Breaking into the Industry

dart's picture

I've been making freeware fonts for a while, and been intersted in letters and letterforms since
forever. I've seen my work used (and misused) in a few magazine ads, alternative newpaper covers,
and even for on-screen text regularly on a television show.

On the other hand, I've never been paid for what I've done. If I want to turn my interest into more "job"
and less "hobby", what do I do? All I have is my body of work, nothing in my higher education that
could be spun to make it look like I've studied type in any real way.

What are your suggestions? How did you all do it?

Si_Daniels's picture

Some ideas...

Get a domain name with a snappy name. Tripod with all the advertising and pop-ups just gets in the way. Redesign your web site with examples of your free fonts in use. Look at the sites of the people you

John Hudson's picture

I'll second everything Si has said, and will add one more suggestion: specialists are more easily remembered than generalists. You probably will be happy to pick up any kind of type design work you can, but it pays to market yourself as a specialist: someone who can offer specific services to a particular niche market. If you get a couple of jobs in that area, and do them well, your name will get around. A number of type designers have successfully identified themselves with particular markets, e.g. Jonathan Hoefler with custom types for magazine art directors. Apart from helping to get you remembered, this approach also gets you more of the kind of work you want to be doing, presuming you pick a speciality that you enjoy.

type's picture

This is a good thread!

specialists are more easily remembered than generalists.

Can you give more info? ideas? please. such as "a particular niche market"

hrant's picture

Great advice - very gracious.

I'll add this: don't rely on retail sales to make a living.

hhp

type's picture

By retail sales do you mean: design a typeface for a month or two, and then sell it for $20 + - ?

But how do you market your artwork (typefaces)? what do you write? show?

dana's picture

Darren

hrant's picture

By retail I guess I mean making fonts without a direct commission and selling them to the public (for whatever price). The only time I myself have managed to make enough money doing that was when: I had a virtual strangle-hold on the Armenian market; and I was a bachelor living in a small -if comfy- apartment. :-/

I think the best way to address the retail market is the way many big names do it: design a font under commission, give the client exclusivity for 2-3 years (after which the novelty value is gone), and after that put it out for general sale. And price high.

Marketing: use online forums, conferences, and "networking". Try to get people to use pre-release versions of your fonts in real projects (maybe give them a break - but make sure they're not the type to "share" the fonts too much), and use those to show them off. There's nothing as effective as a physical newspaper or a high-gloss piece in your hand with your font(s) on it.

But the fonts have to be good. Hone your craft.

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Canadian minority script...

Si is probably alluding to the many variants of Canadian aboriginal syllabics*. That market may already have been cornered :-)

Si's advice is similar to mine, but specialisation doesn't necessarily have to be script or language based, hence my example of Jonathan Hoefler's success in the high-circulation US magazine market.

Specialisation can also be style based, particularly for display fonts. Jill Bell is widely known for her quirky yet professionally made hand-lettering fonts.


* Note: preview pages for revised Tiro Typeworks website.

type's picture

Specialisation can also be style based, particularly for display fonts

A style such as decorative display - is that too general?

dana's picture

John,

Thanks for the clarification. While this subject is definitely interesting to me, my own lack of expertise would prevent me from making a meaningful contribution even if the market had not

kennmunk's picture

To get started, why not simply start by charging money for the fonts you used to give away? They seem to be exposed to the public/designers.

type's picture

Hrant wrote:

I think the best way to address the retail market is the way many big names do it: design a font under commission

hrant's picture

I mean that if you get good designers to do nice physical pieces with your fonts and take those to conferences to show off to key people (and get crits from anybody) and also mail them to key people, your chances are much better.

hhp

aquatoad's picture

Typophile caughed just as I was posting a few days back.
It occures to me (and others) that two things are required:

1. Quality Work.
Without this, all the advice in the world will not amount to
making type design a significant part of your income. You
mention no formal type education. This won't matter much if
your work is excellent. If it's not, consider some good
instruction. Buy it if you can/have to. You're in Vancouver!
Great city to be in. Three very kind Vancouverite typophiles
prowl these forums (perhaps more): Keith Tam, John Hudson
(whom you've just heard from), and Jim Rimmer. They may give
you specific ideas about resources nearby where you can really
begin to hone your craft and take your work to the next level.
While there is not substitute for hands on instruction, post
work here for critique. Get help wherever you can.
Which brings me to...

