Talking to customers about fonts

I thought it might be useful to start of a thread about how to talk about various aspects of fonts with customers.  This would be hard to do under any circumstances because so many customers have no experience at all talking about fonts.  It's made even harder when you factor in language barriers, which are frequent.  

I'll raise the first one.  I find it quite tricky to talk about styles with customers.  As I've mentioned in other threads, it's clear no me that customers view the style as the essential unit of a font.  However, I'm not certain they all really know what a style is. Here are some examples:
- If I forget to say "we count Roman and Italic separately" many customers will assume they are getting both (or confuse them).
- I recently had a customer who purchased a basic license of two complete sub families of the same family and wanted web embedding.  I explained that they should specify which styles to save money, which they understood just fine, but then they got very confused.  They gave me five styles' file names (not the casual names "bold, semibold, etc" but the actual file names that included the subfamily) so I clarified that they wanted to embed styles from both families.  They said yes but when I provided a quote for 10 embedded styles they pushed back "we only need five".  I explained and it was fine but ug, I think that was exhausting for both of us.
- I frequently hear from a customer "my designer told me to license Halyard Bold" (Halyard has three opticals).  So, I have to ask "which one?"

Some of this is definitely unavoidable. But I'm always trying to make the interactions smoother. 

Does anyone have good customer service tricks for talking about styles?  

Does anyone have other examples of customer confusion talking about fonts they'd like to work on?


  • k.l.k.l. Posts: 91
    Hello Joyce, ’but the actual file names‘ is exactly the kind of precision that you are asking for! Set up a table, with nice font+style names in one column and file names in another, and make sure to have the spreadsheet file or printout in reach whenever you talk to a client. Such a table can be generated right from your font files.
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 769
    edited January 2022
    @k_l. Hmmm...  this is an interesting idea.  My first response which I edited away, was "hard pass". I still think that the spreadsheet you're talking about would scare off most lay person users.  I also think it wouldn't make my own life any easier, which is probably the most compelling reason not to do it.  I'm not a designer myself, so I interact most often with the informal names of the fonts anyway.

    It might be different for custom work, but this is retail.  My instinct is to meet people where they are.   

    But also, the fact of her giving the actual files names for only one of the two sub families is what caused the problem in the first place!  This kind of pseudo precision is the thing that almost always is the source of customer confusion. If she had just listed five styles I'd have known she wanted it in both sub families, if she had listed ten file names I'd also have known what she wanted.  Somewhere along the lines she started thinking of it as "five styles" instead of "five styles each in two sub families".  

    In reflecting on this, and your idea, I started to wonder if my fear of customer confusion caused the confusion in the first place.  I could have probably just sent her an invoice and not taken the extra step of making sure they still wanted two sub families.  If that was wrong she'd have corrected me, in which case she'd maybe have understood it better.  My impulse to spoon feed clients styles could be adding friction.
  • k.l.k.l. Posts: 91
    edited January 2022
    Sorry, I was not clear. The spreadsheet would be only for your own use, as a cheat sheet, so you can immediately check which font – and thus style – a client is referring to, regardless which name (family name + style name, full name, PostScript name, file name) they may use. The spreadsheet is not meant to be shared with anyone outside of your office.

    I do not think that this kind of confusion is your fault or clients’ fault. This kind of confusion is sort of built into fonts, as software companies used and still use font names in different ways, piled up more font names to adress that, and caused fonts to contain a variety of font names from which to choose ...
  • @k_l. Oh!  Well, the spreadsheet wouldn't have helped for that.  I wasn't confused about what they were referring to. The disconnect came when they were very specific about half of what they wanted, so that I wasn't sure if they still wanted the other half.  

    I guess I agree with you that there's no fault here on either side.  That said, I do think there's room for us font people to improve our communication skills so that we reduce the confusion.  That was my point of starting this thread.
  • I think that it may always be helpful to ask the customer if they can loop their designer(s) into the conversation. This may not always be possible, but in the case that it is I am sure speaking to the designer will help clear up any confusion.

    As a designer, I can tell you that sometimes my clients do things without me knowing. Which is to say that they might reach out to a foundry for licensing at a strange part of the design process and never let me know.

    If the foundry were to ask to have me involved for the sake of clarity, then I’d ensure the client is licensing all of the right styles.

    (Of course, all of this assumes the designer knows about styles, font licensing, etc.)
  • - If I forget to say "we count Roman and Italic separately" many customers will assume they are getting both (or confuse them).
    I think a lot of confusion can be prevented by presenting the fonts better to customers.

    For example, say someone is tasked to license Demo Medium both Regular and Italic from MyFonts:

    Now, say someone is tasked to license Magnet Medium both Regular and Italic from Frere-Jones:

    In the MyFonts example, I see why someone could be confused as to whether the Italic is already included once you added the Regular or not. Especially the Shopping Cart view (00:20), where one might assume the Demo Medium already includes the Italic since it is presented without context. I am not saying the Frere-Jones example is perfect, but it is much clearer whether the Italic will be part of your checkout.
  • @Florian Fecher I should have been more clear.  This is never a problem in the buying area of our website.  It's only an issue with the customers who need to communicate with us directly.  Often that is larger sales.  
  • ...and @Ray Larabie wins best Typedrawers post of 2022, to date!
  • "Oh, you only want MS Gothic, but not MS PGothic? Well, they're in a collection file. Oh, I didn't explain collection files? ... Yes, they're different fonts, but I can't really give you one without the other. Why? Well, it's like those jars of peanut butter and jelly mixed together you see at the grocery store: you can't buy just the jelly part. Well, yes, the store does sell just jelly, but not that jelly. That's not helping, is it?.....  Bahnschrift Light SemiCondensed and Bold, you say? Just those two styles but not the others? But it's a variable font. Oh, I didn't explain that either? No, that's not the same as a collection, but you still can't separate them. ... "

  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,337
    edited January 2022
    I'm glad I don't have to explain variable fonts (yet). What I still struggle with is explaining the difference between embedding and not-embedding to indie game devs. If a game dev is making their first game, they might not be familiar with embedding or realize that they can pre-render some elements. If they have a website, sometimes, I'll check it out to see if they've already released games. I assume if this isn't their first game, they know what embedding means.

    Mixed use licensing is something I've never found a good explanation that I can forward people to. If someone wants to add a free font to an open-source build, they can do a mixed-use setup where some elements are under a non- open-source license. I don't really know how it works, just that it exists.
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