” Tim Ahrens points out. And doing good work often seems like a good marketing strategy in itself. As Jarno Lukkarila of Typolar says: “It will market itself.” Kris Sowersby adds that, in the long run, customers are unlikely to be fooled by shoddy type.Tim Ahrens. Email interview. Barcelona, November 3, 2011.Jarno Lukkarila. Email interview. Barcelona, November 10, 2011.Kris Sowersby. Email interview. Barcelona, September 29, 2011.
9899By extension, “experience and reputation make a good substitute for the marketing.” Besides, the small size of these foundries allows for a more personal relationship with clients. That in itself can result in new business opportunities. Paul van der Laan comments: “We value personal contact with our customers highly and regard it as a form of advertising.”Patrick Griffin. Email interview. Barcelona, July 8, 2013.Paul Van der Laan. Email interview. Barcelona, August 14, 2011.
100101Obviously, larger foundries have more resources to spend on marketing. FontFont, for example, believes that being at the front line of technological developments also increases the foundry’s visibility. Every time it publishes a new typeface, established French foundry Typofonderie takes the time and care to describe the process behind it and to show its various possible uses, like a food company launching a new product and explaining how it can be cooked.Silan Kücükokur-Bartel. Email interview. Barcelona, October 31, 2011.Jean François Porchez. Email interview. Barcelona, October 24, 2013.
102Pricing strategies also work: fonts by Exljbris, partially offered for free, are bestsellers on MyFonts. Since production costs are irrelevant once a typeface is completed, that can be a good strategy. But, as Thomas-Huot Marchand cautions, this may have also have an impact on the foundry’s image.Thomas-Huot Marchand. Personal interview. Barcelona, October 7, 2011.
8. Financial state
Q. Describe your foundry’s current financial state compared to the previous few years.
103The global financial crisis has been rough on a few foundries, but in general the type industry appears to be in a good state: most foundries are either growing or report doing well. However, OurType member Corina Cotorobai points out that the market is changing, and with tens of fonts released every month, many foundries are probably working quite hard to “make themselves ‘heard’”.Corina Cotorobai. Email interview. Barcelona, November 9, 2011.
“We’re always amazed to see how some of our fonts, while dormant at certain times, all of a sudden pick up and start selling like hot cakes.” — Rudy VanderLans, Emigre
104105In spite of all the recent competition, established foundry Emigre is doing quite well. Rudy VanderLans states that, while a number of Emigre’s typefaces have always sold very well, others fluctuate unpredictably: “We’re always amazed to see how some of our fonts, while dormant at certain times, all of a sudden pick up and start selling like hot cakes.” For other foundries like Mota Italic, custom work pays the bills in spite of low retail sales.Rudy VanderLans. Email interview. Barcelona, August 8, 2013.Rob Keller. Email interview. Barcelona, November 1, 2011.
106107108109When questioned about this, some foundries specified that, even if their foundry was not doing particularly well, they had other revenue sources. Thomas-Huot Marchand describes his foundry as a constant, dotted line; Alejandro Lo Celso simply observes PampaType’s slow recovery with curiosity rather than worry. Others, like Textaxis founder Iñigo Jerez, have absolutely no financial control over their foundry. As Jarno Lukkarila of Typolar puts it : “This is truly an industry run by other than financial motivations”.Thomas-Huot Marchand. Personal interview. Barcelona, October 7, 2011.Alejandro Lo Celso. Email interview. Barcelona, October 20, 2011.Iñigo Jerez. Email interview. Barcelona, July, 17, 2013.Jarno Lukkarila. Email interview. Barcelona, November 10, 2011.
9. Current challenges
Q. What challenges does your foundry currently face?
110111112113114115116According to the survey, adapting fonts to various screen environments appears to be the principal challenge of today’s type industry, followed by the difficulty of keeping up with the developments in the industry and in technology. “The big diversity of how type is currently rendered among web browsers, tablets, mobile phones, and operating systems makes it quite hard to make the same typeface look the same across all these different devices,” remarks Paul van der Laan. Finding a viable and fair licencing system for these new environments can be challenging as well. Some foundries, depending on their time and resources, have been able to keep up better than others. FontFont’s first webfonts were introduced back in 2010 and they remain a priority today. Typejockeys member Michael Hochleitner says that although the foundry released screen-optimized fonts in early 2012, it was a much greater undertaking than expected. House Industries is in the process of optimizing its fonts for the web, and they are taking the time to do it right. Rich Roat is aware of the urgency because customers are increasingly asking for a complete solution. ARS Type has optimized ARS Maquette for OpenType and web format, and is still in the process of upgrading the rest of its library.Paul Van der Laan. Email interview. Barcelona, August 14, 2011.Ian Party. Skype interview. Barcelona, July 29, 2013. Silan Kücükokur-Bartel. Email interview. Barcelona, October 31, 2011.http://www.typejockeys.com/Michael Hochleitner. Email interview. Barcelona, November 3, 2011.Rich Roat. Phone interview. Barcelona, October 20, 2011.Angus R. Shamal. Email interview. Barcelona, October 19, 2011.
“Designers cutting corners are releasing quick underpriced fonts and bargaining on originality, quality, and price.” — Jarno Lukkarila, Typolar
117118119As mentioned by Corina Cordobai in Section 7 (“Marketing”), competition is an additional challenge many foundries have to deal with. Emigre founder Rudy VanderLans reminisces: “In the early days of the internet there used to be only five or six type foundries selling digital type online. Now there are literally hundreds.” As a result, the pricing competition is huge and “designers cutting corners are releasing quick underpriced fonts and bargaining on originality, quality, and price.” Discounts of up to 90% upset designers like Jean François Porchez, who laments that this very short-term vision is destroying their small industry.Rudy VanderLans. Email interview. Barcelona, August 8, 2013. Jarno Lukkarila. Email interview. Barcelona, November 10, 2011.Jean François Porchez. Email interview. Barcelona, August 5, 2013.
