kris's picture

I was listening to the radio the other night. A musician
was talking about making music. He sounded a little out
of it, he was rambling a little, but had a good point to
make. He mentioned the state of pop music, the rigidly
enforced planned obsolesence of it and how his music
was trying to be as honest as possible. Authentic. He
then said (bear with me) something like this: "I mean, it
shouldn't be about the money, the profile, the cd
packaging marketing and cool music videos. It is about
the art, because at the end of it all, it is all we leave
behind. Honest art."

I thought immediately of type, specifically of type
design. What is the attraction of a largely thankless
task appreciated by few yet exposed to many? I think I
am hooked because it can be honest. Other people
can use your type, and something very real and
useable is 'left behind'. It is inherently narcissistic. It
would be nice to know for everyone else: why?

John Hudson's picture

It's about the money :-)

.00's picture


John's right, its about the money. Most definitely.

kegler's picture

...and the groupies

kris's picture

Money! Groupies! Balls to the esoteric buzz, I never
knew groupies were involved! Show me the money!

tsprowl's picture

its all about the challenge for me and being able to shout "eureka" at the end.
Perhaps I'll try selling my face on late night infomercials just for kicks, but really I just want to make it and be done with it.

mind you I'm still only working on my first. but...

well when you got something in your head and you just gotta get it out before you end up dreaming about it, then talking obsessively only to bore your friends, and then nightmares take over, words start screaming at you "you forgot my accents, I have no oblique set, my arms are hurting and my ear is falling off"

you wake up in a sweat racing to some notepad to get it all down before you forget.

but maybe I'm full of it and really just want the attention.

ya its all about being excessively ardent in the hopes that someone will go "hot damn, that's one sexah typographer, I wish I could make it wif her"

hrant's picture

I was gonna say something facetious like "It's for all that fawning admiration when you tell people what you do" :-) but I figure Kris deserves an attempt at a straight answer too: I guess it is -or can be- the satisfaction of making this little machine that quietly rides a fine line between function and form, something so beautiful, intricate and serious that nobody will ever really use it to its full potential, but that doesn't matter, and maybe it's what makes it so great. Dunno.


jfp's picture

Its for the pleasure to do something that nobody notice or seems to don't notice until we help them to realize the importance of it: "Hey look, typefaces are everywhere and none of them are identicals, from your yogurt packaging to the local newspaper or your mobile phone screen."

gerald_giampa's picture

I am not sure of typography in its' present state. I have recently discovered a version of a Latin Alphabet in transition among stone cutting in Finland. It clearly is evidence of a culture, independent of the others, finding its' own place in its' own world in a country with its' very special tongue.

Now that is gone, and probably my discovery is just one of many to be discovered all of them now dead. Why would it not be? All of them, just like in Finland, gone, gone, gone.

Typography has become a model of conformity to the false goodness of globalization which is clearly debasing cultures not merely of the tongue.

Typography should slow down. Look backwards.

I am not convinced that language, of which typography is part, should abrogate its
responsibilities to become merely servants of commerce and fashion. To further the insatiable appetites of corporatism. My life long participation in typography was motivated by art and literature. I would prefer to leave the selling hambugers to others.

Gerald Giampa

ideagent's picture

Money, groupies and hamburgers! Count me it!!

My wife claims I am a compulsive perfectionist. She may be right. Rarely in my occupation (graphic design) do I create anything that is completely satisfying. The clients gets overly involved, the supplied photos are bad, the printer screws up, the paper is too thin, etc.

I believe font design is something you do for yourself first and foremost. You have the opportunity to create something simple and pure...and perfect! If your goal out of the gate was to generate income, I don't believe your font design would be very inspired.

.00's picture


It pays better than teaching public school (but the benefits are not as good) It pays less than public school janitor (but again the benefits are lacking)

I have had both jobs. Type Design is better

jim's picture

It is, for me, about a love of letters. An obsession, maybe. Sure, there is money, but if it was really about the money I would have been much better off as a stock broker or an energy trader.

John Hudson's picture

The original crack about money was a bit of a joke, but a steady income helps keep the love alive. And I'm often suspicious of people who push the 'You should do it for the art' line, because this often leads to 'Can you do this job for free?'

One of my heros, David Jones, wrote that we should try to work within the limits of our love. This is probably what separates the craftsman from the wage labourer. Yes, I work to make money, but I'm privileged to be able to do it at something that I love. I wish everyone on the planet could say the same thing.

gerald_giampa's picture


'Can you do this job for free?' Absolutely not! Strike me dead. Did I say that?

I was thinking more in the spirit of this!


