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Q&A with David Jonathan Ross

Type designer

I’m David Jonathan Ross (DJR for short) and I make fonts. I run my own small type foundry as well as working on projects with a larger consortium of foundries called Type Network. Last year I also started the Font of the Month Club, where I send out a font to the members each month, usually a display face or an experiment or sometimes a piece of an in-progress family. I live and work in a small town in the hills of Western Massachusetts (about 100mi/160km from Boston).

What are the advantages of creating an independent type label – DJR?

Maybe this is too obvious of an answer, but I just love being able to publish the designs that I find interesting, and to publish them the way that I think they should be published. I really value having the opportunity to connect directly with my users, and to hear what they find interesting and useful. I also find it extremely helpful to think of marketing and licensing as part of my design process…I even wrote my own End User License Agreement!

Who orders your fonts more: designers, private companies or anyone else?

It depends… My Font of the Month Club definitely caters to designers and small design studios, because it is all about building a diverse and unusual font library over a period of time. But my retail fonts are used by a wide variety of folks in a variety of ways, from branding/identity to packaging to broadcasting to publications.

Why is it important to choose the right typeface? Will mass (non-professional) target audience be able to distinguish a good font from an ordinary one?

A typeface is an important and very visible ingredient in most graphic designs, so making good and interesting typographic choices can affect the design in subtle yet far-reaching ways.

Riffing on the Crystal Goblet, I like to think of it like I’m choosing the bread for a sandwich (a cheesy comparison, I know). The contents inside the sandwich are naturally the focus, and it is totally possible to make a perfectly fine sandwich with half-decent bread. But when the bread is better than half-decent, it can do so much more than just hold the sandwich in place. When it is freshly-baked, maybe a bit unique, with flavors that complement the contents within it…that is what turns a decent sandwich into a great one.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter if the person eating the sandwich recognizes that the bread is the key ingredient; all that matters is that they really enjoyed the sandwich.

What programs help you to organize your font collection on your computer? What professional tools do you use in type design?

I’m not managing a gigantic library of fonts (mostly just using my own), so for me, FontBook (the MacOS font manager) totally suffices, or I’m just dragging font files to font folders the old-fashioned way.

For the most part, my fonts are drawn in RoboFont and produced with the help of a smorgasbord of UFO-based apps such as Metrics Machine. I do a fair amount of automation and scripting myself with libraries like FontTools, FontMake, FontParts, and DrawBot.

Is the competition level in your field high? How difficult is it to firmly establish yourself in the font market and to become recognizable in this quite narrow area?

Thanks to the accessibility of type design tools and the growing number of places where one can study typeface design, there are probably more skilled type designers working right now than ever before. Checking new releases or roundups from recent years, you can see that new typefaces are being published these days at a pretty overwhelming rate.

Naturally this creates some degree of competition, and it certainly can be difficult to stand out in a crowded field. But at the same time, most of these new releases aren’t even on the radar of many font users out there. So I often feel that I am competing against non-choice (or the same old choices) more than I am against other contemporary type designers.

I suppose that is why many of the fonts I work on require a clear and specific choice: they might not necessarily be good for everything, but they try to be great at something.