The Daily Heller: I Love, You Love, We Love Typography!

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I Love Typography,” an influential voice in the world of type, letters and typography, just launched an innovative web shop “dedicated to font discovery and licensing.” It promises to be a fair and equitable, accessible and spirited means for an ever-increasing number of typeface designers (and graphic designers who design typefaces) and foundries to distribute their wares. To help celebrate the launch, some of the world’s most respected type designers are releasing new faces and launching new foundries that will be represented on the site. ILT is christening 16 fresh typefaces, and they have 40 foundries on board for almost 7,000 fonts total. The plan is to grow “very quickly.”

The three founders of this long-in-the-making venture include CCO John Boardley, a type historian, critic and blogger who has amassed almost half a million Twitter followers. Meanwhile, CRO Julia Hiles brings more than 20 years’ sales leadership experience in both the finance and creative industries. Hiles will center this creative ecosystem around sustainable business models that benefit both foundries and brands: “In a corporate world where everyone starts to look the same, brand owners can turn to us to discover the right brand expression, confident in the knowledge that they are licensing high-quality typefaces that are fit for purpose,” she says.

ILT’s CEO is veteran typologist Dr. Nadine Chahine; she combines expertise in type design, legibility and international relations to steer ILT in its new expansion. Named one of Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business” in 2012 and Creative Reviews’ “Creative Leaders 50” in 2016, Chahine is focused on empowering independent foundries and creating a customer experience that is rooted in the joy of discovering and licensing new fonts. “Finding the right typeface for your project should not be a chore,” she says. “There is such a storm of expressions in type design and we want to bring that diversity and power into the hands of designers. We also want to create a platform where independent foundries can thrive and maintain control of their business models. We believe that such a twin-speared approach can help foster a creative ecosystem that celebrates the beauty of the written word.”

I asked Chahine to explain at greater length just why ILT will be beneficial for type makers, type users and type audiences.

What are the new web shop's unique features and services?

A unique feature that we have is our system of type descriptors, CEDARS+, which helps transform font discovery from endless scrolling into an enjoyable experience. The name is an acronym for contrast, energy level, details, rhythm, axis and structure. The plus is for script specific features. This system allows us to describe a typeface based on its formal characteristics, and to use these as powerful filters. So, for example, if you were working on branding for racing bikes, you could go onto CEDARS+ and select high energy and low contrast. You could do that search for Latin typefaces or for any of the other scripts we support. CEDARS+ also allows for the type of granular search such as when you are looking for a specific serif that you have in mind for a book title. Or when you are looking for an ‘M’ for a logo where that mid-point is floating rather than on the baseline.

Another unique aspect is the set of social features that we allow on the site. A user can follow foundries for their updates. They can favorite fonts so as to come back to them later. You know, this is not rocket science. These are social features that one can easily expect based on how we live our online lives today. It’s just that the major font distributors have not really looked to the outside world in quite a long time.

You are all veterans in the realm of type design, font marketing and type design advocacy—there must have been tipping points that pushed your venture. What are you hoping and planning to improve in the font universe?

It all came together last autumn when I was preparing to launch my first foundry collection, and there was no font distributor that I felt comfortable with. I could not trust my fonts with my previous employers for all the reasons that made me leave that employment, and the others on the market did not appear to have shaken the monopoly that currently chokes our industry. If anything, that is our biggest driver: to offer a breathing space for foundries to exist and flourish, a space that is driven by the wish to sustain our industry and to ensure its continuity. For designers and foundries and the creative spirit that binds us.

What do you feel have been the flaws and faults in the font distribution and marketing system for both creators and users?

For many years now the same phenomenon repeats itself: You release a typeface after a lot of hard work, it gets its moment in the sun, and then it disappears. It’s extremely difficult for a foundry to promote a new typeface. For the users of type, there are so many typefaces out there, it is really difficult to navigate that space. Imagine all the typefaces in existence today; they are all floating in a very deep well, and only the ones at the surface get to see the light. Everything else sinks to the bottom. Our aim is to transform that well into a clear and shallow lake where the light of the sun shines all the way through. In that transformation we find that typographic choice goes beyond the typographic styles that get used all the time, that there is such a joy in exploring those blue waters.

How is the new platform different from others, and notably, Fonts in Use, the competition?

We are the only ones who started off with great content that celebrates the beauty of type, and then decided to make that type directly accessible to everyone! ILT was never meant to be a business venture, but a place for John to speak about the topic he is so passionate about. I certainly never thought I would be getting into distribution either. Our motivation is coming from our positions within our community, the responsibility that brings, and a sense of common purpose. Furthermore, our competitors are font distributors. What we are building is a creative ecosystem that includes font distribution as well as great content, social features and a host of other capabilities that we are still building. There is so much more to do still!

There has obviously been a lot of prep work. How long has this first stage been going on? Why has it been shrouded in secrecy?

We started discussing this in October 2020, and got to work on it in earnest in November. We’ve worked with lightning speed to get to launch less than nine months later. Given how the font business has been evolving in the past couple of years, and that we were all unhappy with that trend, we felt a sense of urgency that this project needed to come to fruition sooner rather than later. When we spoke to foundries, we saw the same thoughts and feelings echoed by so many, which is why we have had this wave of unprecedented support to our cause. The foundries have been magnificent! That we are now able to celebrate the launch together is in many ways testament to their willingness to jump into the trenches with us and to stand with us shoulder to shoulder as we build this site for all of us.

What is the incentive for designers and foundries to collaborate with you at this point in time?

What I heard in every call I made was a deep sense of unhappiness and frustration with the status quo. Couple that with all the ideas we have on how to change things, and the result is not surprising. We bring an innovative approach to the way of distributing fonts, which has not changed in 15 years, and I hope that once they look at the site, even when it is taking its baby steps, they will see how far we plan to go.

Indeed, what will established and startup foundries gain?

Trust, openness and transparency.

How will you “curate” or decide who to represent? And will this be an exclusive relationship with each supporting “member”?

Good design done by good people! However, in this first round we do not have a wide enough reach, whether in geographic representation, the number of scripts we offer or the background of designers we feature. So these are our next areas of expansion, and they will affect the choices of who to invite next.

What have you learned from your long stint as an expert at Monotype that underpins your innovations?

I learned that middle managers kill speed and efficiency, and that it is essential that the leadership understands type in order to serve that industry well.

When the Mac was introduced in 1984 I called it a digital type revolution in the making. I’ve watched how different font companies and type foundries have come and gone as that revolution picked up steam. Are you signaling another unprecedented shift, or are you more modestly improving on what exists?

It is such a complement to be seen in such light. Thank you! I don’t know, to be honest. It’s certainly a revolution in its spirit, and I want to leapfrog us into the future. When I read what John writes, and hear Julia’s advice on font business, it feels like there is nothing we cannot do. But this is what is in our hearts. What we need to do is the hard work of proving that we are up for the task, and that the ideas we bring forth are salient. I don’t know how that will turn out, but we certainly intend to work really hard to push for the type of change we want to see happen.

What does the future have in store for the type world?

The worst-case scenario: a couple of acquisitions that could drive small independent foundries out of business and turn the font industry into a subscription/free service where a few are able to flourish, and the rest are decimated. Where no newcomers will ever be able to sustain a career as a type designer. The horrific crashing of the type design ecosystem.

The sunnier scenario: We have a thriving ecosystem filled with the celebration of the beauty of type and the joy of font exploration, powered by the speed of innovation and creating a cycle of growth that sustains our creative industry.

We will do everything we can to push for the better scenario. The foundries have shown that they will too.