Top caption lines says it all for me. If it is nostagia, gimme, gimme, gimme. Not to mention the girls.

Gerald Giampa

William Berkson's picture

John, that is a beautiful quote from David Jones. What is the source and who is the fellow?

John Hudson's picture

David Jones was an anglo-welsh poet, painter, engraver, also known for his painted inscriptions. He fought in the First World War, about which he wrote In Parentheses, and was one of the many British converts to Catholicism in the 1920s. He spent time at a couple of Eric Gill's guild communes, and was for a time engaged to Gill's daughter Petra, but found the solitary life better suited to his temperment. I love his stuff, especially his woodcuts. I'm afraid I can't remember the exact source of the quote about working within the limits of one's love; it is probably from one of his essays or from his letters.

delve's picture

For me, it's all fun and games until...

Seriously though, I design type because, like Jim P.,
I love letters. I only try to make money at it so I can
pay bills and take vacations. And I enjoy the relative
anonymity inherent in this profession. Groupies? Every
once in a while at a party I get cornered by a designer
who's never met a 'real' type designer before and those
can be fun conversations.

kris's picture

I would really like to know how money can be made in
this profession. It may sound terribly na

hrant's picture

There's no magic formula, but I'd say you either have to:
1) Find an under-served niche market.
2) Toil away for many many years (and not too much money) and build a great rep.
3) Be extremely talented.
4) Be extremely lucky.

I think the hope many of us from the "horde outside" have is that we can do type design part-time for some years (and little money), elaborate our moderate talent and skills, and eventually have a decent-enough rep to at least pay for our time. And maybe get a lucky break now and again.

In my case: I did #1 until it dried up, I have no patience for #2, and although I think I'm luckier than average my talent is certainly not huge. So I'm not expecting to make a lot of money in type any time soon. If I manage to persist -but only while I continue enjoying it- maybe one day I can make a living at it. Life is too short.


.00's picture


2) Toil away for many years is the only answer, but instead of a great rep being your goal, great skill, or at least an ever increasing skill level should be.

No patience? And you do type design?

.00's picture


> My na

gerald_giampa's picture


Hrant is right about this.
1) Find an under-served niche market.

Niche Market, quality type = quality buyers.

There is also money is consumer fonts. There are examples in the industry where studios have so much money you would think you died and went to heaven.

Go visit David Burlow. That man and his brother Sam are rolling in "green backs". The key to success in the font business is to have a "good business model" without that you are wasting your time.

I would use myself as an example, but I had a different model, but keep in mind, I retired when I was 44 years old. Came out of retirement within the last nine months only because of an uninsurable act of god. Wonder why you have not heard of me. That's right, think early retirement.

Gerald Giampa

hrant's picture

> but instead of a great rep being your goal, great skill, or at least an ever increasing skill level should be.

Thanks, Yoda.
This was about making money (right?), and unfortunately people pay you for your skill only to the extent that it factors into your reputation. Many people make money through celebrity without having the proportionate skill, and a highly skilled hermit in a forest will get few commissions.

(BTW, James, is this a role-reversal for us or what?!)

> No patience? And you do type design?

No patience for that. If I didn't have patience for the craft, I wouldn't have spent 800 hours making my second outline font, while the client was hounding me to get it over with already!


.00's picture


> Thanks, Yoda.

The whole idea of Yoda is f**ked I see no reason for the insult.

> This was about making money (right?), and unfortunately people pay you > for your skill only to the extent that it factors into your > reputation. Many people make money through celebrity without having > the proportionate skill, and a highly skilled hermit in a forest will > get few commissions. >

I would think that skill and reputation go hand in hand for the Second job you get from the client.

You may have gotten the first job on reputation alone, but if the skill isn't there, you will never get the second.

Your right about the hermit in the forest... but since he is spending so little money or forest rent, he probably could afford a small promotional budget.

> (BTW, James, is this a role-reversal for us or what?!)

I don't know what role you are referring.

hrant's picture

What insult, I was making a joke about your sentence structure.


gerald_giampa's picture


Actually forest rent is not cheap.

Gerald Giampa

eolson's picture

I'm late to this post but...
The phrase "no money" needs to be put within context.
My hunch (purely speculation of course) is that the phrase is most often uttered by those with a traditional view of money and the act of accumulating it. The "no money" in this case may be just be shorthand for, "not a fortune". Many people (understably so) start businesses for the sole purpose of accumulating the most amount of money into a single location (traditional view).
Type design, as you might guess, doesn't fit nicely into this category. A product that may potentially take years to produce with no guaranteed profit??? Yes!!! Sign me up!
There is money in type design. Just not a fortune.
Getting started is another issue...

fonthausen's picture

Hi, to be honest, I am an addict, when it comes to type. I could lock myself up in the mountains, with my computer and make type all the time. And to the tempo I want. But I don't.... (I have a kid and a partner).

