The Complicated Business of Cross Disciplines in Commercial Arts

A few months ago I made this blog post on the font site about what my philosophy has been in selling fonts. In the last 10 months of selling type, my philosophy has evolved quite a bit. Each situation that presents itself makes my position a little more difficult, and my ethics a little more complicated.

I recently got an email from a college student who said that, “money is currently an issue,” and that his, “commercial font selection is very limited.” Precisely the audience I’ve been looking for! He then went on to ask if I could do him a favor by expanding his font selection.

After I got over the initial appeal of how gutsy he was for asking for free tools, I wondered what made him think the exchange he offered was advantageous to either of us. Here are a portion of my thoughts, that I sent to him as my reply.

I’ve been a student before, so I know where you’re coming from. If getting better fonts is your solution for having a better portfolio, perhaps this will be a worthwhile learning experience for you. [I couldn’t afford] any typefaces by H&FJ, House Industries, […] or any of the big names in type design—but boy did I want to. So I stole them (pirated), thinking that it would improve my portfolio.

To make a long story short, it didn’t make me a better designer, it made me a lazy designer. I guess, here’s what I’m trying to say: take advantage of the time you have without great tools. Use the ones you have, recognize their weaknesses, and learn to adapt. Learn to hand letter, study what makes a great typeface—and then buy a few mediocre ones to get you started. There are some very affordable, versatile font families out there (Gibson, for example, http://www.myfonts.com/fonts/canadatype/gibson/).

The issue is pretty complicated. Digital type has given young designers the opportunity to look like they know more than they do. It’s a big boost, but it’s an artificial one at best. It’s one that’s plaguing an industry and giving outsiders the idea that all it takes to be a great designer is a great set of tools. Own the Creative Suite and the right fonts and you’re just as good as anybody else. It cuts out the complicated middlemen named: time, study, and failure.

I’m a huge proponent of type, and I have no problem with a high price being set on a high quality tool. Digital type is going to restore the beautiful alphabets that were lost during the transition from sign painters to digital publishers. Nor do I have a problem with well developed programs (not really talking about Adobe here). They’re not the problem—the culture is. Type designers and graphic designers alike need to begin crediting each other where credit is due. We’re not in competition; our relationship is symbiotic.

Our talk is often critical of one another rather than educational. The forum for discussion is not open, causing confusion and misunderstanding to abound. Can we work on this? Look at your position in the commercial arts and ask yourself, “is my dissidence with the artists of other disciplines making the world a less beautiful place?”

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