Would you recommend being a type designer?

For those of you who are making a living (or any significant source of income) making fonts, would you recommend it to anyone who seems to like it? I ask this because I kind of want to be a type designer when I am an adult (I'm a teenager, asking this because of college advising). If so, why? If not, also why?


  • TypofactoryTypofactory Posts: 56
    edited June 2023
    But the future is looking pretty bleak at the moment.
    What do you mean by that? Just in general, or specifically in type design?
  • John ButlerJohn Butler Posts: 240
    I mean both. Automation is coming for jobs in general and for type design in particular. Type design will still exist just like fine press book editions will still exist, but good luck depending on it for your livelihood.

    Hoefler bowing out was the tipping point for me. He saw it coming, and he tweeted about it intensely for a while.
  • John ButlerJohn Butler Posts: 240
    edited June 2023
    James, no, I am not a full-time type designer. I tried once, twenty years ago, then moved into “font engineering,” i.e. programming OpenType features when OpenType was new and the tools were more primitive. I made part-time money from it but soon slouched back into an IT generalist career with wider and steadier demand. I burned through lots of money and one marriage and racked up lots of debt learning this. Don’t Do What I Did. If we ever meet in person, and sufficient alcohol is available, I could go into further detail.

    Again, some kids have rich parents and money to fall back on, in which case go nuts.

    Here’s another way to look at it: while type livelihoods have gotten harder to achieve, type design output itself has gotten easier. Tools are a hundred times more powerful today. My favorite recent font is Elstob, a multi-axis variable font with unprecedented features, given away free of charge by retired professor Peter Baker, who has posted here in the past. Calls himself an “amateur” type designer and produces THAT. So, yes, by all means, design new fonts. Digitize old ones. (I’ve got one in mind myself.) Expand existing ones (where the license allows.) Produce the output, buy the tools to help you do it, but don’t bank on the output being your livelihood. Certainly don’t borrow money to study it for four years. (I notice you appear to live in the fantastic state of Texas, Typofactory. My advice about studying is in the context of American higher education specifically.)
  • Vasil StanevVasil Stanev Posts: 750
    edited June 2023
    The question of employment boils down to the question if one can tap the money pool in a certain industry through some skill, position, or other means. The best way to stay employed is to learn new skills and innovate in some way that might be small but gives you some edge. The old model - of setting shop on the web, and waiting for customers - is pretty much dead  IMPO not only because everybody and their aunt do that, but also because the logical, organic way of building a following of buyers through social media has been skewed by monitoring bodies. The market is changing rapidly, more so than before, because the whole world is changing rapidly. Yet imagine, if you will, that some political or social movement gets entangled with font production for some reason. This will produce income for those that know how to tap it.
  • I do think that much of my success has come from being at the right place at the right time as I presented in my previous post. I've taught type design to many students over the years and I can't identify any who has gone on to have a successful type design career. But most did go on the have very successful careers in graphic design.
  • Yves MichelYves Michel Posts: 143
    ... However, the real question is: are you fascinated by the shape of letters, by typography, by the phenomenon of reading text? Lucky indeed is the person whose passion coincides with their career.
    Nick summarizes the most important aspects of type designing.

    If, becoming an adult, you still have the fascination he describes, follow your passion, if not professionnaly, as a hobby.

    And with the wonderful tools available, create, create, invent, be original, which is very rewarding (but time consuming!)
  • Cory MaylettCory Maylett Posts: 245
    I've been a designer and art director (and a dabbler in type design) for over 40 years with a BFA and MFA. I've made a good living at art direction and done well. However, I entered the profession at just the right time, but 2023 is not the right time. Making good income as a designer has never been easy, but in all my 40-plus years doing it, I've never seen a time when the future of the profession has looked so bleak.

  • Vasil StanevVasil Stanev Posts: 750
    edited July 2023
    I've been a designer and art director (and a dabbler in type design) for over 40 years with a BFA and MFA. I've made a good living at art direction and done well. However, I entered the profession at just the right time, but 2023 is not the right time. Making good income as a designer has never been easy, but in all my 40-plus years doing it, I've never seen a time when the future of the profession has looked so bleak.

