Modification Briefs - Best practices

Firstly, if anyone has any real examples of font modification briefs – that they'd be happy to share (private info censored) – I would really appreciate it. I realize that this might be a big ask. Secondly, if anything here sounds unfair or inconsiderate – please call me out on it. I'm trying to figure out what type of proposals might be fair, or not.

Many fonts do not have sufficient support for content creation in an academically diverse organization, particularly in terms of diacritics / compound chars. Due to our workflows, that rely on pre-determined text specifications / series designs, choosing a font based on a specific title is rarely an option. The majority of titles use specifications based on an automated system, that does not pass through our design team.

The idea of a plain vanilla one-size-fits-all in Latin script is not appropriate for our organisation's culture at this point. The first step for us is to optimize our microtypography*. To achieve this seamlessly, with minimal disruption to the production schedule, modifications are required. If this is successful, the next step would be a focus on further cost-saving mechanisms…
*Microtypography has to do with the details; setting the right glyph, getting the appropriate kerning and tracking, and making stylistic choices such as when to use small-caps. Micro techniques have received a lot of attention recently, as browser makers adopt new CSS attributes that allow for finer control over Web type. Microtypography deals mainly with legibility and can be thought of as the design of letters and words.
First steps:
I'm starting to think about how we can approach font modifications. So far we've been substituting, or adapting / creating custom glyphs based on FLOSS fonts, single weight. These instances are rarities not regularities. Usage is print only / PDF use, in a publication-type reading environment. Ideally, it would be great to move towards a standardized process, but that's only possible within a specific budget.

1) What information do you detail? How many examples do you prefer to see?
2) Pricing structure, in your view what are fair points for negotiation. For example:
  2.1) Usage limited to a single ISBN / series.
  2.2) Complexity of glyph / char, e.g.
  • adding a compound glyph for dotted h <ḥ>;
  • vs. PUA Chinese Chars;
  • vs. OT features for variants / shaping rules.
  2.3) License rights for modification of a single glyph / limited unicode range, pending approval IP control. E.g.,
  • Latin-based compound diacritics, for which combining forms can be sourced in the font;
  • Limited icon range / simple-form icon range.
  2.4) Distribution to our typesetters for use in typesetting. If they are licensed for the font, do you charge twice for the modification for us to supply it to them?
  2.5) Multiple modifications at different points in time – can these be added to one "extended" font version? Is there opportunity for a model with an initial up-front cost, and then a fixed amount for each subsequent modification?
3) Do foundries have preferred freelancers, or is everything achieved in house – for both licenses that permit mods, and those which do not. Equally, if modifications are made to a FLOSS font - is it fair to continue the license as FLOSS?
4) Reasonable schedule / timeframe…?
5) Other considerations?


  • NB: This is not Latin script only, that's just the most common requirement. I'm aware that everyone here has specialisms in different areas, these are all important.
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,355
    edited September 2016
    if modifications are made to a FLOSS font - is it fair to continue the license as FLOSS?

    It is likely required. If you combine parts of an OFL font with parts of another font, the whole of the newly created font must be licensed under OFL if it is distributed to 3rd parties. (If it isn't distributed, this requirement for all incoming parts to be under OFL doesn't apply.)

  • Malcolm WoodenMalcolm Wooden Posts: 58
    edited September 2016
    Katy, I think you maybe trying to hit a moving target with such questions in this forum.

    First, no two client briefs are the same and each designer/foundry here would probably interpret a written brief differently. Generally there are face to face meetings, video calls and emails to ensure the correct interpretation of the clients brief. Briefs can be anything from a few lines in an email to a 200 page project description.

    Secondly, every designer/foundry in here has probably got a different workflow discipline and has a slightly different niche in the industry.

    I would suggest that you look at some foundries in the UK that could be responsive to your needs and technically competent for your purposes then discus your points directly with them to see if they are interested in working with you to achieve your aims within your budget.
  • @Malcolm Wooden Thank you for the clear response - I really appreciate it. Different workflows and approaches is to be expected - but perhaps I was over-hopeful to see some examples. I'll do some more thinking and explore alternative channels.