120121A number of type designers are anxious about the lack of time. For Rob Keller of Mota Italic, “there is never enough time or help to get everything done.” Thomas-Huot Marchand says that he would have released ten more typefaces if he had had the time and resources to do so. Ideally, he would hire someone to take care of type production, but as long as type design is not profitable enough, he cannot fund such a position.Rob Keller. Email interview. Barcelona, November 1, 2011. Thomas-Huot Marchand. Personal interview. Barcelona, October 7, 2011.
122Finally, it can be interesting to note that, in some isolated cases, geographic location can result in additional challenges. In the case of Panos Vassiliou, founder of Athens-based Parachute, the unavailability of local professionals knowledgeable in type design compelled him to seek staff members outside of Greece.Panos Vassiliou. Email interview. Barcelona, September 12, 2013.
10. Future projections
Q. How do you see your foundry a few years from now?
123When asked how he imagines Mota Italic a few years from now, Rob Keller replied that “imagining the future gets trickier every day”. Indeed, it seems to be the case that the various foundries we spoke with either do not know what the future has in store or simply prefer to go with the flow. In a similar vein, some foundries simply imagine the future being not too different from now. Even more of them, though, including Mota Italic, imagine offering a larger library — which is not surprising — but also growing as a company and as a team.Rob Keller. Email interview. Barcelona, November 1, 2011.
124125126Some have already started growing. Between the first version of this thesis and its current iteration, Typofonderie has been through a significant transformation toward a larger company offering typefaces by other designers. With a 40–50 percent growth every year, Swiss Typefaces inevitably thinks about the possibility of expanding. But cofounder Ian Party insists that they want to stop the foundry from growing too much: “We want to remain designers. We don’t feel like becoming CEOs managing 30 employees.” Jos Buivenga, founder of solo shop Exljbris, however, still imagines a one-man foundry — albeit one that relies on an increased number of collaborators in the font production process.Jean François Porchez. Email interview. Barcelona, August 5, 2013.Ian Party. Skype interview. Barcelona, July 29, 2013. Jos Buivenga. Email interview. Barcelona, October 24, 2011.
“How do you respond to the screen environment of today, knowing that in the future, all those constraints and limitations you designed around will most likely be completely irrelevant?” — Nicole Dotin, Process Type Foundry
127128129Type foundries are aware that technology will continue to evolve at high speed, and hope to continue keeping up with it. Type-Ø-Tones cofounder Jose Manuel Urós comments that in the future, new formats — for mobile, tablets, games — will keep appearing, but he believes that the most interesting development will be in design. With the speed at which things are moving, though, decisions are not always obvious. In a recent interview for Typekit, Nicole Dotin asked an interesting question: “How do you respond to the screen environment of today, knowing that in the future, all those constraints and limitations you designed around will most likely be completely irrelevant?” In any case, designers like Ian Party are confident that demand for new typefaces will continue. He explains that, before, the image had preponderance over the text. Now, as the medium is shrinking, typefaces are returning to the front line.José Manuel Urós. In-person interview. Barcelona, October 20, 2011.“An interview with Nicole Dotin of Process Type Foundry” Ian Party. Skype interview. Barcelona, July 29, 2013.
130131132133As I intimated earlier, business models such as Typekit’s do not make all foundries happy. Some of them, such as ARS Type, Process, and FontFont, have found a way to work around meager royalties by forcing customers to first license the webfont from the foundry before sending it to Typekit via their “voucher” program. Controversy around type as a service suggests that we have not found the right business model for digital type yet, according to Thomas-Huot Marchand. Jackson Cavanaugh, from Okay Type, is also concerned about fonts in the cloud and fonts as a service, and points out that the pay-for-pageviews system “ignores the value fonts bring to the backend designers” and the font explorations they go through before finishing a design. Patrick Griffin however, notices that the webfont “renting” system is fading away, and thinks “the subscription and cloud models will also prove to be very suspect and probably die out because the users will find it burdensome to have to rely on even more external infrastructure in their operation”.“ARS Type partners with Typekit”
Thomas-Huot Marchand. Personal interview. Barcelona, October 7, 2011.Jackson Cavanaugh. Email interview. Barcelona, October 12, 2011.Patrick Griffin. Email interview. Barcelona, July 8, 2013.
134In terms of distribution, Thomas-Huot Marchand also thinks that a lot more can be done, and that new revenue streams can be found. The internet allows for great personalization, and foundries can take advantage of that. Marchand mentions House Industries’ Photolettering project, which allows the user to buy words, adjusting to the user’s needs, rather than a font family. In a future iteration of his site, Marchand wants to offer users the option to change a given typeface’s parameters.Thomas-Huot Marchand. In-person interview. Barcelona, October 7, 2011.
“Although technology has never been more advanced, type design itself has never been more homogenous.” — Thomas-Huot Marchand, 256tm
This thesis does not deal with the design choices made around typefaces. However, some interesting comments mirroring Deborah Littlejohn’s “Golden Age” article have emerged from my interviews.
135Within all this talk of new technologies, Thomas Huot-Marchand’s comments can be thought-provoking. He points out that although technology has never been more advanced, type design itself has never been more homogenous. He talks about a new conservatism, and thinks that we focus so much on the details that we lose the overall view. Few type designers (like Peter Biľak) are, according to Huot-Marchand, really experimenting with type.Thomas-Huot Marchand. In-person interview. Barcelona, October 7, 2011.