In Search Of: Instances of Collaborative Type Design

hrant's picture

I would like to compile a list (perhaps eventually resulting in a wiki) of notable efforts in collaborative type design. Team77 comes to mind as a very good example. A more contemporary instance would be Majoor and Buivenga.

The distribution of work can be anything: glyph design versus spacing versus hinting, Latin versus Arabic versus Cyrillic, conceptualizing versus sketching versus digitizing, etc. However I would like to exclude cases where the collaboration was inescapable - for example the yesteryear collaboration between a type designer and a punchcutter. I'm looking for cases of collaboration where the typeface could have been done by one person, but people elected to collaborate anyway.

We can flesh the list out with details, but please don't hold back if all you'd like to contribute is names (of fonts or people).



kentlew's picture

Well, I probably list more than a dozen instances from the Font Bureau bullpen. Where do you want to start?

Miller : Matthew Carter, Tobias Frere-Jones, Cyrus Highsmith (maybe others)
Postoni : Matthew Carter, Richard Lipton, Dyana Weissman
Benton Sans : Tobias Frere-Jones, Richard Lipton, Cyrus Highsmith, Jill Pichotta (maybe others)
FB Californian : David Berlow, Jane Patterson, Richard Lipton, Jill Pichotta (Carol Twombly started it)
Bureau Grot : David Berlow, Jill Pichotta, Christian Schwartz, Richard Lipton (probably others)

. . . Okay, I’m not really going to go for a dozen. You get the idea.

William Berkson's picture

There are now teams: Underware, Type together, Type jockeys. Spiekermann always has collaborators, a whole list including Lucas de Groot, and more recently Christian Schwartz, Kris Sowersby. Frutiger describes how he had a series of collaborators, some of whom became designers in their own right; lately it's been with Kobayshi. Now Frere-Jones and Hoefler collaborate, and they have others helping them. Slimbach has a bunch of people at Adobe. Wow, it does go on and on.

John Hudson's picture

A significant number of our non-European types -- Adobe Arabic, Adobe Devanagari, Adobe Thai, Vodafone Hindi, to name a few -- are collaborations between Tim Holloway, Fiona Ross and me. I try to credit the individual types to represent the balance of contribution to the overall design, which doesn't always represent the amount of work an individual contributes in terms of kerning, mark positioning, OTL table work, etc.

There are also, of course, instances of typefaces designed by multiple people, sometimes over an extended period of time, that are not the product of collaborative effort in the sense that the people worked together.

Thomas Phinney's picture

Although Robert Slimbach certainly gets production assistance from other folks, with the exception of Myriad I think of every typeface bearing his name as being a Slimbach design rather than a collaboration (though I don't mean to minimize the amount of work involved in production assistance). Though the folks doing that work or who have done that work might be even better equipped to comment.

Robert contributed quite a lot to the design of Hypatia Sans, however. Then Paul Hunt took over the daily work on the italics when I left Adobe, though I think I had established the direction fairly firmly in the first year or so I worked on them on and off.



hrant's picture

Great stuff so far - thank you.

Kent, in the case of Font Bureau, I assume there's some sort of
pattern/hierarchy/method. If so, do you think you could elaborate?


Richard Fink's picture


As someone who's been thinking, lately, about font production as a manufacturing process like any other. (Oh, boy, I can hear the guns being cocked.)
Do you mind if I ask what the impetus is for your question?


kentlew's picture

DB would be better qualified to talk about any *method* at FB. I’m not directly involved; I just have a good seat in the front row. ;-)

From what I observe, there’s quite a variety. Seems like a fair bit of it comes down to What Works in order to Get the Job Done.

But I think the basic patterns are pretty common-sense:

» Someone starts a design and develops a modest family. Later it gets expanded and someone else takes over interpretation of the extensions. (e.g. Benton Gothic/Sans, Bureau Grotesque/Grot)

» Someone designs the basic characters (~ascii), and someone else gets to play it out to all the rest of the char set, and maybe refine the fitting.

