Kris Sowersby's "Welcome to the Infill Font Foundry"


  • VanderLans frames our contemporary efforts as simply filling in the gaps, and during his impressive 30 year career these gaps have suddenly narrowed—the typographic equivalent of ice caps melting or overcrowding. I simply don’t see his narrow gaps. I see wide open fields of possibility, and I see my peers and colleagues in the type industry working hard and making new, interesting type.

    This sums up my feelings as well after reading the Fontstand Emigre article.

  • joeclarkjoeclark Posts: 122
    Naked URLs are not the way to present links.
  • I'm glad for Kris's essay, and I'm glad for the conversation it (and Stephen's recent contribution on his site) has started, but it's important to note

    (1) that Fred Smeijers and Rudy Vanderlans hold related, but not the same, positions on the question of 'infill'. Kris seems to suggest the opposite, though he talks explicitly far more about Rudy's position than Fred's. Rudy is talking about innovation as formal originality today compared to the heyday of indie type design. As Fred noted in the interview that appeared in Eye 90, he is more concerned with questions of whether designs are released before they are fully resolved, and designs that are tweaks or close adaptations of any existing designs, not (only?) with designers doing nothing but finding corners overlooked by the masters of past generations. In fact, I don't think you can call the problems Fred is concerned with 'infill', especially not when you consider the mechanisms he thinks are behind them.

    Which brings us to the second thing,

    (2) that it matters who you're talking about, and what you think is responsible for the problems you've identified. It's possible for Kris to be right, if he's talking about solo designers (like himself) and small indie shops; and for Fred to be right, if he's talking about large shops and the people trying to run with them, and the dynamic of creativity, production, and distribution that they create and participate in.

    You could argue (as Fred has, to me in conversation, and I think I'm presenting his opinion fairly) that the smaller the margins, the more participants in the market who hope to make significant income from their work, the more networked they all are, and at a certain degree of technological 'slickness' (as he put it in his interview), the greater the tendency to design (even if unconsciously) in self-conscious, hyper-socially-aware, risk-averse ways. Innovations, such as they arrive and prove themselves popular, can spread quickly, quite without anyone intending to copy anyone else's work. And this is not a new dynamic—it's been happening, as John notes, for about as long as we've had type. You could even argue that larger creators wind up depending on smaller, more innovative ones to come up with new ideas they wind up exploiting in their own releases.

    Even if you disagree with Fred's position, it's a different one than Rudy's, and forces us to address important related questions.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,458
    I'm not convinced there is anything substantially new to be expressed in the genre. Yeah, the whole genre of sans serif type.
    Perhaps you do not see anything new in a sans in recent years that you feel is worthy, John, but that does not mean the pursuit needs to be abandoned by other people.  It may just be that it will come about in the coming time ahead.  Others may feel the same about Roman book faces as you do about Sans?
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,940
    Chris, as I said, it is a perspective, and these will vary. I may eventually finish that sans, because every once in a while I find myself in need of it in some way in which 'I made it myself' matters.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,458
    I find that I look at all the Sans out there and say to myself, "That is not quite what I am looking for."  In fact, that is why I started designing type, I was in search of a Sans that did what I wanted.  Given that I have not released it yet may indicate that I am not getting close yet ;-)
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,966
    edited July 2016
    VanderLans’ comment did exactly what it was intended to: draw attention and allow Emigre to continue feigning relevance in 2016. An epic troll.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,458
    Perhaps our clients are a tad nervous about typefaces that are to far from the ones they have been taught to be comfortable with.  Maybe they want someone anointed to first bless on-high anything before they use it.  Example: if a superstar graphic designer uses a typeface, it is considered anointed.  "Let's see what Michael Bierut used recently."  This has less to do with the design and more to do with "looking Like" the big guys.  [I am sure Michael does not do this.  He is confident in his own ability to chose wisely]
    So what to do?  I don't like the notion of being tied to either an old workhorse lookalike or an attempt to guess what a design star would prefer.  I feel better just designing what feels right to me.  I don't even look at new type anymore because I don't want to be influenced.
  • Simon CozensSimon Cozens Posts: 722
    I think another analogy is the Japanese creative arts. The underlying philosophy is that creative perfection was reached in the distant past, and you learn the craft by copying the exemplars (kata) of the masters. Only when you have mastered the past are you allowed to put your own spin on what you have learnt. It leads to a fundamentally conservative design milieu.

