Roger Black Discusses Future Potential for Type Design

Sample spreads, with type palette listings, for Ready-Media's "Trumbull" and "Lochmoor" magazine template designs.

Roger Black is currently embroiled in design disputes … again!

At New York’s Type 1987, Roger went head-to-head with Paula Scher over ITC’s version of Garamond. At AIGA’s Miami conference in 1993, during his stint at Esquire, it was him against David “Raygun” Carson, fighting about publication design. But hey, that was way back when just about every designer was arguing about … everything.

But the president of Roger Black Studio in N.Y. and co-founder of Font Bureau is still pissing people off.

Roger Black to illustrators: time to retire "illustrator." Photo by M. Dooley.

As moderator of a keynote panel at last month’s ICON 6 in Pasadena that caused quite a bit of divisiveness, Roger was one of the rabble rousers. In his opening remarks, he pinned the blame on art directors for ending the era of magazines with illustrations. He later went on to say that “illustrator” itself is an antiquated job title that should be abandoned. The entire discussion provoked a great deal of anger and dispute. I gathered some of that feedback for Imprint, which you can read here and here.

The following week, Roger launched Ready-Media, an enterprise which markets templates for convenient magazine, newspaper, and Web page layouts and font selections. One of its slogans is “Just add content.” Naturally, this generated a great deal of heated debate, pro and con, from Scher and other designers, at the Society of Publication Designers’ blog and elsewhere. His responses to his critics are posted at SPD as well as the Society for News Design’s site.

The title of Roger’s ICON keynote was “The Future of Publication.” When he returns to L.A. this week for TypeCon 2010: Babel, his “Future” keynote will be about type design. This conference runs Tuesday through Sunday, at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza.

In the following interview, Roger says that at TypeCon, he expects more friction.

Michael Dooley: TypeCon has lined up presentations about Farsi typography, Indian scripts, and Arabic calligraphy. What are your business concerns about font developments in non-English speaking societies?

Roger Black: Clearly Font Bureau and other Latin-based foundries have an opportunity in Asia. But we don’t have the culture, or even the language skills necessary. The 20th century typesetter companies made big inroads into the East, but I’m not sure that the fonts were ever that good; they were just the only ones available for machine composition.

New tools allow the distribution of design to each culture. Font Bureau can someday distribute the work of Indian or Chinese type designers. In a global, diverse, pluralistic world, we may have to.

And what e-publishing type challenges is Font Bureau currently dealing with?

Black: In time for TypeCon, Font Bureau is announcing, which features six screen text families that follow David Berlow’s ideas about the forms needed for maximum readability on the screen. They’re called Reading Edge fonts. Not because they’re hinted for the screen, although of course they are, for those occasions where hints are utilized by the OS. But because of the actual design of the glyphs. Very tall x-heights, very open apertures. And careful spacing that fits the raster at text sizes.

David, single-handedly, is putting an end to the concept that fonts on screen follow WYSIWIG positioning. Reading Edge Fonts fit the grid. The difference is obvious on the screen. Suddenly web designers, confined for more than a decade to a choice of Georgia or Verdana, have three times the possibilities.

Dooley: Your ICON panel caused a stir among illustrators, and publication designers are currently raising a ruckus over Ready-Media. Do you anticipate any sort of controversies to occur at TypeCon?

Black: Sure. Type designers are a scrappy lot.

I’ll always remember the tussle in the dust between Ed Benguiat and Jim Parkinson at the ATypI in Barcelona. On one side there are typographers who will never be reconciled to desktop publishing. On the other, there are type designers who are so far ahead technologically that most of us will never catch up.

At the ICON conference, I suggested that this was a great time for illustrators because the explosion of imagery in the digital world has created a craving for handmade art. At TypeCon, I’m suggesting that the flood of web pages has created a desire for commercial branding that web fonts can help address. The direction of le monde typographique is more exciting.

The way we are going, there will soon be the ability for individuals to adopt specific fonts for their e-mail messages. This turns the font business from wholesale to retail. The potential for type designers and typographers is enormous.

9 thoughts on “Roger Black Discusses Future Potential for Type Design

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  4. Scott

    The music recording industry has already seen such changes: if consumers are content listening to compressed “data” on “ear buds” (what an awful term) with certain frequencies eliminated, can expenisive analog recording studios, record cutting lathes, and the engineers who are experts in their operation justify their existence?

    Client (and public) education has always been a large part of designers’ jobs. Now we are up against “crowd-sourcing,” (a cheap term for “submit your unpaid spec work and if you’re lucky we’ll pick it and you’ll get paid”), websites (such as It’s hard enough proving that you’re not just a photocopier that spits out work at the push of a button.

    David Sudweeks raises a good point: designers must justify their existence to their clients and the general public (as if we don’t have enough work already). Clients will then be able to make truly informed decisions about how they contract design, hopefully understanding the difference between dumping info into a template vs. engaging in a true dialogue with a sentient being who can understand the client’s needs and develop a CUSTOM solution, something Black’s templates will never do. Nowhere in all the magazines and advertising for design conferences do I see this being discussed. Designers will not be able to achieve this alone; we will have to work together to educate the business decision makers via articles in business publications.

    I would be interested in hearing directly from anyone who might be interested in discussing this further with an ear towards promoting a dialogue within and outside the design community. Contact me at

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  7. David Sudweeks

    If we designers cannot offer our clients better value than that of a template service, should we not be out of business? What you’re describing is what Henry Hazlitt calls ‘The Curse of Machinery’.