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The Business Of Font Making With Hoefler & Co.

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For designers and creative agencies across the world, the name Hoefler is synonymous with beautiful lettering, perfect pixels, and typifying typographic excellence. Hoefler & Co., the type foundry responsible for more than a thousand iconic fonts for over 25 years, continues to iterate and push the lettering aesthetic to new heights, curves, and contrasts.

For the uninitiated, Hoefler & Co. is the powerhouse behind typography.com, a marketplace for their countless typeface products including famous iconic fonts like Gotham and Hoefler Text. They have also expanded to the webfont world with cloud.typography, a project that involved redesigning their vast library of print fonts to instead be optimized for screens, which they publish as their ScreenSmart collection.

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Recently released font Obsidian, by Hoefler & Co. 

The type making business is a tricky one. As Jonathan explains, the creation of a typeface can take years — many H&Co projects develop over decades — not to mention the persistent updates necessary to storied fonts to keep them relevant as language and usage evolve. For example, India recently adopted a new symbol for their currency, the rupee, thus Jonathan’s team set out to translate this new symbol for Gotham, one of Hoefler & Co.’s most well known typefaces.

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Typeface designer Troy Leinster beginning the new rupee symbol for Gotham.

Having a detail-oriented approach is essential for visual designers in order to ensure that their end result is pixel perfect. “We’re all kind of maniacal tool builders here,” Jonathan explains, “typeface designers are notorious for spending time to save time.” But getting to the point where designers can step back and focus on what they do best requires creating an intuitive workflow around their process.

For Jonathan, Trello has been his method for overseeing any initiative at Hoefler & Co. at a higher level, from typeface design all the way through to presenting webfonts on cloud.typography.

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The Five List Load Balance

One of his essential Trello board workflows is lists that include “Goals,” where initial ideations of a project are kept, then “Things to be discussed,” which is when it is covered in his meetings with staff. His middle list is “Open questions,” which is essentially anything that has been bottlenecked. The two right most lists are “Decisions,” where initiatives have made it through the pipeline and are ready to be delegated, and, finally, “Completed.” For Jonathan, this five list flow helps him load balance.

“For any project that we’re working on, I can open up the Trello board and just see at-a-glance whether it favors stuff that’s still being worked out, or stuff that’s mostly done,” he says.

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Meeting Minutes Board

Jonathan also relies on Trello to manage his team. Each person shares a Trello board with him that has their agenda and his agenda, and they go down the list of items to discuss during one on one meetings.

"Requiring colleagues to articulate what the meeting is about and to stack things by priority helps me prepare for what I need to go in with," Jonathan explains.

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Staying True

At the very core of process in the design industry is an adherence to a particular aesthetic. Designers and creatives are required to stay in tune with previous design decisions in order to produce a cohesive end result. As Jonathan explains, using Trello is a logical extension to that mindset.

Jonathan, who has tried countless other project management tools, said that he has had a tendency to fall in love with one, only to find that over time, they become too elaborate in their new features. He found the experience of digging through pages of filters to be off putting.

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Surveyor, a recently released font by Hoefler & Co. 

With Trello, he and his team seem to breathe a sigh of relief. The visual nature of the app is intuitive for creatives.

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“Trello’s visuals are just so good,” he asserts, “It looks like something that I want to engage with, and it naturally presents the information in a way that relates back to the actual size of the data.”

- Jonathan Hoefler, typography.com

 

Like the typefaces found on typography.com, Jonathan appreciates the commitment and steadfast execution of an idea. “There’s a very palpable sense of commitment to an underlying idea in Trello that I really respect, and I think it’s just so hard to come by in technology.”

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Quarto typeface, made possible with a little help from Trello.

Design Discovery And Inspiration

In addition to selling their signature fonts, typography.com has expanded their content into more ways to discover their typefaces. They recently debuted Discover.typography, where users can delve deeply into the subtleties of their fonts in action. Each month has a theme, for example “What’s Cooking” (about menu typography) or “Trail Mix” (about the great outdoors). Here they showcase designed examples of their fonts in action in order to provide inspiration.

Bringing a Discover.typography theme into the world involves managing lots of different things, from the typography of the design itself, to the changes that the framework needs to show off new features. H&Co develops in two-week sprints, and constantly pushes updates to its site.

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As sophisticated as Discover.typography is in the browser, the company’s cloud.typography webfont platform is equally complex behind the scenes. Each time H&Co releases a new font, a parallel set of fonts are built for different kinds of browsers, and pushed to the cloud.typography CDN that includes more than 125,000 servers worldwide. Marrying the complexity of this data with a simple user interface takes careful planning, since each font’s contents are different: one of cloud.typography’s signature features allows users to fine-tune even the look of individual characters.

Needless to say, the typeface design process is a long and carefully crafted road. With countless moving parts, it's critical to keep the pieces organized. Finding a process that appropriately scales granular initiatives like project management, and higher level overviews like business goals, directly mirrors the font making process. 

To quote Robert Bringhurst in The Elements of Typographic Style, “Typography is an art in which the micro and the macro constantly converge,” and with a little help from Trello, the team at Hoefler & Co. continues to find innovative ways to do just that.

Special thank you to Jonathan Hoefler and the rest of the team at Hoefler & Co. for sharing their process. 

Office photography by Vaughn Eric Stewart

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