a workshop to navigate the type design market

By Dominic Stanley and Renée Elizabeth Clarke

We created a workshop which we are now offering online to help type designers approach the job market.
First we look at the market to understand how to fit in and then at ourselves to ask how we can stand out. The workshop is framed through a business and a writing approach.

This is not a design course but one focused on the elements that support design. We discuss type foundries from a business perspective and compare the various models behind their success. We use these models to learn to create our own and to better decode what a foundry actually does. We then look at writing as a strategy for standing out in addition to possessing a well-rounded type design acuity. Each segment offers pertinent exercises and simulations crafted to expand participant knowledge of the type market and marketing themselves.

A viewfinder approach

A SWOT analysis is a useful tool for business strategy, used to identify a company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. It provides a broader overall perspective for the company to make informed decisions and create strategy. It can also be used to analyse other companies. Preceding the workshop launch for the University of Reading Masters of Typeface Design course in Spring 2020, we collaborated with seven type foundries (listed below) to survey the industry from their perspective. We hope to grow this body of research each year. Each foundry told us something about their unique selling points, their market and provided a SWOT analysis of their business. Students learn how to apply a SWOT analysis to themselves or to any foundry to better understand their business, a useful tool for job seekers and new foundries alike.

The workshop offers unique practical examples of the ways an independent foundry can compete successfully in a crowded marketplace. We discuss different marketing techniques. We compare how foundries view themselves versus how we view them from the outside. These viewpoints provide a better rounded map of the type industry to the workshop. They also serve as great examples of the many different paths leading into the market.

Writing about type

But I’m a designer not a writer.

There is trepidation among type designers over using their writing skills, ‘because they’re type designers not writers,’ but we believe it needn’t be so. Writing can be the most useful tool, and quickest to cultivate, for standing out. It’s your voice.

Just as there are endless ways to exist within the type design realm, there are many ways that type designers must write. We write appealing descriptions of a typeface, specimens, web copy, briefs and proposals. If we don’t use our own words effectively to define ourselves, our work and our beliefs, then someone else will use theirs.

The workshop facilitates writing exercises that are immediately transferable to the real world. Analogies between the design process and the writing process are judiciously made. We treat writing as an imperative component to each design. We offer strategies to improve writing, analyze good, bad, and weird writing styles used by type designers, and then we write.

Your new compass

The workshop ultimately facilitates fresh ways to look at the type market and helps participants find their own route to fitting in. We don’t propose the approach to be a means to an end, but rather an inquiry that will hopefully vary with each session of the workshop. Familiarizing oneself with the business of typeface design can be one of the most useful stepping stones into the world of type.

Outcomes

  • Form a general understanding of the type market, its internal and external forces
  • Step back from designing to better understand type design economics and unpack what it is that type foundries are selling in terms of how they use brands
  • Gain ability to analyse any company in the industry to form an opinion about their business, market, and possible strategic motivations
  • Gain ability to identify one’s own strengths, weaknesses, unique selling points and to then use this information
  • Perform three or more S.W.O.T. analyses, depending on the workshop, leaving participants confident to carry out this research method by themselves in the future
  • Know the various ways in which a small foundry can stand out among industry giants
  • Discover the many styles and spaces of writing used by designers and creatives
  • Build a functioning database of type design vocabulary for participants to use and add to long after the course completes
  • Acquire tips for effective description and copywriting
  • Practise writing typeface descriptions* and receive immediate feedback, an area that design courses typically overlook (*writing prompts and exercises will be tailored to each workshop)

Dominic Stanley is a type designer with a background in business analysis.

Renée Elizabeth Clarke is a designer and writer specializing in type.

Type Designer, Business Teacher, University of Reading MATD 17/18

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