Last April, type designer Peter Bilak participated in a large meeting among type designers, foundries, educators and font users, to understand the challenges of using fonts today. One thing learned during this meeting was that many schools have no computer labs anymore, and therefore, they cannot acquire educational font licenses. Students are on their own when it comes to find licensing, and often they are forced either illegally to download fonts, or use substandard free fonts.
Bilak created Fontstand, a font streaming service, where fonts can be installed remotely and temporarily on user’s computers. “We are technically in a position to offer a solution where schools can license fonts even for computers outside of the institutions, and we just announced an unprecedented Educational font licensing program,” he says.
In time, more schools will take advantage of the new program. I asked Bilak to tell us why this is so important for students and educators alike.
You’ve said that many design schools no longer have computer labs. The proliferation of personal computing devices has made this possible. What are, however, the drawbacks?
I remember the full cycle, from the point when the first computer appeared in schools in the 1980s, to the democratization of the technology in the 1990s, and first computer labs, and now the current phase when each student has multiple devices more powerful than any of the early computers. The proliferation of personal computers is certainly positive, as students became more autonomous. The schools followed the suit, and realized that computer labs are no longer necessary. The problem is that in the past the schools took care not only of the hardware, but also the software and fonts. Right now, the students are on their own when it comes to font licensing, and often they are forced either either illegally to download fonts, or use substandard free fonts, as schools can’t officially buy fonts to be installed on students’ personal computers.
You’ve created a type streaming service, Fonstand, as a means to change the paradigm of education font licensing. What do you anticipate this will accomplish?We created Fontstand to solve several things: to make legal using of fonts easier than searching online for illegal fonts, to fairly share the revenue with the authors of the fonts and support their future work, and to make high quality fonts accessible to people who would not be able to buy them before. While doing it, we realized we can also use the Fontstand platform to do other things, allowing free testing of fonts, giving students individual font credits, or even replace the font educational licensing that once existed. We also realized that students don’t need to own fonts, and have a permanent license, but need access to fonts for a limited type. By renting the fonts for a few months they will pay only a fraction of the regular font price.We’ve come so far in two decades in terms of how type is licensed and distributed to students. Do you believe there’s more that needs doing?People often assume that some large anonymous companies create fonts, and when they meet actual type designers, they realize that it is all different. Type designers spend often years creating valuable tools, and rely on the users to pay for their work, to make their livelihood, and so they can continue doing their work. Meeting people who create tools, changes how people perceive fonts, so we also organize lectures, and conferences. In Chicago, together with the STA (The Society of Typographic Arts) we organize a regular lecture series. And once a year, we organize a conference (last time in Zagreb, Croatia), which also had a focus on education, and many type designers sponsored student tickets. We find this physical interaction as important as having online discovery tools.
How do the makers of fonts recoup given this plan?Fontstand absorbs all the costs, while full royalties are paid to the makers of fonts. This is our commitment to type design, and while Fontstand is losing money on the short term, hopefully the students — future professionals — will come back to us when they can afford to buy the fonts in the future. We find it important to expose the young designers to the high quality fonts, so they don’t have to make compromises while choosing fonts.