» Someone might work on the roman styles, while someone else develops the italics. (I think Benton Modern Display went like this, for example.)

» Someone designs a display family, then someone else works up the text versions. Or vice versa. (FB Californian, among others, I believe)

» Someone designs the basic styles, and someone else gets to develop all the grades. (Most of the Readability Series)

» Someone designs the family, and later someone else gets to do a lot of customization for a client — could be stylistic adjustments, char set extensions, revised fitting, etc. (Various custom bread-and-butter jobs)

» And Dyana seems to like doing everyone’s kerning ;-)

Any particular project might entail a combination of these possibilities. And of course, any “lead” designer would get final review of everything.

I don’t know; is this collaborative design, or just pragmatic production? I’m not exactly sure what you’re after in terms of “notable efforts.”

kentlew's picture

> font production as a manufacturing process like any other

Exactly. The one-person-does-it-all has been the more exceptional case until very recently, or unless you go way back in history. It is, after all, pretty much an industrial art. Or at least it used to be.

hrant's picture

Richard, mostly I've gradually become more interested in the potential and dynamics of group creativity. A wiki would be nice (it's high time I help out by authoring one here). Most practically, I'm writing a conference proposal.

Kent, that elaboration is highly useful - thanks.

> The one-person-does-it-all has been the more exceptional case
> until very recently, or unless you go way back in history.

On the other hand, I think there's a difference between resorting to help because you have no choice, and then stifling the contribution of your "collaborator" (I'm thinking of designer versus punchcutter in the metal age) versus happily collaborating for economic or creative reasons.


nina's picture

Interesting thread.
I wonder, might a differentiation be useful between the form of division of labor that is apparently pretty much the normal course of events inside [at least some] foundries; and individual designers who usually work alone (or even across different foundries*) deciding to join up for a given project?

* Things like Meta Serif come to mind.

William Berkson's picture

It sounds to me like there are at least three significantly different kinds of collaboration. 1. People trade tentative glyph designs back and forth until everyone is happy. 2. One person has the design idea and does the design in one weight and style and has others expand, with feedback from the designer. 3. One person does the drawing of glyphs, but much of the rest of the process is left to others. How much the "design" aspect is really shared thus seems to vary a lot.

Nick Shinn's picture

I generally do everything myself, although I did collaborate with Amanda Duffy on the Duffy Script face. She didn't do any digital work, but provided many samples of lettering that were conducive to typographic interpretation, as well as pen and ink renderings of typographic characters that she would never be called upon to use in her work as an illustrator. So she was involved in the design process to some degree.

I have also had clients of commissioned work who have provided a very strong direction, quite specific on details (with constructive recommendations, rather than just saying, "I don't like that"), although this is not usually the case. But it was for the design of Pratt, so much so that I felt it quite appropriate to name the face after David Pratt, the design director of the paper, The Globe and Mail, for which it was commissioned. Mr Pratt was a collaborator, although he is not formally listed as co-designer.

Queneau's picture

ITC Bodoni comes to mind.

It was designed by Jim Parkinson, Sumner Stone, Holly Goldsmith, Janice Fishman under the art direction of Sumner Stone

Andreas Stötzner's picture

If decisions on character coverage would meet your criteria, Andron is a work of collaboration, too. Though the actual graphic design is entirely my own part, a Hundreds of specialized characters were incorporated on grounds of assembled research results of the MUFI colleagues.

eliason's picture

It was designed by Jim Parkinson, Sumner Stone, Holly Goldsmith, Janice Fishman under the art direction of Sumner Stone.

I'd suppose Giambattista deserves a little credit, too! ;-)

Richard Fink's picture


>Most practically, I'm writing a conference proposal.
For where? It's got my vote.

I'm signed on as a speaker/facilitator at fontConf in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 19
[Attention all type and graphic designers in the Minneapolis/St.Paul area: Please attend!]
It should be a lot of fun.

