Tilting at windmills

Rudy VanderLans’s reply to our “Welcome to the infill font foundry” article.

909 words by Kris Sowersby

Dear Kris,

I knew that using the term Infillism in my interview on Fontstand would generate response. What I did not expect was how my words were interpreted by you as an attack to discredit your generation. Here’s what I said: “In terms of new typeface designs, we believe we’ve reached a point that we refer to as ‘Infill-ism,’ where designers are simply filling in the few remaining options left.” I guess you can read whatever you like into that, but I am not singling out any particular generation. I was talking as much about ourselves as anybody else designing type today, young and old.

To come up with original fonts was never easy, and it’s only getting harder as fewer and fewer options remain. I don’t think I’m the first person who’s ever brought that up. So I thought I was simply stating a fact when I said: “It’s easy to imagine that with each addition, there are fewer type design options left to explore, since type design is restricted by the structure of the alphabetic characters. And, although the options are technically infinite, it becomes increasingly difficult to see the differences between designs. We’re left with filling in the gaps, and the gaps are getting smaller and smaller.”

Anybody who thinks there is still much left to explore in type design, I say go for it and have fun!

During the Fontstand interview I was also asked about “the future and legacy of Emigre” and our “aging body of work.” My remarks describe the questions that we ask ourselves while we’re trying to navigate this highly competitive and ever-changing industry. For instance, we ask ourselves what is the use of another Futura or Helvetica or Baskerville inspired design? I think that’s a very reasonable question to ask yourself as a designer. I don’t know how you can read that and deduce from it that we think Emigre is “entitled to the classics but others are not.”

You don’t have to follow our line of questioning and thinking. It’s not a prescription. It’s certainly not meant as a critique of how others should run their foundries. Please make as many Futura or Helvetica or Baskerville inspired designs as you like.

Regarding the use of distributors. I was taken aback by the vitriol you directed at the resellers that we use. We have sold our fonts through FontShop since day one. They gave us a fair deal, and they sell a lot of type for us. Same with MyFonts. We recently added Fontstand and Typekit because they offer sales models (rental, hosted webfonts) that we technically cannot provide ourselves, and have no interest in managing. We’re a three-person company. But we’ve never felt that anybody was taking advantage of us by signing on with these distributors, or that we were somehow “disempowered” by it.

Are we contributing to the glut? Sure. Everybody in the type industry is.

And your point about losing control over how our fonts are being sold and marketed through these distributors, well, I don’t see it that way. The resellers get our fonts to markets we can’t reach ourselves. But they don’t market our fonts, they simply make them available to the masses. We still do the marketing and have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars doing so. And none of the distributors has ever interfered with how we market our fonts or promote and present our company.

Another cynical interpretation of what I was saying occurs when you write “lambasting the work of a newer generation becomes a viable marketing strategy.” I’m not saying there’s not a lot of bad work being produced today. There is. There always was. But I’m not lambasting your generation, and I doubt it would work as a marketing strategy. Besides, two of the last typefaces that Emigre released are Cardea and Alda, designed by students at Reading and KABK respectively. David Cabianca and Berton Hasebe are your contemporaries. Emigre has alway supported young and unknown designers.

Again, the Fontstand interview was not about your generation, it was about Emigre and the challenges that we are facing. We’re also not “pulling up any ladders,” we’re not implying (“audaciously” or otherwise) that “the other fonts on the Fontstand platform are merely infill,” and, contrary to what you imply, we love Helvetica. There’s much more to comment on, but I’m not sure if anybody is still reading, so I’ll keep it short.

I think you are misreading and mashing together a lot of my comments to make a point about what bugs you in the world of type design. And you’re obviously frustrated with what you call the “virtual drought in criticism” that your generation suffers from. So you turn me into the cranky old guy who is supposedly “denigrating the efforts of a new generation.” But it’s all in your imagination. You do the same thing in one of your illustrations by overlaying the various websites of the distributors that Emigre uses. It makes everybody’s intentions look bad, but only because you made it look that way.

— Rudy VanderLans


Written in response to Welcome to the Infill Font Foundry. Published with permission.

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