How to be a full-time typographer

Honest question, since I'm still "young" (read: NOT full-time) when it comes to doing typography-related work professionally:
- For those of you who do it full-time, how are you able to provide for yourself and your family?

Follow-on questions:
- How much of your income, percentage-wise, comes from custom, commissioned design work and how much comes from your own type/font projects?
- When seeking out those commissioned projects, how do you gain more exposure (or do your clients just come to you)?
- What have you found that does/doesn't make a difference in being able to do what you do full-time?
- What other kinds of work do you do to make-ends meet?
- What else should someone like me know?

I'm seriously reconsidering my current career choice and would appreciate your advice.

Comments

  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 587
    I'm not a full-timer so I'll leave it to others to address your questions, but I would just insert here: it appears to me that the industry is changing so rapidly that the path to success that arrived designers followed isn't necessarily optimal or even possible to those still at the beginning. 
  • AbrahamLeeAbrahamLee Posts: 74
    Thanks, @Craig Eliason. I feared someone would say the last thing you did, but perhaps it's more of a perception than a reality. That's what I'm hoping, but we'll see what other veterans of the industry have to say about it.

    If you aren't a full-timer, how much of your time does fall into this line of work? Does it provide a significant (i.e., half or more) portion of your income in spite of not being full-time?
  • Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 705
    typographer or type designer?
  • AbrahamLeeAbrahamLee Posts: 74
    edited June 29
    typographer or type designer?
    Yes  :#
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,132
    First, get a hit typeface.
  • AbrahamLeeAbrahamLee Posts: 74
    First, get a hit typeface.
    Brilliant! Makes total sense ;)

    By the way, I realize questions like my original are a different way of saying something like, "Hi! I want to be your competitor! Any advice for my success?" I'm not sure I'd go so far to say I want to best anyone, but I understand my questions can be taken that way. I'm pretty sure it will take me a while to even come close to the accomplishments many of you have already achieved, so I wouldn't worry about me for a while.  :D

    Another by the way, did you all go to school in graphic design/typography?
  • AbrahamLeeAbrahamLee Posts: 74
    First, just to clarify the terminology: A typographer is someone who specializes in working with type, not someone who designs typefaces. It used to be an actual job position in publishing houses and advertising agencies. Nowadays, the computer has turned us all (especially graphic designers) into de facto typographers. Because the term is now rather obsolete, it seems to have been taken up by newcomers as a synonym for type designer. It's not. Please stop. The proper term is type designer.
    Thank you, @Mark Simonson, for the clarification. I shall be more careful when I use those terms now.

    And thank you for the candid response about your situation and what you have seen in the industry. I can understand that there is a bit of timing luck involved in being successful enough to allow you to be a full-time type designer. What would you say helped you the most to get where you are today?
  • Not being full-time has a lot going for it.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 800
    edited June 29
    Persistence and constant striving to improve my skills. Being obsessive helps. Don't underestimate the luck factor, but the skills are a prerequisite.
  • AbrahamLeeAbrahamLee Posts: 74
    Not being full-time has a lot going for it.
    Care to elaborate?

    Persistence and constant striving to improve my skills. Being obsessive helps. Don't underestimate the luck factor, but the skills are a prerequisite.
    Excellent. Luck noted. Until that comes along, I'll work on my skills ;)
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 594
    edited June 29
    Unless you're exceptionally talented or lucky, type design is fickle and requires a lot of hours to pay the bills, plus life happens (like kids) so it's actually a form of freedom to not depend on it entirely, especially if you have other interests too.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,132

    Another by the way, did you all go to school in graphic design/typography?

    http://typedrawers.com/discussion/1671/coming-from-where-at-what-age#latest
  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 587
    If you aren't a full-timer, how much of your time does fall into this line of work? Does it provide a significant (i.e., half or more) portion of your income in spite of not being full-time?
    No, my design work is a very small portion of my income. To keep my chin up, I avoid computing revenue per hour invested!
  • Kent LewKent Lew Posts: 602
    As an aside, I do actually still work as a typographer on occasion.
    P.S. But, in response to the title of this thread, I can’t make a living at it full-time. ;-)
  • AbrahamLeeAbrahamLee Posts: 74
    Very cool, @Kent Lew! Thanks for sharing that experience with TIME! Sounds like it was very memorable for you. Sorry it's not something you can do full-time. What do you do for everyday work?

    By the way, I'm continually amazed at the all the places everyone here has done work for. It is an honor to be among so many accomplished typographers and type designers.
  • Chris DrabschChris Drabsch Posts: 73
    Could I throw another question into the mix, to those who have published multiple typefaces (particularly retail):

    - What percentage of time do you spend on supporting your published fonts, vs. designing new ones? 

    For example, do you find that, after releasing so many fonts, you inevitably end up addressing support requests / publishing revisions / releasing new weights and styles, more often than publishing new designs? 
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 800
    Yes, that's definitely true for me. It's especially true when something catches on. The stuff that doesn't sell doesn't create much need for support, revisions, etc. either. It's possible to get around this by, for instance, offloading aspects of the work to others either by hiring employees or working with outside people. But that creates its own overhead as well.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 619
    I've been a full time time designer since 2003. I quit my day job and went for it. I've never released a typeface that wasn't free that I'd describe as a hit. It's a mix of moderate sellers and low sellers. My technique: sit in a chair and put in a lot of solid hours.

    I don't look for commission work...it comes my way once in a while.

    The commission work is interesting but I doubt that it adds up to more than 1 or 2% on my income.
    Commissions can get expensive if I spend too much time negotiating. I can probably make and release a whole new typeface in the time it takes me to work out the details of a commission. And there's usually little in the way or long term monetary gain.

    What have you found that does/doesn't make a difference in being able to do what you do full-time?

    Long term projects, while fulfilling, have sometimes been detrimental to my income. When I feel like I'm headed for a boondoggle, I try to wrap it up...maybe change the scope to get on with something else. I try to be careful not to sink too much time in any one typeface.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 800
    That last part is really true when it comes to retail fonts. It's a speculative business. Essentially, you're investing your time into something that you hope will pay off in the future. There is no guarantee that will happen, so you've got to be careful.

    One strategy that some people do that lowers the risk is to do fonts on commission with a limited exclusivity period. That way, you are guaranteed to make some money for it. Once that runs out, you release it to the retail market. If it was used prominently during the exclusivity period, there may even be pent up demand for it.
  • AbrahamLeeAbrahamLee Posts: 74
    Excellent insights, @Ray Larabie & @Mark Simonson! Thank you for being willing to share honest observations and experiences.

    Would anyone say that commissioned fonts a regular thing for you? I know they don't happen every day, but in the grand scheme of things, does anyone done here have this kind of work on a regular basis? Or do most folks who do type design find that they come less frequently and find it more than necessary to do personal design projects (like Ray)?
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 800
    edited July 7
    It's not a regular thing for me (especially not recently), but I get the impression that for most full-time type designers it's their main activity, or at least their main source of income.
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