In line with this thread: Font designer Chank Deisel is facilitating a collaborative workshop session called, "Let’s Design an Open Source Font Together" and I'm doing a session with the mysterious title of "Font Fixing: Piercing The Veil Of OpenType Technology".
My premise being that there's an awful lot of raw material with licensing that permits derivative work but that just needs fixing. Spacing, kerning, hinting, miscellaneous tweaking. A much easier path than designing from scratch, it seems to me.

And the result need not necessarily be offered free of charge, either. (Check out Ascender's repackaging and pricing of the Droid families - they claim they've added glyphs to the original free set - originally sponsored by Google and released under the Apache 2.0 license - but they don't go so far as to say what glyphs they've added. Hmmm...)



Diner's picture

Sorry I'm late to the ball but I couldn't help but notice the topic . . .

I guess you could say I'm a serial collaborator at this point, initially having performed several collaborations with Brian Bonislawsky of Astigmatic for the Bitstream BTN fonts - 500 fonts in 90 days :D - As well as the Casino Buffet Font Set and the upcoming Viva Las Buffets Font Set . . .

Otherwise the Sideshow type foundry is nearly 100% based on collaborations I've done with lettering artists as well as my collaboration with Crystal Kluge as the Tart Workshop foundry . . .

Further, the Filmotype Junto is literally a group of 10+ type designers all reviving analog filmstrip fonts into modern OpenType digital fonts and we've had to as a group define the parameters of what is acceptable in the manner we revive the faces from how they are scanned to how they are built and expanded where characters weren't previously drawn.

Every one of these collaborations has been very successful for all parties both professionally and creatively.


hoefler's picture

All of the work we do at H&FJ is collaborative, which is why the studio, rather than any single contributor, is always credited as the designer of a typeface.

It's never been very easy to describe the division of labor that goes into a typeface, and as our studio grows (there are now eleven of us, not including outside contractors) this only gets thornier. It's sometimes the case that one person is the originator of an idea, and another serves as its editor, and that individual designers are specifically tasked with different aspects of the project that can be neatly segregated. But most of the time the process is more integrated and iterative.

Right now we're working on a family of fonts whose central styles are a roman that I drew twenty-one years ago, and an italic that I began sketching in the late nineties. When we had occasion to revisit the design a few years ago, Tobias and I began discussing what opportunities there were for improvement, and what we hoped might be a light dusting ultimately turned into a gut renovation. Andy Clymer took some of the weight explorations I'd begun, and developed them into a four-square prototype, and when the three of us discussed this work we agreed to make some substantial changes to the central designs. Andy's fuller development of the italic also introduced some fantastic new ideas that I was eager to employ in the romans as well, so we revisited parts of the character set with these in mind. Ksenya Samarskaya has been working on some of the more esoteric parts of the character set, and her work with the tabular figures has begun to call into question our decisions about the design of the lining figures. As recently as this winter, when the font was "done" (a word now banned from the office) we were tinkering with the font's x-height. Finally, I think this is one of the families in which what remains of my original drawings now lives "off grid," somewhere between the Book and Medium weights, where this work exists only to spawn the interpolations.

I realize as I write this account that what makes this an especially rare project for us is that Sara Soskolne, our senior designer, hasn't been involved in it yet. Sara has contributed to most of our powerhouse type families in recent years — Chronicle, Verlag, and the new Gothams are just a few — and I've yet to see a project that hasn't required some cleverer thinking from her than from whoever at H&FJ she's most closely working with. Right now Sara's working on a family of fonts for which she drew the principal styles, and I'm certain that as this project develops it will certainly benefit from artistic and editorial contributions from the rest of the team.

Though I started my career as a one-man band, I've come to think of type design as an inherently collaborative act. Part of this is certainly a matter of complexity — a typeface with 800 glyphs in each of 106 styles simply needs more hands on deck — but mostly I think that as a process, type design is just improved by the kind of rigorous review that requires two or more people. Every conversation between designers at H&FJ involves articulating our decisions, and sometimes we find that our inability to explain a particular choice marks it as a bad one. But just as often, someone finds an unexpected way of articulating (or questioning) something that someone else has done, which can inspire a new way of looking at things, or a new strategy that's useful to the project — or another project. It's hard to have such a productive conversation with yourself.

