How you can be smarter with the man

When a designer inadvertently used a font on a piece of Harry Potter merchandise without the proper license in place, NBC Universal was sued for $ 1.5 million. This type of license infringement can get a brand on the front pages for the wrong reasons: A nightmare scenario that no agency wants to involve their clients in.

"The font industry has grown much faster than people's knowledge of font licensing," reflects Jason Harcombe, who founded FontPeople to take the entire burden of sourcing fonts for agencies and brands alike.

"Not so long ago, you may have paid £ 25 for a perpetual font license," continues Harcombe. “You could have used this font in print as many times as you wanted. However, the digital revolution has driven the transition from fonts as a creative asset to licensing as software. "

Using a particular font may not be commercially viable, but designers may be hit retrospectively – not through bad faith


Problems often arise when the creative process does not fully consider all possible environments in which a font is used. Harcombe adds that in addition to the usual trio of print, web, and app licenses, some foundries require a specific license to be able to use a font in a logo, for example.

He shares another scenario where a designer purchased a desktop license for a logo, assuming that using "print and preview" would cover this – but faced legal action. In another example, a foundry's terms and conditions stated that a commercial packaging license was required for print runs of over 250,000 copies. The designer in question inadvertently used it on a piece of FMCG packaging, stamping a staggering five-digit bill in the process.

"It may not be commercially viable to use a particular font, but designers may be hit retrospectively – not through malice, just naivety," says Harcombe, adding that reading the terms and conditions carefully is part of the FontPeople service.


Large commercial foundries often supply complex terms and conditions and charge according to very specific usage guidelines. At the other end of the scale, individual designers may not be ready for a major brand approach if their typeface is perfect for a project.

"Fonts on sites like DaFont are free for personal use, but not commercial," he says. In some cases, these are hobbyists who work in their bedroom and have no idea how or what to charge. "They could request £ 25 through PayPal or have us buy something from their Amazon listing," reveals Harcombe.

FontPeople handles the kind of informal inquiries a large corporate procurement department would answer and then delivers the required email confirmation from the designer that the font is now licensed for commercial use.

As designers, we may be familiar with font sourcing and licensing, but this is completely unknown to many customers

Beware of technical headaches

Distributing and embedding fonts consistently across platforms can be another problem, especially with open source fonts, which may come with restrictions like usage time limits or donation requests, according to Danielle Smith, Design Director at FutureBrand. "The default and continued use of incorrect fonts is a massive banana peel for consistency in branded production," she says.

FutureBrand recently worked with FontPeople to source and license a total of 16 different fonts as part of a comprehensive branding exercise for The Hundred, a new 100-over tournament run by the English and Welsh Cricket Board (ECB).

“Our job 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 that is also found on the back of the players' shirts – and all eight teams use the same secondary font. There are also plenty of creative expressions available: one team used a bespoke font that included iconic symbols of city culture, for example.

"As designers, we may be familiar with font sourcing and licensing, but many customers are completely unfamiliar with this," she adds. To avoid unnecessary stress and uncertainty, FutureBrand put the ECB in direct contact with FontPeople to guide them through the entire process.

What you and I might see as a classic book face that is beautifully serified and easy to read might look archaic in other writing systems


FontPeople also advises on the use of non-Latin script. A particularly complex typographical challenge arose when The Body Shop needed to introduce a unified typographical appearance across Asia that included Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Indian scripts.

"When creating a brand identity for a global brand, it's important to consider how it can move across markets," reflects Teri Henman, Head of Global Creative at The Body Shop. “We want The Body Shop's British heritage to be relevant through our visual and verbal identity in a way that is relevant around the world. This includes finding non-Latin font equivalents that 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 legacy, Druk expresses our passion and determination," explains Henman. “Recoleta gives us the opportunity to show the softer, more personal side of our brand. With quirkier and more unusual letter shapes, it also reflects different body shapes. "

FontPeople played a key role in sourcing and licensing non-Latin fonts that could embody the same brand values ​​while remaining sensitive to local cultural associations.

"Typographic qualities don't necessarily translate visually from script to script," explains Harcombe. "What you and I might see as a classic book face that is beautifully serifed and easy to read might look archaic in other writing systems. And what we would consider a very modern-looking typeface with sharp edges and geometric shapes might look archaic to a native Indian." Readers look childish or weird. "

If an agency buys a font to create models it can cost £ 35. If a brand then transfers this font to all digital platforms, it can cost 40-50 grand


Typography plays a vital role in branding expression, but the ultimate commercial cost is also critical – although it is rarely a priority for a designer in the modeling phase. "For a major online retail brand, it could cost hundreds of thousands of pounds just to license a web font," Harcombe points out.

"The size of a company's digital footprint is so important," he adds. "When you have 10-15 mobile apps and your website is receiving billions of monthly page views, making sure it is economically viable beyond the extent to which it must be used is a whole different process."

Nobody wants a customer to be shocked by a six-figure license bill that hasn't been budgeted for. It can be more cost effective for a brand to commission a custom font that exactly fits their needs. In such cases, Harcombe may recommend consulting FontPeople's extensive network of font designers.

“If an agency buys a font to create models, it can cost £ 35. If a brand then pushes that font across to all digital platforms, it can cost 40 to 50 grand, ”says Harcombe. "You don't want your relationship to break down because you didn't get it right. We can find other options – including suggesting alternatives from our own font library – to save you a massive bill and headache."