    @Dave Crossland Thank you, noted. :)
  • Forbidding modification is now de rigueur in EULAs because foundries realize they can get away with such an anti-cultural business tactic. "We all stand on the shoulders of giants... to make more money." So gollum.
  • edited September 2016
    I will concede that in many cases it's an unwitting anti-culturalism. Hence my motivation to convert, via candor.

    And I have yet to hear a good justification for why the no-mod clause went from a rarity to standard issue over the span of a few years.
  • edited September 2016
    Why assume everybody is so intransigent? Monokrom's EULA allows modification, and IIRC Frode was involved in discussions on Typophile about this before they launched. As I opined during my TypeCon-2014 talk, there's a lot of fruitful ground between hippie and gollum.

    Before I posted I considered whether my point was too far off topic. But I think it's sufficiently related to Katy's conundrum. For one thing, the amount a foundry might charge to carry out a modification is opaque and potentially capricious; you don't know until it's too late. Especially when you consider that nobody actually read the EULA; apparently not even Darden Studio's lawyer reads any besides their own. Joyce valiantly intends to change such attitudes via friendlier EULAs, but I wonder what users would think of foundries with a no-mod clause if they started realizing it's there before it's too late...

    Me, I roll my eyes at: «Touche pas à mon Garamond!» To me wrapping outlines around an idea that's never completely yours –and sometimes not remotely yours– isn't enough to warrant such protectionism.
  • For one thing, the amount a foundry might charge to carry out a modification is opaque…
    The message embedded here is important. Issues might crop up on any title with potentially any font, as co-publications and author supplied content draw in unforseen font requirements. If there's a scheduled 48 hours to improve the rendering of a dotted "h", I don't have time to spec, to negotiate prices back and forth for the modification of a single glyph. Manual intervention is a poor solution, as is switching from NFC to NFD - problems w/ kerning (2 different fonts, 1 letter form + 1 combining char), XML capture and font-rendering in online distribution.

    With a standardised SLA for a specific issue-type there is more clout, particularly if the budgeted amount is nominal (high frequency is ok, providing it is spread out between different products). Our systems are standardised, more similar to the assembly-line, with creative directors springing out terms such as "well-oiled machine". Poor typographic thrives in these circumstances, because we're so busy following workflows and shuffling paper – of which the EULA I'm sorry to say does play a time-consuming role.
  • Good insights. I'm glad you seem to think I was [sufficiently] on-topic. Indeed to me it boils down to consideration for others, whether they're in-the-trenches customers, or hypothetical beneficiaries of cultural growth.
  • edited September 2016
    Frode, even if my point does merit its own thread, it's not out of place here; this is something the initiator of this thread herself seems to agree with. However, I will remove my flag, as a courtesy. That said, not also flagging John's addressing of my points as off-topic smacks of favoritism.
  • edited September 2016
    John, I'm happy to hear that you're more flexible than the current industry norm concerning modification. Being less dependent on retail than most designers probably helps; however to me those more dependent on retail should simply see the risk as coming with the cultural territory.

    Concerning being falsely associated with poor quality (not that readers generally realize –or even care– who made the typeface) I've offered the following approach: a licensee who is modifying a font must alert the foundry (which gives the foundry the opportunity/motivation to offer to do it for a reasonable fee, instead of being tempted to extort); and they must mention the modification wherever the original design is mentioned (for example in a book's colophon). This is an "interaction with the living" that's generally entirely sufficient in my mind, especially when it involves an inherited interaction with the dead (whose oblivious heirs BTW are too often conveniently excluded).

    Concerning what involves cultural contribution, I certainly agree there can be cases where a no-mod clause can help more than hinder. But let's not pretend that's its typical raison d'être.