    Anyway, I am absolutely calling my next font "Infill Sans".
  • Miles NewlynMiles Newlyn Posts: 235
    edited July 2016
    modern music, 'it all sounds the same to me'.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,128
    There is a lot of style in script and distressed typefaces, and the trends have been evolving since these genres became so popular in retail licensing. It’s not something that is given much critical respect, as the descriptive language (and its history) is lacking, perhaps. The issues around all the “expert” features, for instance.
  • Yªssin BªggªrYªssin Bªggªr Posts: 73
    edited July 2016
    I've had clients specifically commission in-fill. Like my DDT typeface. The client liked Microgramma but said it was too square and too hard to read. They liked Univers but wanted it to be more square. So I made in-fill.
    If that is in-fill, then in-fill sounds like pretty normal type design (creative or even cultural) process to me. Once in a while, people stumble on revolutionary ideas, but most of the time they build upon and (re)mix older ones.
    If a graphic designer needs/desires a typeface whose tone falls exactly in between two typefaces, I don't see why it shouldn't be made. It might be more useful, its tone and functionality appropriate for a wider range of situations and projects than a typeface with much more original design ideas.
    Of course designers generally bury their source of inspiration in more than 2 typefaces, which makes the result look more original.

    I also think there are too many hastily drawn typefaces released weekly. But I doubt that can be prevented. When it becomes easier to create products, and there is a clientele which isn't able or doesn't care to discern between quality and cheap products, there will be an increase in cheap products. Complaining won't change that and I find it pretty tiring having to hear people tell others what they should/are allowed to design. Anyway, most of it sounds essentially like marketing and positioning to me.

  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,128
    edited July 2016
    From the blog:
    The problem is that these vast “waterfalls of mediocrity” are slowly being dammed by corporates like Monotype, Google and Adobe, creating the equivalent of any other minority-controlled hydro-electric power scheme channelling profits to benefit their shareholders.

    We don’t need to argue over what infillism is, that was not the point of Kris’ blog, and he cogently dismisses that it even exists! 

    Where once Massimo Vignelli took Emigre to task for their typeface designs, Kris says well yeah, now Rudy is the codger going on about quality, but let’s not play that generation vs. generation game again, because it’s a distraction, the real issue is monopolization. 
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,389
    They still make new type and recently released two critically acclaimed faces (Cardea in 2014, and Alda in 2008)
    I'm surprised you consider 2008 recent. 
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,389
    edited July 2016
    I ponder that part of the infillist mindset is that the Latin type design 'space' is fixed, and that time is linear. 

    As the volume of published typefaces increases exponentially, I think relative time is slowing down.

    Per this book review, Kodak estimated that "[In 2011] 380bn photographs were taken around the world – 11% of all the photographs ever taken." 

    In the same way, my perception of time in type between 2016 and 2006 is much longer than between 1976 and 1986. 

    The next Latin typeface is now just minutes away, instead of hours or days.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,458
    In the same way, my perception of time in type between 2016 and 2006 is much longer than between 1976 and 1986.
    The benchmark for me personally was 2004 when there was a sudden influx of new type designers entering the profession.  I wonder how many typefaces were designed between 2004 and 2016 and what percentage they would be of the total designed prior to that time?
  • I'd like to see more in-fill! And what is it that I think needs filling in? More size-specific designs and better renderings of classics (a category I like to define broadly). 

    Where's the creativity in that? I think there's plenty, as each of these types would involve very shrewd interpretations and reinterpretations from old media (metal type, even photo type) to new media (digital on paper, digital for the screen). I agree with Mark Simonson in believing that the narrowness of possibilities is a great creative virtue.

    Here is one of my favorite examples:

    Look at the original printed specimens of Bauer's Futura, then look at any and all of the digital versions. The original is a glorious piece of typefounding, each weight and size works perfectly, with rhythmic, easy-to-read spacing that accommodates both very round and vertical shapes. None of the digital forms compare favorably. It's a great opportunity for a young person to make a mark.

    After that, you might want to look at (metal) Monotype Bembo, which, with all its flaws, reads very well. Why is there no new interpretation of it? Or, speaking of Aldine types, why has no one made a fresh interpretation of the Poliphilus type?

    If there are some new interpretations of these, please let me know!

  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,458
    Interpretations may be the word to describe what "infill" is trying to be about.
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,389

    Look at the original printed specimens of Bauer's Futura, then look at any and all of the digital versions. The original is a glorious piece of typefounding, each weight and size works perfectly, with rhythmic, easy-to-read spacing that accommodates both very round and vertical shapes. None of the digital forms compare favorably. It's a great opportunity for a young person to make a mark.

    Such young persons will need to have express written permission from Bauer, as Bauer contacts anyone who makes typefaces with a certain combination of features that they feel makes a type design "too close" to Futura.
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