Years ago, I read a witheringly funny short story in a magazine, and was moved to buy the compilation from which it was excerpted. I was shocked to find that the 20,000-word original was a such a mess: overwrought, poorly organized, and lacking the sharp turns and taut rhythms that made what I'd first read so marvelous. I realized more than ever just how crucial a good editor is to the process, and how vastly improved a work of art can be when it benefits from a colleague who understands you, sometimes even better than you understand yourself, and is indisputably on your side. That's how H&FJ makes fonts.

Nick Shinn's picture

I've come to think of type design as an inherently collaborative act.

That has worked well for you Jonathan, but I don't believe it's the only modus operandi.
There are trade-offs in comparing solo with division of labor.
I long ago decided to remain solo (as a graphic designer, before I had produced any digital fonts).
That was a decision to remain hands-on with the tools, more craft than industrial. Most immediately, I didn't want to be the old geezer standing behind the kid at the computer, saying "move that a bit to the left".

On the down side, it's always a struggle to stay au fait with the technical demands of font production, but on the up side I've found that getting inside the technicalities of a task can lead to new design directions; for instance, the possibilites of OpenType substitution codes for making more "natural"-looking scripts, and pseudo-randomization, has provided me with an ongoing theme to develop in a succession of typefaces, and I don't think you can really nail your contextual glyph shapes unless you are working hands on, because the relationship between glyph shape and substitution classes is so motile.

I also like to do my own manual kerning, because I consider the relationship between sidebearings, kerning, and glyph shape to be a holistic matter of personal taste: so I opt more for the subjective judgement of the designer during the creative process, rather than the objective eye of the editor post facto--although I don't see why team work can't be just as effective when the "editor" is brought into the feedback loop.

I must admit I haven't found the process of hinting to be at all stimulating, so was buoyed this morning to read that the new iPhone will have a superfine screen resolution with invisible pixels. No more hinting?!

kris's picture

“I realized more than ever just how crucial a good editor is to the process, and how vastly improved a work of art can be when it benefits from a colleague who understands you, sometimes even better than you understand yourself, and is indisputably on your side.”

After a few collaborations with Christian, I have come to understand exactly the same thing. I am pretty certain that it's precisely a lack of editing and outside viewpoints that lead to the slew of badly executed fonts these days. Even for my ‘own’ releases, I make sure that I get input from a select group of trusted confidants. I also consider commissions & custom type as a collaborative effort. For example, there is no way that I would have come up with Hardys or Serrano if it wasn’t for specific client requests & feedback during the design process.

The Incubator at Village is an interesting concept. It functions essentially as a collaboration between a young designer & Chester.

I imagine that the majority of professional releases these days are collaborations. It would seem to be the norm rather than the exception.

Nick Shinn's picture

Mention should be made of FontFont (FSI), which regularly publishes type designs by many designers.
My first digital designs were FontFonts, before I started Shinntype.
I've recently collaborated with FSI, and several people at its in-house studio, in up-dating those legacy format fonts to OpenType "Pro" status.

mrschwartz's picture

To build on what Jonathan and Kris have stated above, every release we’ve put out through Commercial Type has been a collaboration of one kind or another, even where the typefaces are credited to an individual designer. Since working on the Guardian typefaces together, Paul Barnes and I usually conceptualize and draw our work together, passing files back and forth and discussing everything until we’re both happy and nobody can remember who drew what. Our staff type designer Berton Hasebe is always actively involved in the ongoing discussion of each project as well. Even when one of us has taken the lead on a project, at one point that designer is bound to get stuck on something, and it usually takes the editorial eye of the others to get him out of the rut because we each bring a different sensibility to the table — Paul has an encyclopedic knowledge of type history and has spent years as an art director, typographer and graphic designer, and is British; I have the most experience as a working type designer, and I’ve spent my career on the east coast of the US; and Berton was educated and worked on the west coast and in Holland.

