Explaining value of fonts & typography to clients

Thomas Phinney's picture

I am working on an article about how to explain to clients why fonts and typography matter.

I have amassed a good array of facts, arguments and analogies over the years (though I always welcome more). What I’m really looking for are some good anecdotes about clients questioning the value of typography and fonts, and the dialogue you had with them. Is this a frequent or perennial problem for you?

To be quoted in the article it would be helpful for me to have your real name, and where you are based.



Nick Shinn's picture

During my years as a digital designer (1988-98) in Toronto, never a problem.

hrant's picture

I think it's the single most significant and challenging problem in type design - although things are better than they used to be, thanks in large part to more media coverage of the craft.

One question before I start formally mining my memory: when you say "clients", are you excluding retail customers?


blank's picture

I always tell people that the difference between good typography and good fonts is the difference between work that looks professional and work that looks like someone's secretary threw it together in MS Word. One reason Apple's stores looks so good is the careful and consistent application of Myriad. But Kmart's careless mashup of Helvetica, Gill, News Gothic, and Gotham looks like, well, Kmart.

Thomas Phinney's picture

Hrant: I am thinking more of clients for graphic/web design, rather than clients for type design, or purchasers of fonts.

hrant's picture

I can offer a story that might be colorful enough to possibly be worth including in your article - it involves a client waffling on the purchase of fonts. It was 1992 and I was among a rare breed of designer who had been successfully producing non-Latin fonts for the only low-cost video titling platform back then, the Amiga computer. One of my almost-clients was the main Iranian television channel in Los Angeles; they had been negotiating with me for my set of Arabic/Farsi video fonts for months. In November of that year I decided to move to Barcelona, so I called up Bahram and said "You might want to buy the fonts now, since I don't know if/when I'm coming back..." (which was actually true). In two days he came up with the $2000 cash; this was after all before the Internet age. In fact along with some other clients in the same position, he helped finance my 6-month stay in Spain! But then I ended up back in LA, to see my work on TV at any time of day* but also to realize that it was becoming more difficult to sell *quality* to clients, since many more people -some of them living in countries which much lower costs of living- were starting to make fonts...

* http://themicrofoundry.com/s_multimedia.html


John Hudson's picture

I always appreciated Erik Spiekermann's succinct statement to clients: You cannot not communicate.

If a client doesn't care about how they communicate, including typographically, then they communicate that they don't care.

Renko's picture

John: The quote from Mr. Spiekerman is a popular theory in communications by the late Paul Watzlawick: One cannot not communicate. But in everything else I agree with you.

earthache's picture

I'm in my early days of freelance working and I always rely on a strong and solid typographic basis for my works, this is why most of the time they are rejected by clients who prefer something fancy and colourful. And my clients are instutions, e.g. Italian Minister for Equal Opportunities, A.C.I. (Azione Cattolica Italiana, a catholic-related organisation).
There's a general urge for something that shouts the communication as louder as possible, confusing accessibility and clarity with mere visual pollution.
And I'm also noticing this is deeply related with the client's culture and cultural target.
I think a fine client will give me the time to explain why a solid typography is important. And he will eventually understand it (or he'd maybe understand me without explaining it all).

JamesM's picture

With graphic design clients, good explanations are obviously a plus, but as a practical matter I think it's more a factor of 1) picking the right clients (companies with reasonable budgets and who realize the importance of good design), and 2) developing a good professional relationship with them so they trust your recommendations.

Thomas Phinney's picture

Thanks all, for the comments. :)

Frank ADEBIAYE's picture

I don't explain the value of clients to typography ; type design serves mainly advertising, it's casting pearls before swine.

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