Types Of Creative Risk To Look Out For In Team Projects

Ah, team projects. What could possibly go wrong when attempting to balance deadlines and deliverables with diverse stakeholders and competing priorities? A whole lot, it turns out – especially for creative teams. That’s because creatives work with a huge variety of fonts and other creative assets every single day. And fonts in particular are loaded with liabilities that we here at Extensis not-so-affectionally call, “creative risk.”

So what does this mean, and why does it matter? And maybe more importantly, HOW CAN YOUR TEAM AVOID CREATIVE RISK?  

Don’t sweat it. We have the answers.

Key Takeaways

  • Make sure you understand the discrepancy between how your fonts are used and the specific terms of their licenses.
  • Get a grip on your auditing process.
  • Keep personal fonts out of team environments.
  • A lack of licensing oversight can lead to litigation.

What Is Creative Risk And Why Does It Matter?

Creative risk refers to the inherent risk of merely using creative assets—like the fonts required to execute a creative project. The problem starts to crystalize once you realize that fonts are usually subject to incredibly specific licensing agreements – the details of which are frequently unknown or ignored by creative team members.

This discrepancy between how fonts are used in projects, and the specific terms of their licenses, is at the heart of why creative risk matters. Failing to align licenses with their respective assets can lead to a whole host of issues, including bleeding budgets and legal disputes.

While it can rear its head in other ways, creative risk typically falls into one of four main buckets: 


Inefficiency Risk

Slowdowns and interruptions from manual (and error-prone) license management, endless searching, and last-minute re-dos cost billable hours or billable rates, depending on the measurement of choice.

Reputation Risk

In fast-moving environments where many people are collaborating on the same project, it can be hard to determine who is at fault when things go wrong…it could be anyone. If it’s an internal team member’s mistake, how does that affect team dynamics? And if someone externally is to blame, where does that relationship go? Throw in the fact that we’re talking about peoples’ professional reputations here, and things can become real tense, real quick, because there are careers at stake.

Legal Risk (Alert: Also Affects Your Rep)

Font licensing that isn’t properly managed can lead to cease-and-desist letters, legal disputes, or even lawsuits. When licensing issues are not quickly resolved, they can evolve into full-on legal problems—and litigation is terribly unkind to your reputation as a business. Speaking of which, when it comes to new business, lawsuits tend to drive clients away due to fear of being caught up in similar legal action.

Financial Risk

In an attempt to mitigate compliance risk, many teams overcompensate—and overspend. Overspending on font licenses is more common than you’d think. Financial risk is also present when highly skilled professionals use their billable hours tackling risk issues, rather than dedicating their billable time to creative tasks. This can significantly impact the business’s bottom line.

How Do Teams Manage (Or Mismanage) Creative Risk?

While creative professionals are typically mindful of the potential risks associated with licensing and using fonts, it’s often difficult for them to assess the effectiveness of their established processes for managing those risks. That’s why we conducted a survey to figure out how creative teams handle their creative operations and how well they understand the risks inherent in doing creative business.  

The first thing we discovered is that creative teams take the auditing process seriously – perhaps too seriously. About 47% of those surveyed said they spend over six hours weekly on audits (with 31% spending up to 11 hours per week on the task), which poses a clear opportunity to invest in solutions to streamline the process and free up time for other (more profitable) tasks.


We also found that roughly 45% of creative teams have a single, lonely individual responsible for auditing each project. Judged merely on the standard of not leaving people out to dry, that weight of accountability is far, far too heavy for a single person to bear. Having more than one person auditing projects lightens that load and benefits organizations in other ways, including providing more objective perspectives, establishing checks and balances, and increasing operational efficiency. 


The Evolution Of Creative Risk

There’s no way around it: demand for content is growing. That growth is fantastic news for creative teams, but it also carries a unique set of challenges, particularly regarding font management.

While many of our survey participants said that they had a system in place to manage font licenses, a good portion of those systems were described as analog processes – think shared spreadsheets, stored folders, and written communications. In addition to being massive time sinks, such antiquated systems are quite prone to human error, and can prove difficult for new team members and contractors to adopt.

We also learned that when it comes to unlicensed fonts...well, let’s just say this: it’s never good to be concerned about unlicensed fonts while simultaneously allowing your designers to use their personal fonts in team projects.

In fact, the act of adding fonts to a work environment from a personal collection is one of the most common ways that unlicensed fonts enter projects – from there, they can move through the entire production pipeline without proper licensing, making it possible for them to linger in teams’ collections and expose organizations to risk in future projects.

Compliance Crackdowns Have Changed

All the aforementioned challenges and management issues can quickly add up and lead to unlicensed fonts in the wild, copyright infringement, and in rare instances, legal cases (gulp). While lawsuits involving creative assets aren’t new, they have become more prevalent over time, and creative teams can quickly find their work in news headlines – and as evidence in court – if they’re not careful about taking proactive steps to adhere to the license requirements of their creative assets.

That also goes for global and idolized creative teams – Nike, for example, was sued by Production Type in February 2023 for using their Kreuz Light font for marketing projects without the appropriate licensing. With Production Type seeking $150,000 per infringement, the case is one of the biggest and brightest examples of why it’s important to ensure your fonts are properly licensed.

Get A Grip On Creative Risk

While our survey results show that most creative teams are aware of the risks that fonts introduce into their creative operations, our findings suggest a strong sense of overconfidence around the use of those assets that can lead to the litany of issues identified above.  

But this lil ol’ blog isn’t the end of the road, no way! Check out our full report “The State Of Risk In Creative Operations,” which contains a ton of additional information and statistics on creative risk and creative operations as provided by your industry peers.  

After all, you should be in the know!