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The Type Designers’ Alliance

How Type Network evolved and why Occupant Fonts is a member.

I’m one of many type designers working today who got their start at Font Bureau. Tobias Frere-Jones, Christian Schwartz, David Jonathan Ross, and Victoria Rushton, all passed through, among many others. We learned from David Berlow and Matthew Carter, as well as each other. Petr van Blokland often dropped by with his laptop full of new tools for us to play with. Mike Parker was a visiting lecturer on just about any topic, but mostly type history. Sam Berlow encouraged us to experiment and do things outside our comfort zone like public speaking, teaching, or writing a book. He also made sure everyone remembered to get some fresh air and exercise every once in a while.

Font Bureau occupied a few different spaces in Boston at various times. If you called the number on the old website, that’s where the phone would ring. However, in reality, we designers were often spread out all over the world. We worked from our preferred locations, keeping in touch via email and video conferencing. We’d take buses, trains, ferries, and planes, sometimes all in one trip, for periodic in-person visits.

It was a chaotic way to run a business, but for those of us who thrive by working independently, it was amazing. This—and our common obsession for designing type—is what kept us together. It worked thanks to strong foundational training, common tools, and a lot of hard work.

It also worked because of Font Bureau’s unusual business practices. As designers, we retained ownership of our original designs. We had a stake in what we made, which was powerful motivation to work hard and make more. This is, in part, how Font Bureau has been able to grow such a diverse and well-respected library of typefaces.

Recently, there has been a lot of consolidation in the type industry. If Font Bureau were a traditional company, at this point, the library would have been sold to a much bigger operation—but that doesn’t suit us as designers. We want to keep making type and survive in an increasingly demanding marketplace. So we invested in something new—Type Network.

Type Network is a platform for publishing and licensing typefaces. We built into it our years of experience talking to clients, helping them find the fonts they need, figuring out the terms of all the different kind of licenses, and providing technical support for all the different ways fonts can be used. You can read the press release. Of course, there are still bugs to be worked out, but so far, we’re off to a good start.

The most exciting part, however—at least from my point of view—was mostly left out of the press release.

Type Network is an alliance of type designers. It’s the evolution of Font Bureau’s organized chaos and its network of designers, working independently, supporting each other, learning from each other, and doing what they want to do as best they can.

Type Network’s critical next step will be to add new foundries, from outside Font Bureau’s former orbit. A strong alliance needs diversity and active members. The more new and interesting type that is published via Type Network, the more traffic that will flow through it, benefiting everyone.

I’m happy to report we are on the verge of announcing the first new foundries to join. We are talking with others who I hope will sign up soon. These include some of my favorite type designers working today. I’m optimistic more are on their way.

Type Network foundries are in control. They can maintain their current websites and their own brands. They set their own prices and the terms of the licenses. They get access to new tools and the knowledge base of the other designers. The business and technical infrastructures are there for them to use how they want. And everyone gets a stake. Those are big pieces—the details are still being worked out. We haven’t left Font Bureau’s chaos behind entirely. And to form alliances, some compromise is always necessary.

It’s worth it, though. My favorite way to promote type design is to focus on drawing the best new type I can. Type Network’s business model, technology, and support system are designed to make that possible. That’s why Occupant Fonts is a member.