When a designer unwittingly used a font on a piece of Harry Potter merchandise without the correct license in place, it led to NBC Universal being sued for $1.5 million. This kind of licensing infringement can put a brand on the front pages for all the wrong reasons: a nightmare scenario that no agency wants to put their clients in.
“The font industry has grown a lot quicker than people’s knowledge of font licensing has,” reflects Jason Harcombe, who established FontPeople to shoulder all the burden of font procurement for agencies and brands alike.
“Not so long ago, you might have paid £25 for a font license in perpetuity,” continues Harcombe. “You could have used that font in print as many times as you liked. But the digital revolution has driven the transition from fonts as a creative asset, to needing to be licensed like a piece of software.”
It may not actually be commercially viable to use a particular font, but designers may end up getting hit retrospectively – not through any malice on their part
AVOID LEGAL PITFALLS
Issues often arise when the creative process doesn’t exhaustively consider every possible environment in which a font will be used. Over and above the usual trio of print, web and app licenses, Harcombe adds, some foundries will require a specific license to use a font in a logo, for instance.
He shares another scenario in which a designer purchased a desktop license for a logo, assuming that ‘print and preview’ use would cover it – but ended up facing legal action. In another example, a foundry’s T&Cs stated that a commercial packaging license was required for print-runs of over 250,000. The designer in question unwittingly used it on a piece of FMCG packaging, clocking up an eye-watering five-figure bill in the process.
“It may not actually be commercially viable to use a particular font, but designers may end up getting hit retrospectively – not through any malice on their part, just naiveté,” says Harcombe, adding that reading T&Cs thoroughly is all part of the FontPeople service.
NAVIGATE FOUNDRIES’ DEMANDS
Large commercial foundries often supply complex terms and conditions, and charge according to very specific usage guidelines. But at the other end of the scale, individual designers may not be equipped for an approach from a big brand if their typeface is the perfect fit for a project.
“Fonts on sites like DaFont are free for personal use, but not commercially,” he points out. In some cases, these are hobbyists working in their bedroom with little idea of how or what to charge. “They might request 25 quid via PayPal, or that we buy something off their Amazon list,” reveals Harcombe.
FontPeople handles the kind of informal requests that a big corporate procurement department would baulk at, then supplies the necessary email confirmation from the designer that the font is now licensed for commercial use.
As designers, we may be familiar with sourcing and licensing fonts, but for many clients it’s totally unfamiliar
BEWARE OF TECHNICAL HEADACHES
According to Danielle Smith, Design Director at FutureBrand, distributing and embedding fonts consistently across different platforms can be another headache – particularly for open-source typefaces that may come bundled with restrictions such as time limits on usage, or requests for donations. “Defaulting to – and continued use of – wrong fonts is a massive banana skin for consistency of brand output,” she says.
FutureBrand recently worked with FontPeople to source and license a total of 16 different fonts as part of an extensive branding exercise for The Hundred, a new 100-over tournament from the English and Welsh Cricket Board (ECB).
“Our brief was to create eight distinctly individual teams that sat together in harmony and reflected an authentic truth about the places they represented,” explains Smith. “Typography was one of the ways to express the character and attitude of each team, while creating the necessary separation between them.”
The overall competition used a bespoke headline font, which also features on the back of the players’ shirts – and all eight teams share the same secondary font. But beyond that, creative expression abounds: one team used a bespoke font incorporating iconic symbols of the city’s culture, for instance.
“As designers, we may be familiar with sourcing and licensing fonts, but for many clients it’s totally unfamiliar,” she adds. To prevent unnecessary stress and uncertainty, FutureBrand put the ECB directly in touch with FontPeople to guide them through the entire process.
What you and I might see as a classic Book face that’s beautifully serifed and easy-to-read, might look archaic in other writing systems
CONSIDER CULTURAL NUANCES
FontPeople also consults on non-Latin type usage. One particularly complex typographical challenge came when The Body Shop needed to roll out a consistent typographic look and feel across Asia, encompassing Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai and Indic scripts.
“When a brand identity is produced for any global brand it’s crucial to consider how it can flex across markets,” reflects Teri Henman, The Body Shop’s Head of Global Creative. “We want The Body Shop’s British heritage to come across through our visual and verbal identity in a way that is relevant globally. That includes finding non-Latin font equivalents to match the intent of the Latin fonts in terms of brand personality.”
Two main fonts – Druk and Recoleta – define The Body Shop’s typographic identity. “Inspired by our activist heritage, Druk expresses our passion and determination,” explains Henman. “Recoleta gives us a way to show the softer, more personable side of our brand. With more quirky and unusual letterforms, it also reflects different body shapes.”
FontPeople played a key role in sourcing and licensing non-Latin fonts that could embody these same brand values, while remaining sensitive to local cultural associations.
“Typographic qualities don’t necessarily visually translate from script to script,” explains Harcombe. “What you and I might see as a classic Book face that’s beautifully serifed and easy-to-read, might look archaic in other writing systems. And what we would consider to be a very modern-looking font with sharp edges and geometric shapes might look childish or comical to a native Indic reader.”
For an agency to buy a font to do mock-ups might be 35 quid. For a brand to then take that font across all its digital platforms might cost 40-50 grand
UNDERSTAND THE BIGGER PICTURE
Typography plays a crucial role in brand expression, but the ultimate commercial cost is critical too – although it’s rarely front of mind for a designer at the mock-up stage. “For a major online retail brand, it could end up costing hundreds of thousands of pounds for a web font license alone,” Harcombe points out.
“The size of a company’s digital footprint is so important,” he adds. “If they have 10-15 mobile apps, and their website receives billions of monthly page views, ensuring that it’s commercially viable over the scale it needs to be used is a very different process.”
No one wants a client to be shocked by a six-figure licensing bill that hasn’t been budgeted for. It may prove more cost-effective for a brand to commission a bespoke font to suit its exact needs: in such cases, Harcombe may recommend calling on the expertise of FontPeople’s extensive network of type designers.
“For an agency to buy a font to do mock-ups might be 35 quid. For a brand to then take that font across all its digital platforms might cost 40-50 grand,” says Harcombe. “You don’t want your relationship to break down because you haven’t scoped it out properly. We can find other options – including suggesting alternatives from our own font library – to help save you a massive bill, and a massive headache.”