Studio Sense: Font licensing made simple

I started designing typefaces when I was 18 and it was very different back then. Each letter, or at least the majority, was drawn by hand very skilfully with a 6H sharp pencil on 100gms trace paper. The letters were digitised by plotting points and imported into a software programme called Ikarus from URW foundry. In later years we used Fontstudio from Letraset and then Fontographer and then Fontlab. All these softwares came with their own learning curves and lots of bugs, but fonts were genuinely created and designed from scratch. I set up my own foundry and a few others did too, some designers took the easier route of letting one of the bigger foundries market and licence their designs. The route I took was rewarding but a little more difficult. All this sets the backdrop to where we are today. Technology has moved on, the internet has changed everything, and font licensing is even more of a legal minefield.

Over the past few years we have seen an increase in free ‘trial’ fonts, rental fonts and subscriptions. This can seem like a cost effective solution to begin with but hidden fees are often a surprise for agencies and end users, especially with the long list of uses that brands need to have a cohesive typeface element to their branding. Small print that means the end user can’t use the fonts for commercial work can lead to costs mounting quickly, especially if we are talking about webfonts. With different foundries adopting different pricing models for different applications it can be very difficult to compare costs and brands make the mistake of locking themselves in, discovering additional fees when it’s too late.

The font for UEFA Champions League in development
The font for UEFA Champions League in development

The market has become too complicated and I believe things need to change. This is why Fontsmith designed a new licence model that makes the options very simple. Brandfont licensing is aimed at companies looking for a straightforward, unlimited agreement. It allows them to use our typeface for their entire organisation for every possible use. This includes all suppliers and agencies, online, offline, for apps, multiple subdomains and everything else for one fee. They can make modifications too and rename the typeface to the name of their choice.

Most brands who come to us already see the value in having their own brand font, not only for branding purposes but also ownability, ease of use and a reduction in admin. The challenge large companies face is accurately detailing all the different uses and potential users of the typeface, including future possibilities. We worked on a government health campaign called ‘One You’ aimed at the over 40s to encourage them to improve their lifestyle. They needed a bespoke font and users would include over 2,000 of their own employees but also various partner organisations ranging from doctors surgeries to pharmacies,
for use on and offline. There was no way for them to accurately predict the number of users or control how they used it. For this situation traditional font pricing structures simply don’t work as the costs become too high and the administration involved is huge.

The font for UEFA Champion's League, created by Fontsmith
The font for UEFA Champion’s League, created by Fontsmith

UEFA Champion’s league are another client who wanted something bespoke and needed a typeface that could be used throughout all their brand communications from publishing to exhibitions, conferences and onscreen tournament and match infographics. For an organisation that has very important commercial sponsorship partners, providing a typeface as part of the sponsorship package was always going to be critical for ease of management. Having a typeface that was included in the licensing
sponsorship deals they make with partners was the only way forward, so a deal was struck to make that typeface simple to distribute directly by UEFA along with all the other assets of the identity like the logo and guidelines.

A custom built font is not right for every brand. If budget and time don’t allow for a bespoke solution, font modification can be another good way to simplify the process. This gives us the flexibility to offer exclusive deals and fonts can be used and distributed with unlimited licences and usage. We can redesign some serifs or terminals, widths or vowels or add extra languages when we have something to work from, but only from the Fontsmith library. Honing in from a creative point of view as well as a technical one, we work with the client and agencies to figure out what best fits. Brands love this as they still benefit from having something unique to them without having to wait months for it to be created. The design agencies are winners too as this lets them provide their clients with a new and exclusive typeface more quickly than for something completely bespoke.

We don’t have to draw everything by hand anymore, but creating a typeface from scratch will always be a long and complicated process. As type designers we need to continue finding new ways to meet customer needs and try our best to simplify licensing in an increasingly complicated market place.

Lead image: Development capital script sans for the Public Health England One You campaign

Fontsmith is a boutique type foundry founded  by Jason Smith;

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