I learn something new from each collaborator, whether it’s another type designer, like Kris or Erik Spiekermann, or a client (we have been very lucky to work with some really smart and interesting creative directors), and each collaborative project. I think my work would have become stale a long time ago if I had kept working on my own. It's easy to fall into bad habits and make excuses for things being "good enough".

Tomi from Suomi's picture

I'm still waiting for you.

blank's picture

I'm still waiting for you.

So much time, so few collaborators :(

Randy's picture

I very much enjoyed collaborating with illustrator Kevin Cornell on Phaeton. The best part was seeing ideas from his pen that would never enter my mind to even consider. The challenge for me was taking his exceptional lettering and making it work as a font, without killing it's soul. We had such fun, we're pressing on with another collaboration (albeit slooowly).

Ivo's picture

There are sooooo many different ways to collaborate, and so many degrees of collaboration, that I believe such a list or wiki would have to be incomplete by definition. We see this all the time here at FontFont. There are classic cases where designers get other designers to help expand on existing families for instance (e.g. FF Milo & FF Milo Serif). Others do fine on their own, but require help from their foundries mainly for publication and marketing (does this also count as a collaboration? ;). Plenty of designers request help from our TypeDepartment in many different areas, ranging from technical or design issues to very elementary questions. There are even cases where our in-house designers contribute heavily to the creation of a FontFont (e.g. FF Dagny). Since every typeface is as individual as its creator, we contribute as flexibly as possible on all different levels as needed. So I’d second Kris on this: „I imagine that the majority of professional releases these days are collaborations. It would seem to be the norm rather than the exception.“

(BTW, FF Meta Serif wasn’t a cross-foundry collaboration, it was a collaboration of individual designers.)

mike_duggan's picture

the ClearType collection of fonts including Meiryo was a pretty hefty collaboration of experts for : Original design, Hinting, OpenType, consultation on Greek and Cyrillic design. It is all described in the ClearType book Now Read this. I doubt any one person could have tackled the lot for any one typeface, maybe Luc(as) :)

billtroop's picture

In type, collaboration is good. The reason is type-blindness, the affliction type designers suffer from where they can't see what is wrong with their type. There is probably no typeface that has lasted more than a decade that did not have some collaboration. Even designers known for doing everything themselves (such as Type Gods A, B, C, and D) have usually, in an unpublic and uncredited manner, sought outside advice. One problem with collaborators is that unless there is an economic motive to put a lot of work into the font, the collaborative input is likely to be shallower than it could be. Hence the advantage of the 'studio system' -- when it works. It doesn't always work, as van Krimpen noted ... often. At least not to everyone's satisfaction. But that is implicit in the design and manufacture of a font which is a mere intermediary function in the creation of printed matter (or displayed matter). Nor can one overlook the limitations of technology. For example, in how many PostScript versions of Frutiger is the z raised, slightly, above the baseline, as it is supposed to be? Who makes the decision that a unit is probably too coarse? Is the error corrected in TrueType, where it could be? At what size and resolution could it possibly be desirable to have this degree of refinement? Is Frutiger interested in how his anonymous collaborators things work these things out? How many collaborators and cloners even notice that this influential font has been designed with this level of sophistication?

phrostbyte64's picture

The Fonrty was started as a collaborative effort. We remain so for all of the reasons mentioned in previous posts. That and my numbers are always more cool than Mike's.

Did you mean noteworthy designers? ;)

Nick Shinn's picture

Don't forget the collaboration that occurs at Typophile.

For instance, in lieu of hiring specialist consultants in Greek and Cyrillic for the Modern Suite, I was able to proceed with my own research (much of it on the Internet), and with assistance here from people such as John Hudson and native Cyrillic/Greek speakers. The discussion of Bulgarian alternates was fascinating -- useful for providing a cultural perspective on the Cyrillic script, more so than making font sales in Bulgaria!

The Critique forum provides the editing function that Jonathan Hoefler mentioned.

Vladimir Tamari's picture

The Arabic font Basim Marah "was designed and drawn by Basim Salem Al Mahdi from Iraq and then digitalized as a typeface by Hasan Abu Afash from Palestine."

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