I would be a liar, if I said, I wouldn't want to make money with it. But I am realistic enough to know, that if I wanted to make bucket full of it, I'd have to change a lot. Not only in the way my type should look like, but also structural. I mean, at the end, wether you sell type or graphic, you'll need to find a way to get to your potential customer. You can sit and wait till everyone notices how supperb your designs are, but this might take a while. But you can also try to get anyones attention by any means like advertisement, lobby, connections, internet, whatever. (Having peoples attention doesn't mean your good in making faces, but it might mean you're good in getting attention, which is a gift) You'll need a lot of energy to do this as well. And time.

Because mostly, you won't make big money with type when you start, you probably will do something else for a living. So you will do your type thing during in those late nightly hours and weekends.

I think, the biggest issue is time. To make a decent typeface, you need time. To make more, you more time. To sell it, too.. So it comes down to how you manage your time (and your working methods) and what your priorities are.


rs_donsata's picture

The reason I want to learn type design is because I consider it the ultimate designer dream: function and esthetics in a perfect, pure, simple and subtle single creation (as Tom Puckett said on this thread). It

Thomas Phinney's picture

I'm in this business for exactly one reason: I love type.

Now, the question of how feasible it is, in general, to make a living at type design is a good one. I originally got into type wanting to be a full-time type designer. I contacted a couple of eminent folks to ask where one could go to learn about type. Both Chuck Bigelow and Robert Brunghurst were kind enough to carry on a bit of correspondence. Both of them suggested that there was little likelihood of making a living at type design. Now, I ignored that part of their advice, but I took it to heart as well, and it made me work that much harder.

I should add that today I agree with them. I know quite a few type designers, and except for the very biggest names, and some employed by the large type foundries, most don't make a living at type design. They teach, or do graphic design, or other stuff to make money, and do type design because they love it.

I'm lucky enough to work for Adobe, and get to do fun type stuff and get paid quite well. Once in a very rare while I've even gotten to do some type design. But there are few jobs like this, and even fewer that involve actual type design, that like Bigelow and Bringhurst I find it hard to encourage people.

My actual advice is this:

- Decide if you could be happy doing stuff other than original type design per se. If so, there are about 5x as many opportunities. I didn't go in with this intent, but it worked out pretty well for me.

- Make your own luck. This means three things: working hard as heck at your craft; going out of your way to pick up related specialized skills; spotting and exploring potential opportunities. This was a big part of how I ended up with a real paying job in type.

- Learn programming. Somebody with a BSc in computer science who is also heavily into type is probably more likely to find a decent-paying type job than somebody with an MFA in design. (At least, that's my perspective.) It will also give you skills that will be incredibly useful in type production.

Anyway, that's my two cents.



hrant's picture

Wow, that's a superb encapsulation (pun intended) of the "scene", I'd say.

The only think I might add is that besides the option of scaling back your type design ambitions, there's always another possibility: scale back what "living" is in "making a living". Maybe give up that backyard and/or fancy car, or even the expensive potential spouse - all depending on how lucky you are in the first place though.


jay's picture

Thomas said:

>Learn programming. Somebody with a BSc in computer science...

Hrant said:

>Maybe give up ... the expensive potential spouse ...

Jay says:

Or find a potential spouse with a BSc in Computer Science ... [big grin]

Joe Pemberton's picture

Hmm. Well said Hrant.

Joe Pemberton's picture

Hmm. Well said Hrant.

anonymous's picture

Certainly it's about the money. But isn't there just a little bit of joy involved . . . or am I naiive?

Jim Rimmer

anonymous's picture

About money:

I'm retired from graphic design, not by choice, it's just that the phone rang less and less for illustration jobs, and even less for lettering projects. Stock files really changed the climate in Vancouver. Or perhaps I just stink.

Now, by choice, I work like hell on digital faces, and almost equally as hard on the hot metal stuff. I've got a book in the works that, along with its new lead typeface has been in the works for two years and will likely take another year or so before I get to print it.

What I'm getting at is that, even at $700 per copy (100 copies) I am going to top out at about $4.00 an hour. Can't wait to get my hands on the cash!

Over the past 20 years I've taught sessionslly at local art colleges. If a person can get a ful time gig, it pays very nicely. Anyway, I love what I'm doing now and would not trade it.

Jim Rimmer

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