Sunday, September 24, 2006

Who needs free fonts?

The lack of access to high-quality free fonts encourages students to engage in criminal behavior. Such behavior also is endemic in the developing world, where the idea of paying for typeface licenses is often counter-intuitive. If typeface designers worked to populate a small but rich domain of high-quality typefaces that could be freely used by anyone on earth, they would help improve the accessibility of communications worldwide, while also raising the standards for typographic excellence.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Ben Kutil said...

Ellen,
Along with the samples you've provided, this blog has a very good roundup of all things free:

http://www.alvit.de/blog/

His specific posts on free typefaces:

25 Liscense free fonts

2:15 PM  
Anonymous Si said...

It’s interesting that the author of the letter addressed it to a software company with a waning interest in commercial type, and cc’d two other software companies, rather than the owners of most of the fonts in question (ITC, Monotype and at the time an independent Linotype).

With few exceptions* the successful free fonts have had corporate, governmental or other organizational backers that have bankrolled their production. This is true for SBL Hebrew, Euphemia UCAS, Vera, Verdana, Georgia, Cyberbit and pretty much every other useful free font you can mention. Time and time again it’s been proven that paying professional type designers for their time and effort is the only way to produce professional results, that the amateurs can’t match. So rather than calling on type designers and foundries to donate typefaces, perhaps it would be better to call on corporations and governments to pool their donations into a central fund that would finance the production of high quality fonts for the public domain?

Cheers, Si

*Perhaps Ray Larabie

3:24 PM  
Blogger Hugo Charrão said...

The answer to this question is quite simple, THE STUDENTS.
This project is very interesting and useful because it incentive the students to know and use legal fonts, in stead of download bad examples or illegal stuff.
Ok students need to practice, and is not a really big problem. I did it when was student, but now we have the possibility of working with high quality fonts for free.

Thanks Ellen.

5:05 AM  
Blogger Ari said...

>The lack of access to high-quality free fonts encourages students to engage in criminal behavior....

Come again?

I can see the desirability of funding core, high-quality fonts in general, for general public access. I can also see (and have done early fonts to the limit of my own, not-so-high-quality skills) creating open source fonts when the spirit moves one, but why should it be incumbent uniquely on type designers to put the hundreds or thousands of hours in that a high-quality design requires at their own expense? Do we insist that other craftspeople make free high-quality items available for free? How does that free students from ethical behavior or from the requirements of not ripping off the people who make the work that they admire?

If you said that students should attempt to create new works as good as those that they admire, first learning to copy the great works as beginning painters might attempt to copy significant paintings, then we might find ourselves approaching agreement, but this statement sounds more like the spoiled, specious rationalizations of someone still ignorant of what she is requesting.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Brook said...

It's being suggested that students are a group most in need of access to good quality typefaces. Do their respective academic institutions not provide site licenses for a selection of fonts to use in course work? If not, why not?

Part of the what I would consider to be training for a professional career in typo/graphic design would be learning a respect for the work of other designers. If a client won't pay for the typeface suggested by the designer, it should be made clear that they may not get the results they're after. This isn't the fault of the designer, but a decision of the client about the value they put on the work. A professional designer will be able to work within these constraints, and a student should be able to work this way too when necessary.

I don't think it's a lack of access to good quality typefaces that stands in the way of "typographic excellence" among students. As evidence by the mass of students using unlicensed typefaces badly. I don't really see the evidence that access to _more_ typefaces necessarily produces better work. In many cases it's just the opposite.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Ellen said...

Regarding students: Yes, the design labs at our school have site licenses to a good basic array of fonts (mostly Adobe type library, which provides them with a limited but useful view of the universe). However, the students do not work on campus all the time; our labs are in heavy use, and students need to work on their own computers.

By discussing the problems of borrowing fonts with them, and talking about where (and if) any decent free fonts are available, I actually hope to instill BETTER ethics in them, not worse. Because of course it is easy for them to copy the fonts from our legal lab and take them home.

I have not suggested that ALL fonts should be free, or that type designers should give ALL their fonts away, or that EVERY designer should give ANYTHING away. I have only suggested that a few organizations and individuals might be drawn to the idea as a way to achieve a goal that many people share: to improve the overall typographic culture.

Toward that end there are many means. It is toward that end that I produce books, articles, lectures, web sites, and so on, actvities which for the most part do not make ANY money for me and which are done simply for the pleasure and for the purpose. I do these things voluntarily, out of my interests and obsessions. I certainly don't expect everyone else to write, lecture, and so forth for free, but of course many many people do, because it is a privilege and challenge to participate in the culture.

1:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there. It's me, Anonymous, again.

Ms Lupton, it is true that you "have not suggested that ALL fonts should be free, or that type designers should give ALL their fonts away, or that EVERY designer should give ANYTHING away." We can't overlook this part of your statement in our rush to challenge the basis of your manifesto.

There are a lot of typefaces available for free download via the world wide web, some with unrestrictive licensing, some without. The quality of 99% of the free fonts out there is extremely low; you really do get what you pay for. So, what you really want is GOOD free fonts. You're a fussy consumer. Unfortunately, most GOOD type designers put their GOOD work up for sale, because they like to "put food on their families", to quote President Bush.

I'm not a type designer, but I've met a few in my life, and I'm thankful to them for the work they do. At least, I'm thankful to the GOOD ones. And I'm thankful to Microsoft and Apple for commissioning and/or making available such useful and GOOD fonts as Georgia, Verdana, Hoefler Text, and the beautiful suite of types developed for Microsoft's Vista OS. I would imagine that most type designers would jump at the opportunity to create a freely-available font, so long as they were paid for their time and energy.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Ellen said...

Thanks, anonymous, for your additional comments. I also love typefaces and type designers, and I mean no disrespect by suggesting that some people in the world might benefit from a small number of free fonts, and that a small number of other people in the world are interested in making and sharing such fonts. As SI points out above, the good projects are funded by various organizations and businesses.

11:30 PM  

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