This year, I researched and presented a talk at TypeCon about handwriting and fonts. TypeCon is a conference for designers and font designers that takes place every year. This year, it was in Minneapolis, which I really enjoyed exploring. There were several other interesting presentations this year, and a whole font-themed game night. I went to a party in the Walker sculpture garden, had some incredible sliders, and bought too many books. Naturally, I also had a lot of conversations with type designers while I was there. Through those exchanges I got a sense of an issue facing the type design community.
Type designers are struggling with a lot of the same issues graphic designers are – often at the same time, since many type designers can’t make a living out of only fonts. The market is too crowded. Fiverr makes it tough for a lot of freelance designers. It lowers what clients expect to pay and often produces sub-par work. For type designers, the problem is free font websites like Dafont. These websites lure people in with the promise of free fonts with no space to explain why someone might want to buy a font instead. (Higher quality work, better spacing, differentiation, and customer service are just a few reasons.) The best answer anyone has to approach these problems is establishing a strong personal brand.
Several type designers spoke about this problem, over meals and during coffee breaks. Differentiation is key. David Jonathan Ross, for example, has a “Font of the Month” club. He creates a font every month and distributes it to subscribers. That frequent engagement with his customers means he’s top of mind when they need to purchase a typeface. Another type designer, Jess McCarty, sections her designs into different foundries, so each one is focused on specific markets. Her most popular foundry, Rare Bird, sells specialized script fonts with an emphasis on ease of use in any application. She also founded Nicer Type, a group of type designers dedicated to making the community of font makers and font enthusiasts more open and accessible to newcomers.
I consider both of these designers great examples of true healthy branding. They have found unique ways to connect with their potential buyers that reflect the best parts of them. Individual personality shines through each of their creations. They attract customers who are compatible with them. I learned a lot from talking to them and other type designers. TypeCon is a valuable experience precisely because it brings people together to compare best practices. And, of course, because of all the great fonts.