    I'm surprised to read this. In my opinion, opportunities are now better than ever. Technology has never been as developed as now, it was never easier to create a design. Compare a simple thing like cutting hair from a busy background in photoshop, how easy it is now with the aid of AI. That is all AI is - an AId.
    And it was never easier to ask for advice on the web and to reach the biggest names in any industry. Common people are able to communicate with billionaires and royalty! There are many people in many professions because there are more people overall.  Many used to have to do menial jobs but technology has now helped them get out of poverty. I believe we will be able to live to a day when poverty goes the way of slavery. This has driven prices down in some segments of some professions. But, when you compare the work of a seasoned professional with that of a hobbyist that used to do menial work - no, it often doesn't hit the mark. And I often had to couch younger colleagues in my office job, that are so brittle that they take every advice that was meant to help them as a personal insult and end up leaving the company. This is no way to do business... in the end, I have to call up people that I've known for decades and the professionals do the work that was supposed to be done by interns. But when was this not the case? If the intern doesn't cut the mustard, he or she will have to get a lower-level job to pay the bills, simple as that. So there will always be work for professionals. AI has taken the jobs of less skilled workers, but if you zoom in on the details of generated art, you would cry. Look at these flowers and tell me, do they resemble anything found in nature? Is there any visual hierarchy in the ovals and lines of the image? I use hand tracing of complex images as a pause between actual projects so I can let my mind run on autopilot for some time. (This works for me). But I couldn't imagine printing a vector of this and going to a concert with the design on a t-shirt. It is utter garbage to me, on every level - colors, shapes, theme, you name it. It's enough to look only at the lack of symmetry - you need and actual artist to redraw that. If somebody asks me to vectorize this for them, I might even reject the offer, no matter the price.

  • I've always hated the term "foundry" when used to describe an entity that creates digital type. During my technology education I had several foundry classes. I don't ever recall having to use molten metal, crucibles, cope and drags molds, heat protective clothing and face shields when making digital type, but I needed all of those in my "Foundry" classes.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,940
    I’ve cast metal, so I am sympathetic, James. On the other hand, lots of industries retain historical terminology across technological changes. In this case, the term ‘type foundry’ is a kind of terminological reclamation from pre-industrial typesetting. What it captures is the similarity of the business model of making and selling fonts as the primary product, rather than making and selling fonts in the context of making and selling typesetting machines and systems, as in the hot metal and phototype eras. So there is a kind of parallel between today’s digital type foundry and e.g. the Caslon Type Foundry, but it is a parallel in the business model not a parallel in the technology.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,374

    The landscape of type design is continuously evolving, with demand for new fonts diminishing but the significance of typographic expertise remains unwavering. In retrospect, the period between 1995 and 2015 appears to have been a peculiar era for full-time typeface designers, where it was possible to be a full-time typeface designer while not having a career as a typographer or graphic designer.


    My personal experience reflects this change. A vast majority of my font income is derived from typefaces I created prior to 2010. Although some of these works have been expanded and rebuilt, barring a single release in 2016, I could arguably categorize my font releases in the past decade more as a passion project (hobby) than a substantial income source.


    Considering the advent of innovative design tools, the field is evolving towards valuing a solid foundation in art and design history, perhaps even more than technical acumen. The dynamic nature of type design as a career demands adaptability and a continuous learning mindset. That’s something young people are naturally better than old people at. Young people will use these tools to extend their reach while us old folks will avoid them for assorted reasons.


    While the days of thriving purely as a typeface designer may be numbered, a broader understanding of typography and its application in design, coupled with a rich knowledge of art and design history, could pave the way for exciting opportunities in the future. So, go for it!

  • If someone is serious about entering the type design field, my advice would be to learn technical and production skills to complement their design skills. Despite the efforts of some font tool makers to try to make type design and font creation easy, fonts remain complex technical products, and the people who have a solid understanding of the OpenType font format, who know how to work with more than one tool, and who have some programming understanding (not necessarily actual coding skills, although that is also a specific benefit) will find more diverse ways to earn money.
    I was going to write something similar; thanks for saving me the effort!

    As interested as I was in type design when I started out (mid-90s, same as John), I quickly found that there was a pervasive need for production expertise. Although the technical landscape for fonts has changed quite a lot since then, there is still, and will always be, emerging technologies that are confusing to people. Make yourself an expert in some part of it and you’ll have a better chance of finding reliable income.

    As it happened, my type career has also brought me together with some very good type designers — so although I’ve not done a lot of type design in the last 20 years, I’ve absorbed a lot and am still comfortable and confident in my skills when I do it. (Keeping up with the technical side is far more challenging to me.)
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,940
    For the record: I do not have any kind of formal qualification or undertook any formal education in type design, nor do I have a background in graphic design. I came into the field via the antiquarian booktrade and small press publishing in the early 1990s, which forstered an interest in typography. I learned to set type first, and still think that is the best introduction to learning about how type works and, hence, how to design it.
  • If I think back on what really inspired me to pursue this career, it was the letterpress printing classes I took in high school. Setting type by hand was where it all began.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,703
    Broadly, I might echo what Christopher and John have said.

    However, one thing I will say is, that while I would not recommend a general graphic design degree, I think the one-year master’s programs from Reading and KABK are awesome. If they had been around early enough that I could have learned about them and done one of those, I think I would have been well-served by it. (That said, my RIT education was also pretty handy in a bunch of ways.)

    Education is not just about what you learn in the coursework, but about the connections you make with both students and teachers.
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