    Nick, along with Monokrom and Adobe, you have my respect for that. And culture thanks you.
  • On the subject of interacting with the living, for the SBL fonts EULA, which explicitly permits modification, I included a clause stating that any modified fonts should be sent to me and I retained the right to include any such modifications in future versions of the fonts. I was doubtful that anyone would try to modify the fonts, but I was also aware that anyone who did would probably be an expert in one or other of the scripts as used in Biblical scholarship, and I wanted to be able to identify useful additions and provide them to other users.
  • Nice. In fact I forgot to add a third part to my modification conditions: the licensee must send a copy the resultant font to the foundry. However I don't think requiring re-use rights is realistic.
  • David VereschaginDavid Vereschagin Posts: 18
    edited September 2016
    Firstly Katy, I don’t agree with your definition of microtypography, which is just plain old typography, imho.

    Agreed. "Microtypography" sounds like unnecessary, pretentious jargon. Typography is about all the details of selecting and setting type.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,869
    edited September 2016
    I don't have a problem with the term microtypography. Typography refers to everything from the structuring of a publication down to the level of spacing between individual glyphs. It is sometimes useful to be able to refer to different aspects of this, and the terms macro- and microtypography are handy (and don't necessarily require agreement about where the division is, although I tend to think of microtypography as within a line of text, and macrotypography as everything above that level; ergo, leading is macrotypography, but kerning is microtypography). Looked at another way, microtypography is what typesetters used to do, while macrotypography is what typographers used to do.
  • @Nick Shinn
    RE: Microtypography, the text above is a citation from Smashing Magazine. Sources indicate that micro typography was first coined in 1987 (Hochuli, Detail In Typography, p.7) with uses by other high profile names of the industry. The meaning has possibly evolved slightly, but the cited use pervades a plethora of articles and is used as a base definition in numerous discussions. Please feel free to browse google.
    @David Vereschagin
    The details that concern type function at different levels. As a straight forward definition, consider the different spatial relationships between character forms, and also between paragraphs, chapters, and columns. They are all typographic relationships, but function at different levels.

    There's a host of literature, frameworks and typographic schema that identify these types of differences. If you wish to conflate any further arguments, please benefit the academics of this forum with the use of a new thread.
  • The problem with “microtypography” is that it’s several levels of jargon deep. To understand what it means you already need to know general design terminology and the terminology of typography. So it’s a word that is liable to confuse people. When you use it you should consider if you’re writing for an audience that will understand you. 
  • John Hudson said:
    …modifying a font independent of the source files for that font is not a trivial thing, and the amount of work involved and the number of things that can get broken in the process is significant.
    Thanks John, I'm aware of this. The mods have been very few – but, I know better than this. Substitutions of characters are more regular, these are not great – but sometimes a little improvement since I've reviewed them. The culture is shifting, there is more understanding, but it's slow. 

    The idea with this thread is that if I can understand the information required, then I might be able to optimise the time involvement, and figure out our budgets – if there any possibility to support this kind of strategy. In the meantime, production continues as normal and bad typography persists. You can't stop the presses. 
  • @Katy Mawhood because we are all about consistency of message our EULA conisders swapping of alternates to be a modification.  When people ask they always want us to do it for them (for which we charge very little or sometimes nothing depending on the size of the license) but if someone asked if they could do it themselves we would probably permit it.  When alternates are swapped we change the name of the font to Nameoffont_nameofclient so that no one can confuse it with the retail version.
  • The problem with “microtypography” is that it’s several levels of jargon deep. To understand what it means you already need to know general design terminology and the terminology of typography. So it’s a word that is liable to confuse people. When you use it you should consider if you’re writing for an audience that will understand you. 
    This is a fair point.
  • I’m rewriting my EULA now and I think I’m just going to edit it down to granting permission to convert to outlines or raster files but requiring permission for creating any new font. Otherwise I have to add a block of legalese to the license, at which point most people won’t read it anyway.
  • There's certainly value in keeping the EULA simple.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,099
    I’ve never come across the term “microtypography” until Katy mentioned it.

    The distinction I’ve always recognized is between layout and typography, not macro and micro.

    We live and learn. 
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,457
    Katy, I assume your term "Microtypography" has no bearing on Willi Kunz's 1998 book?
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