As we approach managing ten million fonts, we’d like to talk about a value that’s at the heart of what we do — font freedom.
Fonts are some of the core building blocks of design work. When a creative can’t find or use the font they want, they may need to compromise on their vision, or at least spend a lot of time finding a suitable replacement. We believe that when you fall for a font, you should be able to support the type designer or foundry and use that font in your project — and your font manager of choice should make that activation seamless.
We’re living in an exciting time for type design, as more perspectives and voices are gaining a seat at the table. If diverse perspectives can flourish in type, the creatives using them will have more choices. So, it stands to reason that, eventually, we’d be able to have more diverse aesthetics and design in the creative industry as a whole. Awesome!
These days, designers have more choices than ever. However, the creative industry is stressful, with long hours and tight deadlines. There’s never enough time in the day to get everything done, which is why the convenience offered by mega-foundries can be irresistible.
Yet font freedom is more than just licensing whatever font you like — it’s the ability to actually use that font in design work. Not only does Extensis Connect allow you to use whatever fonts you want, we provide suggestions from independent foundries around the world, seamlessly into your font search.
For as long as humans have produced printed materials, premade letterforms have been crucial to production and consistency.
The earliest known printed book was produced in 9th Century China. Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press revolutionized Europe in the 15th Century. One of the first type designers to design multiple typefaces was John Caslon in 18th Century England. As printing advances were steadily made, printed materials became more accessible for consumers and a wider variety of media was created, all requiring type. Just like today, many multifaceted designers and artists produced commercial fonts, and type design became a necessary industry to support printing.
Are we entering a Golden Age of font design? It’s possible.
Type design has flourished under the advent of modern digital type creation tools. The Internet encourages designers to test typography waters with challenges like 36 Days of Type. Endangered languages are getting digitized. We’re seeing complex variable fonts spring up, as well as purpose-driven independent type foundries. Independent type is boldly pushing formats to the limit, reconceptualizing font creation software, and following inspiration to create new, beautiful, fully functional fonts. Type designers can share their font creations online in a way that didn’t exist decades, even years ago.
As far as where and who we can acquire fonts from, creatives have never had more options.
We can talk about licensing a font rather than owning it outright until we’re blue in the face. (Hi, we’re compliance geeks, haven’t you heard?)
When a designer acquires a font license, they can download the font and use it in projects however the license permits… in theory.
This is where things get a little sticky. Most creative teams don’t manage fonts manually. Instead, they use a font management tool to organize, auto-activate and collaborate seamlessly. Some mega foundries don’t just sell fonts. They also provide a font management tool that’s popular with creative teams because it provides “free” access to their fonts.
Here's what to watch out for. Let’s say, for example, that a designer purchases a license for a font from an independent type foundry. They want to use it in a project for a client. They start designing and go to use the font, and it simply doesn’t work. The font management tool from a mega foundry won’t recognize it.
What’s the designer to do?
Manually use the font in the project?
In one piece of the project, or every aspect of it, across the board?
Since exporting fonts often violates EULAs, should they link to and provide licensing instructions to every person on the team who may collaborate on the project?
The sheer amount of time required for manual use of the independent font is a dealbreaker for many creatives. After all, when deadlines are tight, the last thing you have time for is a whole added layer of busywork. And so, it often comes to pass that for designers, that really special, perfect for the occasion, ideal font gets put back on the shelf. An acceptable-ish font is selected instead for the sake of expediency.
And just like that, even though the designer chose an independent font, their tech stack dictated that they choose another. Everyone’s driving to create something outside the box, but they’re being forced to work within the same box as everyone else.
Logos, website, and entire brand identities all start to look kind of the same. And design, which should be about expression and individuation, can get stuck just coloring in between the lines.
Wow, sorry for the scary dystopian bedtime story. Now, it’s time for the good news. You don’t have to give up font management to use your dream fonts. Not all font managers are tied to foundries, let alone mega-foundries. There are tools that support a wide variety of fonts from foundries large and small.
To avoid the inherent conflicts and limitations of a siloed font manager, choose a font manager that is “universal” or “foundry-agnostic.” This ensures that all the fonts in your collection can be used in projects, so long as you’re following licensing guidelines.
We’ve always believed that freedom of choice is at the core of great design. Our tools are built on the foundation of empowering creatives to do their best work without roadblocks.
Connect Fonts supports fonts from independent foundries and individual type designers all over the world. You can use that gorgeous, one-of-a-kind, drippy, trippy, retro, organic font for a surf brand’s campaign; perfectly patinaed reimagining of blackletter for a video game; whatever you want, whatever foundry it’s from— without compromise. From Monotype to Adobe, Typotheque to Vocal Type Co, all your fonts are supported.
You might call us dreamers when we wax poetic about a creative Utopia that could be brought about by greater design inclusivity, but there are also concrete benefits to independent type.
The first benefit is that a unique font can help a project stand out. When we all shop the same supply, we all start using the same stuff. That’s fine for some things (hellllooooo Costco wine), but not ideal for creative elements. One thing that we see with our users is that even though they can use practically any font, the same core fonts are used on repeat around the world. Just look at some of the brand redesigns over the past few years—there’s no denying we’re reaching a point of homogenization. To make your clients or projects memorable, choose a font that stands out!
One thing that’s often overlooked by bigger type suppliers is the story behind a font. However, for independent type foundries and designers, the stories and intention behind these typefaces are often front and center. Whether you want to represent your community or champion a cause, independent type provides a bevy of options. From Jo Malinis’ Filipino-fashion-inspired Terno and fundraising Salbabida Sans, to Franz Hoffman’s iconic Gilbert font, there’s so much passion and attention to detail in type design right now. Folks choosing fonts like these are getting so much more than a pretty typeface — they’re getting the story behind it to double down on their vision.
There are plenty of independent foundries doing incredible work! Here’s just a handful of our favorites.Typotheque
In the world of type design, this foundry is known for pushing boundaries and taking on big challenges. They put a lot of work and attention to detail into developing fonts for non-Roman alphabets, which are severely underrepresented in the font market. We spoke with founder Peter Bi’lak about digitizing the Inuktitut language and creating its first typeface in this interview.Grilli Type
This Swiss foundry does clean, crisp fonts right. If their GT Walsheim typeface looks familiar to you, that’s because it’s our preferred font for branding and marketing materials.Ohno Type
Seriously fresh and fun fonts. Seriously.Vocal Type
Tré Seals creates fonts inspired by the history of civil rights, from modern sans serifs modeled after protest signs to glyphs inspired by quilt symbols used in the Underground Railroad. Read our interview with him here.Tan Type Co.
Objectively speaking, does is get any groovier?
Okay, okay, we could nerd out all day!
Not every font needs to be independently produced, but it’s crucial that designers have a framework to use the fonts they want. This ensures healthy competition that pushes foundries small and large to do their best work, technically and artistically. When that happens, we all benefit—type designers, graphic designers, agencies, clients, consumers, and people who appreciate the details.
Your reward for scrolling all the way to the end is this precious cat. Yes! (Fist bump.)