Ad agency Grey and stationery brand Ryman have launched a free font which they claim could considerably reduce global ink consumption if adopted worldwide. It’s a clever marketing move, but could it really have a significant environmental impact? We asked designer Dan Rhatigan and Grey’s ECD Nils Leonard about its green credentials and how it differs to existing fonts…
Last Saturday, Grey London announced that it had teamed up with Ryman to launch a free eco-friendly typeface designed by Monotype’s Dan Rhatigan.
Described as “the world’s most beautiful sustainable font”, Ryman Eco’s characters are made up of fine key lines rather than a single solid stroke. At display size, the gaps in these letters are visible but at 8, 9 or 10pt, they are filled by ink splatter or bleeding, making it look like a normal serif.
In tests carried out using Monotype’s Font Explorer Pro tool, Grey claims Ryman Eco used around 30 per cent less ink than Arial, Times New Roman, Georgia and Verdana, and the agency is now adopting it as its default font. If the rest of the world followed suit, Grey claims we could save over 490 million ink cartridges and 15 million barrels of oil.
Grey ECD Nils Leonard said the agency came up with the idea for Ryman Eco when looking at businesses and industries that could benefit from reducing their carbon footprint. Leonard tweeted Ryman’s owner Theo Paphitis about the idea and a little over a year later, it was released.
Of course, Ryman Eco isn’t the world’s first ‘eco-friendly’ typeface – Dutch company SPRANQ has won numerous awards for its Eco Font type family, released in 2008, which uses holes in letters to reduce ink waste. But Leonard and Rhatigan claim that Ryman Eco is more efficient (in testing, they say, Ryman Eco uses considerably less ink than “the leading sustainable brand”) and more aesthetically pleasing than its rivals.
“I feel other eco-friendly fonts have compromised on design,” says Leonard. “If you use them for anything other than an invoice, they’re just not very pretty. [With Ryman Eco], we wanted to create something that looks like a classic serif from a distance but is also a beautiful font to work with when you blow it up. It was critical that it wasn’t just functional,” he adds.
Ryman Eco’s more detailed letterforms won’t be seen as a selling point for all, though. Eco Font was designed to be suitable for use in any context, at any size, by any company, without proving a distraction or looking out of place. Ryman Eco’s decorative appearance, however, particularly at larger sizes, may mean some organisations deem it inappropriate for widespread adoption.
Rhatigan and Leonard are adimant, however, that this will not impact people’s willingness to try out Ryman Eco. If anything, Rhatigan says it will encourage people to use it, because it’s more visually interesting and beautiful to look at than other ‘green’ fonts available.
The environmental impact of printing has, of course, been a headline topic this week: 14-year-old Pittsburgh student Suvir Mirchandani’s claim that the US Government could save $400 million if it switched from Times New Roman to Garamond has made the front page of news sites around the world.
Mirchandani’s estimate has ben questioned – for a start, it appears to be based on the US government using standard inkjet printers – but his research highlights the point that even small changes to our daily ink consumption could have a dramatic long-term impact, given the amount we continue to print in a supposedly digital age.
His research also raises the question, why don’t we all just use existing ‘lighter’ typefaces such as Garamond or Century Gothic, which the University of Green Bay-Wisconsin adopted as an alternative to Arial in 2010, rather than a new design like Ryman Eco?
Rhatigan and Leonard acknowledge that doing so could reduce companies’ ink consumption, but Rhatigan says that the problem with traditional ‘lighter’ fonts is that their faint strokes are difficult to read at small sizes.
“Garamond is an elegant display type but it’s just not suitable for reading at five or six points,” he says. “When we tested Ryman Eco’s ink usage, it beat everything but hairline display fonts, which just aren’t suitable for small text.”
When designing Ryman Eco, Rhatigan says legibility was his key concern – he was inspired in part by the Linotype Legibility Group, a classic series of typefaces designed for use in newspaper columns, but later realised that they wouldn’t work well on one column layouts, so studied more contemporary typefaces such as Georgia and New Century Schoolbook.
“Essentially, we looked for great examples of legible styles then worked out how we could create a similarly versatile model in the most efficient way possible,” he adds.
Leonard also believes that merely switching to a lighter typeface such as Garamond or Century Gothic is a bit of a half-hearted compromise. “Garamond might be better than something else, but why not try and make something better than Garamond? We should be aiming to use the most efficient fonts possible,” he says.
Ryman Eco isn’t a purely philanthropic venture – having Ryman’s name appear in font books and drop-down menus around the world would provide priceless publicity, and by launching a sustainable font, the company is seen to be addressing the negative impact of its printers and cartridges by attempting to offset it. But both Rhatigan and Leonard say Ryman Eco is more than a gimmick.
“We wanted to make something experimental and constructive, a tool that can help people reduce consumption and gets them thinking about waste,” says Rhatigan.
Linotype’s Legibility Group
If we really want to save large amounts of resources, of course, we should all just stop printing unless absolutely necessary, but as long as people continue to print, any free products aimed at reducing its environmental impact are surely a good thing.
There is no Ryman Eco Sans, but webfont versions have been released and Leonard and Rhatigan say they are keen to keep developing the font, and working with other designers to do so.
“I’d like to see eco fonts become a category, in the same way you have sans and serifs, and I hope it will get people talking about and investing in them,” says Leonard.
Download Ryman Eco here.