A better "version" of an existing typeface

There's this typeface. It's quite original, but not exactly one of a kind.

I like it very much.

But some things about it bother me. Some glyphs, the finish, etc.

I'm thinking of "remaking" it, by which I mean designing a typeface with a similar look and feel that would realize the same idea, but fix the problems I find in the original typeface. I won't use the original outlines, of course, and I might even refrain from looking at the original typeface while working on mine. 

The result, as I imagine it, won't be as close to the original typeface as, say, many grotesques, or geometric sans, are close to each other. But since the original typeface has original characteristics and no very close relatives (as far as I'm aware), the resemblance will probably strike more. Also, the original typeface is around 10 years old and its designer is probably still alive and active, unlike Akzidenz Grotesk, for example...

What do you think, is such a project legitimate?


  • Kent LewKent Lew Posts: 585
    If you are not utilizing the original outlines or data, then the considerations are primarily ethical/moral. John Downer’s classic essay “Call It What It Is” provides some valuable perspective on these considerations, I think.

    There may be legal considerations as well, if the original typeface in question fall under E.U. jurisdiction, where design protections may be greater.

    On the one hand, markets have always been driven by the principle of “building a better mouse trap.”

    On the other hand, we are a community of colleagues as well as competitors.

    Personally, I would tread carefully, myself.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,110
    What’s the typeface?
  • ybaggarybaggar Posts: 55
    How would you feel if it was the other way around?
    How about striking a deal with the original creator?

    What you describe, about an interesting typeface where a few things bother you, that's how I feel about so many typefaces. I wouldn't go about just redoing them though, I don't think that would be fair.

    I think it depends how original the ideas are, and how much your version would overlap with his. The more recent and original a typeface is, the more the inspired one should differ. For sure 10 years is not a lot for typefaces, so I can imagine it would be frustrating and somewhat unfair for the original designer, especially if it took him a lot of time and he hasn't recouped yet.

    I like what Christian Schwartz did with Antique Olive, redrawing it from memory. You can see there is a lot of Olive in it, but the result has another vibe, much more american or something friendlier about it, and of course contemporary. Now if he had done this in 1970, I don't know how people would feel about it… at the same time you had Folio…

    If something like this happened to me, I would probably copy the improvements in my version or an alternate and offer it too. Would only be fair. I mean, there's no reason to make it too easy for people to sell improved version of your ideas right?
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,399
    It’s easy to get away with this if you’re an award-winning designer working for a well-known magazine. If you have a partner who’s great at PR you can plant advertorials so people believe that you got the idea somewhere else, like urban signage. Bloggers might even write that the earlier design is a knockoff of your later work.

    Or you can just not worry about it and sell it at 90% off on MyFonts. That seems to be a pretty solid strategy for some South American designers.
  • I’d say it also depends on what your plans are for your redesigned typeface. If you have a design project you would like to use the original typeface for, but can’t because of its shortcomings, I’d say it’s fine to make your own version of it. But if you want to release it commercially, and thereby ‘attacking’ the original design’s market share directly, I’d be really cautious.

    Contacting the original designer may be a good option. Perhaps they would be happy to have someone improve an old design of theirs (if they agree with your assessment of the typeface’s faults).
  • Ori Ben-DorOri Ben-Dor Posts: 82
    Thank you all for sharing your thoughts.

    @Nick Shinn, I hesitate to answer your question. I've already said that typeface is flawed, in my opinion, and I was comfortable saying it only because I didn't reveal its identity. I'm much less comfortable stating publicly "typeface x is flawed," with its designer still alive and active (though I don't think he's active in this forum).

    Also, If I carry out my idea (which I probably won't, but I want to leave the door open for now), I hope I end up departing from the original enough to justly deny any claims of plagiarism, and I don't want anyone to use my answer to claim otherwise. Errrr, does this sound paranoid? :/

    @ybaggar, Thanks for sharing the story about Christian Schwartz's Duplicate, It's new to me. I do recall Erik Spiekermann expressing the same idea of redrawing a typeface from memory. I'm not sure if he has ever actually created a typeface this way, though.

    @James Puckett, You're joking, but I think common practices are a legitimate factor and should be considered. What counts as illegitimate plagiarism and what counts as legitimate "inspired-by" depends on common practices, among other things. So I'm not saying use other people's sins as an excuse, but there's no point dealing with my dilemma outside of real context.

    @Jens Kutilek, Good question. I don't know. I guess I can tell myself I won't release it commercially, but what if clients start asking me to do that, and so on? For the sake of the discussion, let's assume I will release it eventually.

    @Chris Lozos, It's not guilt, I honestly ask myself (and you too) where's the line between right and wrong. If I had felt guilty, I would have probably kept this dilemma for myself...
  • On way to avoid such ethical dilemmas is to start with an OpenSource font like my Jivita Typeface. The license allows you to make whatever modifications you wish, as long as you rename it, and as long as you release it under the same OpenSource license conditions. The GNU licence does not prevent you selling your version.
  • Ori Ben-DorOri Ben-Dor Posts: 82
    @Bhikkhu Pesala, But it's a specific font I'm talking about. Without it, there's no problem to begin with.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,110
    I don’t think James was joking, although he does make his point with considerable wit.

    Why not go ahead with the project, see where it leads, and post the results here for feedback? 
  • Ori Ben-DorOri Ben-Dor Posts: 82
    @Nick Shinn, I haven't made up my mind yet. I've got other projects I want to carry out as well. Maybe I'll put this one aside for a few months and get back to it later.
  • Johannes NeumeierJohannes Neumeier Posts: 88
    edited May 8
    How about simply contacting the designer?

    (Maybe they are okay with it, maybe they want to improve it themselves, maybe they don't care, maybe they want to collaborate, maybe they tell you this is what their livelihood depends on, or not)
  • Ori Ben-DorOri Ben-Dor Posts: 82
    Thanks for the suggestion. Maybe I will.
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