• Jesse Allen Cooke

Do We Need to Create More Typefaces?

The current state of typeface design is ever-expanding. It really seems as if everything has been created already. There are serifs, sans serifs, scripts, geometrics, moderns, oldstyles, large families, super families, vintage and distressed, historical, etc. The list goes on and on. And then, when you think everything has been done and there may only be a few original ideas left, someone comes along and makes something completely unheard of—something that breaks the preconceived boundaries of typeface design. So what is the point of going on to create a new typeface?

I believe there are a few reasons to keep creating and the first of which is to fulfill the intense desire to create that some of us lucky, or unlucky, humans have. Maybe we, typeface designers, shouldn’t be concerned with what has been done and what hasn’t. Maybe we should just focus on ourselves and our passions that drive us. We are in an era where originality is dead (arguably).

Creators need to create. It’s what we do. If the typeface you’re designing doesn’t break new ground or change the face of the industry; that’s okay! We pressure ourselves into being the next Steve Jobs or Elon Musk of our industry but why? I suppose that’s to fulfill another human need of accomplishment and significance but we need to focus on the need to create.

I’ve been an aspiring typeface designer for years and have published a few display fonts. But recently, I’ve embarked on the journey to create my first multi-weight typeface. Throughout this journey, I have been discouraged and thrown off-track more times than I can count but I keep telling myself that I can create for the sake of creating. I don’t need to make new discoveries and change the industry, although I’d like to. But that would be a terrible reason to create. That would be the equivalent to a musician selling-out and creating some junky pop song for the sake of getting recognized at the VMA’s.

Now, what if we look at this from a pure business standpoint? Picture the following scenario: A large company owns the market for widgets. They make the best widgets and sell the most of them. They are trusted by millions of consumers and have no intention to stop doing what they’re doing. Then, a new company comes into the game. The new company starts making decent-quality widgets at a fair price. And then another new company comes into the game making high-quality widgets at a really high price. These two new companies know they won’t be able to compete with the old company. So why did they enter the market? These new companies know that with the right business model and plan of attack they can take a small chunk of the market and turn a profit.

Okay, so back to typeface design. Each of those “companies” can be looked at as a typeface designer. Maybe it’s best for us to get into typeface design knowing that the biggest and greatest innovations have already happened. I don’t say that to discourage anyone. I say that to set some realistic expectations. I think it’s best to look at the industry and find ways to improve upon the existing rather than going for the next ground-breaking idea.

There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of Neo-Grotesks in the marketplace. What makes your Neo-Grotesk better than the others? That’s what we, typeface designers, should be focusing on. So keep creating and improving upon what’s been laid out before you. And maybe, along your journey, you’ll come up with a ground-breaking idea that changes the typeface design industry forever. But that needs to happen naturally. Don’t force it.

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