Understand Type with Data

An Interview with Kyle Read and Joshua Dick of R+D

How can data help understand the type industry and better inform font usage? This week, TypeThursday speaks with Kyle Read and Joshua Dick on their new venture R+D to learn how.

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Thomas Jockin: Kyle and Joshua, thanks so much for taking the time to chat. You have a new initiative called R+D. From Twitter, R+D is described as “Understanding and Reporting on the Economics & Tides of Type.” Congrats for starting the project!

Left: Joshua Dick, Right: Kyle Read

Kyle Read: Thanks Thomas!

Joshua Dick: Thank you! We’re very excited.

TJ: Absolutely! Kyle, I know you really well as a fellow Type@Cooper grad and a recipient of the SOTA Catalyst Award. Joshua, could you share some of your background with us?

JD: Sure. I am actually new to the world of type. I was a professional actor for eight years before returning to school to study statistics. Kyle and I are longtime friends, we met in high school, and we started talking earlier this year about finding a way to use my stats background to explore the type world. I’ve fallen in love with learning more about type and the business surrounding it. It’s obviously not the same, but there are a lot of parallels to the theatre world, both of them being creative fields. And it’s a fun challenge trying to quantify creativity.

TJ: I take it the goal of R+D is to quantify creativity in the world of type. Is that accurate? And if so, how do you plan on quantify the type world?

The purpose of R+D

KR: Yeah, that’s probably only a part of it. After being able to relate my experience in the world of typography to Josh, we noticed that there is this looming struggle to talk about and describe the growing world of typography to folks who are just learning about it. Was there a way to make that easier? Was there a way to get a really great snapshot of the industry and be able to offer those inside and outside its walls a better understanding of it; a resource for those in the know — and those who maybe aren’t so much — to find equally useful. Both groups rely on each other immensely.

JD: It’s really about opening up new ways to talk about type. We want to aid in answering the questions people might have about the industry, or how it works, or what people like or don’t like. It’s like sabrmetrics in baseball; let’s keeping digging deeper into what makes this great, come up with new measurements, new ways to understand what’s going on. That often comes with numbers, but it all starts with wanting to know more. How we’re going to do that is the puzzle we have to solve. Right now, we are focusing on what we’re calling “taking the pulse” of the type community to see what avenues are most important to travel.

KR: We have a bunch of things planned that we’ll be rolling out over the course of the next year, but for right now, that’s right, we’re in listening mode, getting to know all the players on the field, and how everyone interacts with each other. Josh, are we economists?

JD: That would be a good way to think about what we’re doing, yes.

TJ: I love what you said — Josh, regarding new ways to understand the world of type. I see that tied to Kyle’s comment about the need of a resource for both those in the field and those on the outside. How is R+D “taking the pulse” of the type community?

We plan on getting a lot of simple data from polls to know what interests people.

How is R+D “taking the pulse” of the type community

KR: Great question, Thomas. We’ve got several initiatives that we’re working into to understand the type industry deeper, and to provide value for folks on all sides of the spectrum. The first of which is polling and question-asking.

JD: Yeah, we are starting off with some unscientific Twitter polls that come out once a week, that cover a variety of topics in the type world. So far we’ve asked about variable fonts, where designers go to find type for their projects, questions that we hope will get people thinking about their processes and, in turn, see how that compares to their colleagues. We plan on getting a lot of simple data from these polls just so we know what interests people and what people are energized to talk about.

KR: That’s right, it’s all about discussion and learning where everyone is on all kinds of issues and experiences surrounding type. (We encourage everyone to follow along @R_D_Co and throw in their two-cents, designers and non-designers alike! There are about two a week to start.) After this polling continues, we’re hoping to be able to go deeper and in more scientific ways with more official surveys.

JD: That’s right, the long-term goal is to be able to collect enough survey data to start talking more about the trends in the industry, both design and business.

KR: I do want to note here, that we’re not planning on just sitting on this data and everything we learn from our relationships in type. I know it probably seems very selfish to collect data like hoarding economists, but that’s not what we’re here to do at all. We’re planning on making R+D into something that truly does give back to every person who touches type, through valuable insights for type designers and insiders, as well as relevant and thought provoking writing, things you can subscribe to, and understanding for those just getting into it. We want to make sure we’re acting as good guides for this growing (booming) industry. More understanding leads to more innovation.

TJ: I understand R+D is still in the data gathering phase with more long term plans. Which is super exciting! For the surveys conducted for variable fonts and font usage, was there any surprises in the result for either of you two?

I thought there would be a great deal of resistance to variable fonts, but our poll found a lot of optimism there.

Surprises from the result of surveys so far

JD: Well, everything is a surprise to me since I’m coming at this with outsider’s eyes, but I will say I didn’t necessarily expect our result about variable fonts. We asked about how people feel about them, are you excited about the possibilities they bring or do you fear they’ll make your job harder. I thought there would be a great deal of resistance to variable fonts, but our poll found a lot of optimism there. That’s what great about these polls, they’re just a taste into a topic, an appetizer. It was a small sample size, but it got us thinking about all the other questions we could ask now that we know there’s some interest there.

KR: And I’m planning on be delightfully surprised by every answer too. This is a chance to really understand everyone’s experience in type, not just what’s happening on the business side.

The larger the sample size, the better we can work with any data we have.

How you can support R+D

TJ: Josh, is it safe to say the validity of the survey results would increase if the sample size increases? If so, is spreading the word about R+D the best way for people who want to support the intitivate?

JD: Yes, yes, and more yes. The larger the sample size, the better we can work with any data we have. It would be a great excitement to me to see hundreds of responses for these polls. Then we’re truly getting a solid representation and getting a whole lot of engagement. That said, it’s not as if we’re publishing these Twitter polls in research journals. We just want to hear from as many people as possible. Please do spread the word!

TJ: Absolutely! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat here on TypeThursday.

KR: Thank you Thomas! We’re so grateful for the opportunity. Can’t wait to see how this evolves.

JD: Thank YOU Thomas! So happy to share what we’re working on with everyone.


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