How Font Licensing Affects Usage

An Interview with Type Network’s David Jonathan Ross

This week, TypeThursday learns about how David got into typeface design, his love for unusual approaches, and novel ways to deliver fonts to users.


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San Francisco on August 3rd
Los Angeles August 3rd
New York City August 3rd
Chicago September TBA 
Philadelphia September TBA
London October TBA


TypeThursday: David, thank you for being here for TypeThursday.

David Jonathan Ross: Thanks so much for having me!

TT: You’re a man of many talents, so I’d like to start with sharing with the readers more about yourself. How did you get introduced into typeface design?

Beginnings

DJR: I got into type design in college. I went to Hampshire College, which is not a design school but a place that encourages interdisciplinary work and has no majors per se. I was able to put together my own course of study, and realized that I liked solving problems (like you do in design) but that I also liked to draw, and I liked the purity of drawing very simple things in black and white.

TT: I believe you were self-taught in type design and reached out to type designers online, is that correct?

DJR: I struggle with the term self-taught…yes I did not learn type design through a course and I didn’t train under a single person. But I had faculty advisors in various design-related fields (including book artists and historians), and I reached out to faculty at other design schools to find out how they were teaching typography. Then I tried to duplicate that in independent studies. I also took a workshop early on with Peter Bain in typeface design (that was my first exposure to type design software), and then of course I had many teachers during my time at Font Bureau.

Ooops… I realize I didn’t answer your question. Yes I did e-mail actual type designers and posted in-progress work on Typophile, though that didn’t happen until late in my college career.

Condor

TT: Not an issue at all! Thank you for the clarification. You’ve had a great relationship while at Font Bureau, with typefaces like Turnip, Trilby, Condor, and more. What was your experience working at Font Bureau?

DJR: I have learned so much working at Font Bureau by getting exposure to the design processes of different type designers. I started off visiting Cyrus Highsmith at least once a week, assisting him on various projects and filling in the many gaps in my type design knowledge. I have also had the pleasure of working on fonts by others (David Berlow, Jill Pichotta, Richard Lipton, and more), and getting into their heads and learning how they constructed their fonts. It was great to absorb all of this knowledge and then begin to apply it to retail and custom projects.

FIT is a hyper-stylized series of caps designed with one thing in mind: filling up space with maximum impact.

Unusual Approaches for Type

TT: From there you continued in your own practice with typefaces like Forma DJR, Gimlet, Fit, and Bungee. Such as flavorful range of work! What drew you to make such a wide range of work after your time at Font Bureau?

Forma DJR’s optical sizes, from Banner to Micro.

DJR: Thank you! I guess I’m just searching for unusual approaches to making and using type, and also started thinking about fonts that would reach audiences outside of Font Bureau’s editorially-focused library. It’s easy for type design to get boring and repetitive, so for my self-initiated projects I try to keep it interesting for myself.

TT: Unusual approaches is a good way to describe it. Especially when I see process photos like so:

David working on Bungee

I also know you have a soft spot for horizontal stressed typefaces. Is that also under your interest of unusual approaches in making type?

Inspired by the boisterous wood types of the nineteenth century, Manicotti pushes the reversed-stress French Clarendon style to its decorative extreme.

DJR: Haha…totally! In the Latin alphabet, the early typefaces that used horizontal stress did so with the express purpose of introducing surprise and wonder by taking long-held conventions and flipping them on their head. And it’s hard not to love that.

TT: Speaking of taking long-held conventions and flipping them on their head, I am reminded of your recent Font of the Month Club. It appears to be a very different approach to selling fonts. Can you share with us more about the project?

I tried to make Font of the Month Club a fun and affordable way for a designer to grow their font library.

How Licensing Affects Usage

Input can be used as your MacOS System Font. Learn how

DJR: One of the other things I learned at Font Bureau is that the way a font is licensed can have a huge effect on how a font is used (perhaps even more than its design). I am still grateful to them for allowing me to create a custom license and pricing structure for my typeface Input that was designed specifically to fit the needs of computer programmers.

In a similar vein, I was thinking about the best way to distribute small display faces and side projects that I like to work on, and to find a way that would push me to work on more fun and interesting typefaces without having to commit to years of development or a full retail release.

Input addressing the basic needs of programmers with easily-distinguishable characters, large punctuation, and generous letterspacing — all crucial elements for parsing dense onscreen code at small sizes.

On the other side, I want to encourage font users to take risks on new and unusual designs rather than playing it safe. And I figured that designers might appreciate a monthly addition to their font library more than they would appreciate any single display typeface on its own. I tried to make Font of the Month Club a fun and affordable way for a designer to grow their font library.

TT: I find it interesting the point you made about a font license affects how a font is used. I would have expect you to say licensing affects if a font is used. Could you clarify that point?

DJR: Ha, that too! In the case of Input, I thought it had potential both as a coding font for programmers to use in their text editors, and also by designers in techy environments. So I developed the license and pricing with these specific uses in mind, allowing programmers to use the typeface for free on their own computers, but charging for publicly-facing uses. I think that it was this model that allowed the design to be successful, and years later I still love getting emails from Input users and am thinking about ways to improve it. Does that clarify it at all?

TT: It certainly does for Input. Thank you for that expansion. How does it feel to get emails from users of your work?

DJR: I love it. Of course it could get to a volume that I couldn’t handle, but now it isn’t. And getting direct contact with Input users was definitely one of the reasons I was excited to start my own foundry.

TT: It sounds like feedback from your users will help you improve your fonts out on the market now. Would that be a reasonable assumption?

DJR: Yes, I have used feedback from users to make improvement to existing typefaces (including Input), as well as to inform what I work on in future typefaces. That actually ties in with some of my other goals for Font of the Month Club: I wanted a way to connect regularly with users, to try out ideas in a controlled environment and get feedback, and to share more of my process.

TT: How does Font of the Month Club work?

Font of the Month Club

DJR: Anyone can sign up, and it’s as little as $6/month if you sign up for a year. When you sign up, you get the current month’s offering right off the bat. Then, at the beginning of each month that follows, I’ll send you a new font. I make no promises as to the design of the font or the extent of its character set, but I try to make it generally usable for major European languages. Each font comes with my standard “Mini” license: a perpetual license for up to 3 desktop computers, 15,000 web visitors, and an e-book.

TT: Fantastic, I’m going to sign up myself right now! Thank you so much for this conversation today, David.

DJR: Woah really!? That is awesome. It has been a pleasure to talk with you, and I’ll be sure to send you your official Font of the Month membership card soon! :-D