2. Confidence/Boldness
This is so useful to improve the quality of your work, and also to
moving your work once it is quality. Attack! Nicely. One bit of
trouble with the term *quality work* is you never know when you've
arrived. I'm content to think if only I had this polished up, then I
could... No. Show people what you have. Ask for their help.
Especially go to people in the old guard. They are usually so
excited to see a new generation of designers they will often
bend over backwards to help you. Type designers are a spry lot...

I was shocked at typecon when less than 8 people wanted to
have Akira Kobayashi, Matthew Carter, and John Downer give
them pointers. So what if it's was a public forum? That's what
you're pushing for in the end isn't it? Gopherit!

I've heard some say, don't ask for too much advice or you will
loose your own voice for everyone elses. I hear that argument,
but think it applies mostly to people who already know their way
around letters. At first, get as much input as you can from people
you can trust (such as those mentioned).

Finally, let me say I only have one font commercially available,
soon to be two. Needless to say, type design makes up a small
part of my income (and take my advice with a grain of salt!). I'm
a graphic designer with one toe in the font world. Hopefully it
will soon be one foot in fonts. Then maybe graphic design can
be the small part of my income. All that to say, don't quit your
day job just yet :-)

Keep loving letters!
Randy

PS. Good grief, what a rag.

hrant's picture

Good points, Randy.
Some "reactions":

> go to people in the old guard.

Just make sure you generally do so in old fashioned ways. :-/ That's one problem I've noted - few "old timers" can get to grips with newer ways of interaction.

> get as much input as you can from people you can trust

The problem of course is figuring out who that is!

The main thing I've learned about "processing" advice is this: be prepared to filter the advice depending on the context of the source. For example, some famous type designers can make great practical fonts that sell very well, but the space between their ears is a theory-free zone, shall we say. So if you're making something innovative you have to ignore big chunks of their advice, and focus on their technical feedback.

BTW, concerning the lack of participation at TypeCon, I myself can't blame the "students". Seeing the droves of people wanting to get their fonts critiqued on Typophile, where there's not even anybody of the caliber of Carter or Kobayashi, makes me think the problem was something else.

hhp

dan_reynolds's picture

Look, I can tell you how difficult it can be as a student to work up the nerve to show your work to "the pros." I mean, I work 100m away from Akira Kobayashi, and I pass him in the hall several times a week, but I've only had him crit my work twice. He seemed quite happy to do it both times, but I don't want to wear out my welcome.

This weariness is because I've previously had a really, really bad experience with another famous type designer here in Germany, but I'm not going to go into that on a public forum(thankfully, he is much further than 100m away).

While I was at Typo Berlin (which, as I've heard, has a very different atmosphere from TypeCon), I showed my work to everybody. I mean EVERYBODY. I printed up 300 shiny new business cards and everything. Some designers where very receptive when I showed them things, and they made my day (or, in the case of H&FJ, they made my whole conference ). Some other designers were quite clear that they did not want to look at things. Again, naming names here would be impolite. Sometimes, you need to realize though that at a large event--Typo Berlin had 1000 attendants and hundreds of students--certain people (especially the German speakers) field requests constantly. For example, at one point I waited in line for a half an hour to speak with Erik Spiekermann. And as each new student got up to him, asking him (sometimes downright harrasing) questions, I could see his engery level getting lower and lower. By the time I got to him, he just seemed tired. He asked me to email him instead, and I did.

Be bold! But be careful, too.

type's picture

Again, naming names here would be impolite

Why? I don't think so.

When you have success, you have to treat people the same way you would if you didn't have success.

dan_reynolds's picture

Well, I just don't want to burn any bridges. Besides, there could be factors that I don't know about. I try to be a nice guy, and especially over here in Germany, we're a small group, and we all should get along.

I'm not done trying to play nice yet.

And I did name names... in my brief experience, Akira K., H&FJ, and Erik S. have all been super nice and very enlightening. I also had fun talking to Tamye Riggs, Adam Twardoch, and Andreas Seidel in Berlin, not to mention Joan Spiekermann. See I'm naming even *more* names.

