SANDOW’s Dir. of Creative Operations speaks about font management & switch to Universal Type Server
Font management plays a key role at SANDOW, a rapidly growing global publishing and media company with brands spanning design, luxury, fashion and beauty. SANDOW’s rapid growth not only brought an ever expanding list of brands, but with each brand their own sets of fonts. This skyrocketed SANDOW’s font collection into the tens of thousands making the need for effective font management critical.
SANDOW recently joined the Extensis family. They were using a different font management solution, but when they experienced limitations in their ability to manage groups effectively, instability with other key applications and technical support that was non-existent, they made the switch to Universal Type Server.
We sat down with Michael Shavalier, Director of Creative Operations at SANDOW to get a deeper look into his experiences with font management.
To hear more of Michael’s story live along with best practices he used to prepare and implement a font management solution, sign up for our webcast on Wednesday, September 14 at 10:00 AM Pacific / 1:00 PM Eastern.
Extensis: Can you tell us a little about your role as Director of Creative Operations?
Michael: When people ask that I tell them that I’m a former creative director, which evolved into a creative operations role. I don’t design too much anymore. In my life before SANDOW, I worked for the Village Voice’s corporate entity as their design director. I gained lot of experience there with managing art departments and production work flows across the country in 15 locations. So, I had some creative operations experience with setting things up for a lot of users, across remote locations, and adding governance and things like that.
As SANDOW evolved, they brought in a Chief Operating Officer that was looking at everything and trying to combine it into more of a universal workflow where we could gain greater efficiencies. My role at SANDOW naturally evolved as well from being involved strictly with the creative and design teams to where I now I report to our COO. I’m in charge of “creative operations,” but I have a lot of things that involve just straight up operations now.
Extensis: Why are fonts and managing them so important to SANDOW?
Michael: Being a publishing and media company with magazines and websites that span the globe, fonts are a key component to our business. Brand consistency and license compliance are at the top of the list where fonts are concerned.
Each brand has its own fonts, which they should be able to manage. Even though the brands are well separated, there’s a lot of synergy and cross-pollination between brands. There are separate design groups, but at the same time there is some overlap.
One of the biggest problems our designers had is when they were asked to do something across brands. They had to load the other brand’s version of the font, and may have conflicted with other fonts on their system. Sometimes they had to spend a good deal of time trying to work through the glitches of having font conflicts which wasn’t productive or efficient. Now, with a centralized system that manages our fonts, we’re able to identify the font right away and make sure everyone is using the same version. It’s one less thing for everyone to manage. We now know across all brands which font is needed, where it is, or where it should come from and if we’ve got enough licenses. I don’t see many emails anymore saying “this brand is using this weird font, and I don’t know where to get it from”.
Designers and art directors are half of our font users with an understanding and familiarity with font management. The other half are editors, brand leads and such. Typically, the second group is where we’d find we had issues because they had the access to install fonts on their machine without the understanding that fonts are software requiring licenses to adhere to. For about eight years, it was pretty common for an advertiser to send in a font that somehow landed on one of our servers, and no one knew whether they could use it or not. It became time to think about licensing and the legal implications of using these fonts. Now, I can have a lead in each brand, usually a design director or art director, who manages the fonts for that brand by adding or taking them away. It’s allowed the non-design teams not to worry about fonts. They’re there for them.
We’ve done a couple of redesigns here in the last year. We made sure we bought enough font licenses for the brand. The nice thing is I could say, which I wasn’t able to before- when we had that redesign, the brand spent money on these expensive new fonts for their redesign purchasing the correct number of seats, and then was able to remove anyone else from being able to see or use them to maintain license compliance.
Extensis: What were the biggest challenges that lead you to implement a font manager?
Michael: As the company grew and became a little more corporate – taking on more and more smaller companies and brands – we had to integrate everyone. One of the problems we realized pretty quickly is, like so many startup companies, we had buckets of fonts. They were either on servers or people’s desktops, or you’d find 15 copies of the same font, or 30 copies of Helvetica but they weren’t the same. I’d venture to say we had tens of thousands of fonts. That’s including things people pulled offline from free font sites, or got on discs or from the different brands. If some designer was asked to put a cowboy style ad together and they grabbed a Giddyup, it ended up on our server, along with whatever else they grabbed at that time. Any designer here, could just get what they needed and move it somewhere because it wasn’t really locked down.
It was really causing a lot of havoc with the design teams, and it was also causing concerns about compliance.
Extensis: Why did you choose Universal Type Server as your font manager?
Michael: The font manager we had been using previously fell short in critical areas, in particular control in setting up users and groups, serving out fonts to them and in addition lack of technical support. Universal Type Server has given us the control we need and has excellent technical support.
Extensis: What are some of the features that are most critical for SANDOW?
Michael: We have a lot of remote editors in different parts of the country. A big feature for us is the ability to provide remote access to our Universal Type Server so editors can synchronize and manage fonts locally lessening the traffic load to our network. The Universal Type Client synchronizes with the Server automatically so an IT person doesn’t have to remotely access each system. This makes the process extremely efficient and saves hours of valuable IT resources.
Managing users in Universal Type Server is easy. With the way the admin console is set up, and by allowing us to tie it to Active Directory; it’s easy for our users to login with the same credentials they use for everything else. While I’m not doing full group mappings, because our security groups are a little different, using Active Directory does allow me to see any new users in the system, and to pull them through.
So more efficient access overall, and less taxing on our system, because we don’t have a bunch of people logging into the VPN to get their fonts.
Extensis: Where are you today with fully implementing font management at SANDOW?
Michael: Our first phase was basically to replace the other font manager for every user that was on it. We’re replacing it all now and we’re pretty close to being done. That would be at least three of our main brand groups.
Extensis: Looking a bit into the future, what are your next steps?
Michael: The next phase is going to be adding additional groups and users that weren’t using the other font management software, they are literally using folders of fonts. Our goal is to get Universal Type Server Clients installed across all brands. I’ve actually already built out a system to support the new users.
I have a feeling the next part of the project will be doing a lot of licensing and auditing. Utilizing the reporting features in Universal Type Server will help us sort that all out.
Extensis: Any parting advice for someone who needs to solve their font management challenges?
Michael: I’d carve out time to set it up for success on both the technical level and the user adoption level. There may be pain points in figuring some things out but it can be simple. I think a lot of companies, if they thought they had to go all in at the beginning, it would be too daunting. I realized early on in the project, it doesn’t have to be all in at the beginning. It’s been an ongoing project.
Extensis: Michael, thank you for your time and sharing your story with us.