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?

Comments

  • Kent LewKent Lew Posts: 635
    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: 1,167
    What’s the typeface?
  • ybaggarybaggar Posts: 56
    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: 1,448
    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.
  • Jens KutilekJens Kutilek Posts: 119
    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: 121
    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: 121
    @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: 1,167
    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: 121
    @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: 116
    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: 121
    Thanks for the suggestion. Maybe I will.
  • Some years back I recall reading about a "fifteen year" courtesy rule; that is, not touching any design that was less than fifteen years old.  Additionally, a gentleman from Monotype once told me that there was nothing illegal about re-drawing an existing typeface as long as none of the digtal metrci were involved.

    Theoretically I could print ot the "A" of the typeface in question, use it for a guide and re-draw the "A".

    The point about the UK rights is also well-taken.  The US dones't not allow the copyright of type deisgns, but Europe does.

    You could restrict the sale of the font to the US only, or as previously mentioned even contact the original designer in order to get written permission to do an updated and improved version of the font.  I know of an individual who received permission to re-do a former dry transfer font as a digital release.

    You're smart to proceed with caution.  Sometimes still waters do in fact run deep...
  • Forgive the typos in the previous thread... the old eyes missed them...
  • I think this topic has many variables, like you said you're not going to actually copy any of the designers data. There are so many similar typefaces each with their nuances, a good example is Berthold block, you also have bloc, blocksta, HWDP, berliner, all very similar (arguably for some) so I guess what you should be considering is: how unique is this face? Like you said about geometrics and grotesques, is it a display? If you designed something like hill house, you will see right away that you can't really make it your own without people going: is that hill house or maybe even (now) ITC New Rennie Mackintosh. So I think it's hard to say without you telling us what you're referencing. 
  • Ori Ben-DorOri Ben-Dor Posts: 121
    Thanks for your input, I'll get back to this issue in the future.
  • Paul MillerPaul Miller Posts: 78
    I have just finished a typeface which is sort of a copy of two quite old typefaces but with a great deal of artistic license thrown in.  A sort of remix of the two.  It will be released shortly.

    The two typefaces I copied (copied by hand and eye rather than copy and paste) were Clarendon by the Fann Street Foundry in London in 1845 and Coronet by Stephenson Blake Co. of Sheffield in 1815 (not the 1930's Coronet by R. Hunter Middleton).

    I only have photographs of typesamples of the Coronet.  I took what I considered to be the best ideas from each with a few ideas of my own and came out with something which isn't quite either (but mainly resembles the Coronet).

    I know what you are thinking, these have been done many many times but the free ones are mostly awful and many of them think that italic means oblique (if they even have italic).  The paid for ones are mainly very good but I didn't want to pay for it so I did my own.  My aim was to produce a good free Clarendon style typeface.

    I know it's not entirely unique or original but it filled a need I had.

    The problem is that I don't know who if any owns the copyright to either of these old fonts, but I suppose that if there are so many similar typefaces it is unlikely to be a problem.


  • I would think that blending Clarendon with Ludlow Coronet would be far more challenging!
  • Ori Ben-DorOri Ben-Dor Posts: 121
    I have just finished a typeface which is sort of a copy of two quite old typefaces but with a great deal of artistic license thrown in.  A sort of remix of the two.  It will be released shortly.

    The two typefaces I copied (copied by hand and eye rather than copy and paste) were Clarendon by the Fann Street Foundry in London in 1845 and Coronet by Stephenson Blake Co. of Sheffield in 1815 (not the 1930's Coronet by R. Hunter Middleton).

    I only have photographs of typesamples of the Coronet.  I took what I considered to be the best ideas from each with a few ideas of my own and came out with something which isn't quite either (but mainly resembles the Coronet).

    I know what you are thinking, these have been done many many times but the free ones are mostly awful and many of them think that italic means oblique (if they even have italic).  The paid for ones are mainly very good but I didn't want to pay for it so I did my own.  My aim was to produce a good free Clarendon style typeface.

    I know it's not entirely unique or original but it filled a need I had.

    The problem is that I don't know who if any owns the copyright to either of these old fonts, but I suppose that if there are so many similar typefaces it is unlikely to be a problem.


    Sounds interesting! Are you feeling comfortable to show a sample?
  • Paul MillerPaul Miller Posts: 78
    I would think that blending Clarendon with Ludlow Coronet would be far more challenging!
    Oops I should have said 'Consort' not 'Coronet'.  They are both very similar to 'Clarendon'.

    Sounds interesting! Are you feeling comfortable to show a sample?

    It is very nearly ready.  Just some more testing to do.  Yesterday I found two really obscure faults, both down to the order of the lookups in the open type features causing open type features to not play nicely with each other.

    If you want to see what it looks like, this would be better in the Type Design Critiques section.  But here it is :-


    Pretty much like a Clarendon and free under the SIL Open Font License.


  • Ori Ben-DorOri Ben-Dor Posts: 121
    Thanks, looking great!
  • Hey @Ori Ben-Dor which classification is your design based on? That can also help determine if you can successfully examine/mimic the attributes of the face without being a copycat. ie. if its a unbracketed slab/egyptian or maybe a didone, there's a lot of faces that use the same kind of base fonts (rockwell, and others for slab, didot for a didone model) also you can see what other have done that follow under the same look, like I was saying before with Berthhold Block, check out the site: http://www.identifont.com you can search for the face you're referencing and see if there are already similar faces! 
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