I'm much to young to get all negative.

aquatoad's picture

I was shocked at typecon when less than 8 people...
Shocked was probably too strong a word. I hear you Dan & Hrant. My advice was colored by many great experiences going to established designers. It sounds like on balance, your inquiries have been useful and pleasant. Still, It's likely you'll find a grumpy apple in the lot!

Be bold! But be careful, too.
Uh yeah. Be smart about it. I just know I'm more inclined to say to myself... Yikes, what if he has indigestion right now?? Better hold off and go grab another cup of conference coffee.

The main thing I've learned about "processing" advice is this: be prepared to filter the advice depending on the context of the source.
Sure, be smart about this too. I've gotten alot of advice from Ed Benguiat. He knows letters as well as anyone alive. His taste is, shall we say, a bit retro? Take what you can. For his part, he's really good at saying: That N is wrong. But if wrong is what you want, do it.

Innovation & theory versus their technical feedback.
Well this could be another topic. I would suggest a budding type designer not get too hung up on preserving your innovative or theoretical genius. If that is what floats your boat, fine, write it down so you won't forget, then listen. Looking back at my first fonts, what seemed ground breaking at the time, was really something requiring *technical feedback*

dan_reynolds's picture

That looks like a cross between Copperplate and Mason!

A. Scott Britton's picture

It seems to me that one niche (which is more like a gaping canyon in the face of typography) that, although given attention, needs so much more focus is digital type, for websites and the like.

The WWW has really only been around and in practical use for ten years, this means that there's a lot a lot a lot of room for both theory and design, whatever you like. Photography, for example, has a life of roughly 150 years, and people are still doing great new heretofore unthoughtof things with it.

Maybe people have held off on doing too much in this field because they're afraid of the extra steps that need to be taken (serious attention to hinting concerns, and the realization that a face may [and probably will] look different from display device to display device.

I know I'm scared.

aquatoad's picture

Seeing the droves of people wanting to get their fonts critiqued on Typophile, where there's not even anybody of the caliber of Carter or Kobayashi, makes me think the problem was something else.

We weren't wearing our avatar masks at Typecon :-)

kris's picture

>the realization that a face may [and probably will] look different from display device to display device.
I know I'm scared.

That would be the best problem to figure out! A font that is liquid, just like liquid websites that work across all display devices. Go on, I know you can do it!

dart's picture

Timing is bad. I posted this and then suddenly I became very busy. More response later when I've
got more time, but. . .

My website has moved, it just hasn't been noted on my old Tripod site because the change isn't
likely to be permanent. At least not to my new URL which is now in my profile. Working on that snappy domain name.

I can't quite make the fonts I already have pay fonts. I made a deal with someone at Debian Linux to
have my fonts bundled with their next major release. One of the stipulations was that I had to make
the fonts open source. Future fonts can be sold, but I'd also like to be more sure they're worth buying
before I go down that road.

There are still many questions I have about font design. Someone to learn from would be a
wonderful thing. (Is there a difference between bold and black besides the degree of, um,
blackness? How in heck do you get your tilde not to look all wobbly? . . . )

Better comments when I have the time to think and I'm not rushing off to an appointment or the
airport. . . .

Si_Daniels's picture

> I made a deal with someone at Debian Linux to
have my fonts bundled with their next major release. One of the stipulations was that I had to make the fonts open source.

This may be the niche you're looking for. Selling support, additional weights, extended language support, and maybe even hinted versions of these fonts to the Debian community.

A. Scott Britton's picture

Two questions for Si:

1) When you say "Welsh", are you talking stylistic (in keeping with Welsh culture), or technical (Welsh diacritics)?

2) What are the legalities of things like extended language support and weight additions for existing faces designed by someone other than you? How does that work?

Si_Daniels's picture

At the time I was thinking about the diacritics. I picked Welsh, because someone else (David Earls?) was asking about it in a different thread, and picked CAS knowing that Ross had that market cornered. I agree with the other people on the thread that finding a niche is a good way of 'breaking in', and that the niche may not necessarily be a minority language. It could be cultural or it could be serving a particular type of device or technology. It could equally be serving a community like the Linux community.

With respect to the fonts Darren provided to Debian, these are now open source so assuming the license is really OS, anyone is free to modify, extend, hint them, sell them, bundle them etc., But Darren has the advantage of being the original creator of these so should be able to promote himself as the person best suited to doing the work.

Cheers, Si

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