DJR: More Is More

Among this decade’s new generation of type designers, it’s safe to say that David Jonathan Ross has become a fast-rising star. Within a few years he has built an impressive, multi-faceted body of work, including highlights like the well-crafted digital revival Forma or the stretchable variable font Fit.

“I first got into type design while attending Hampshire College, an ‘experimenting’ college without a traditional academic structure. (The short description of the school usually goes: no tests, no grades, no majors),” Ross says. “Even though it is not a design school, I was able to cobble together a focus in typeface design, and I also had the opportunity to attend a workshop taught by Peter Bain where I was introduced to type design software for the first time. This prepared me for a senior thesis where I designed a variety of typefaces, most notably a series of text and display serifs for our student newspaper. (Typefaces which, I should add, will never be published!)

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Of course, much of my type design education happened after I started working at Font Bureau in 2007 with the incredible staff there and mentors such as Cyrus Highsmith, Jill Pichotta, Petr van Blokland, and David Berlow. I spent a lot of time doing expansions or production work for other people’s fonts, which I think is a pretty great way of learning how fonts are made. It lets you get into the head of another designer and understand how they put together the system of shapes that governs their typeface. At the same time, the work can be boring enough that you learn to get pretty fast at doing it.”

In 2016 Ross set up his own foundry, DJR, and quickly learned what it took to run it. “One of the major things I’ve learned over the last years is that how a font is licensed can have a huge effect on how it ends up being used, (sometimes even more so than its design). This is a tough pill to swallow.

As a type designer I wanted to believe that it was my hours of drawing and kerning that was making the difference, when in reality it might be as simple as putting it in the right font menu.

So these days I truly consider licensing and marketing to be a part of my type design process. This started with my typeface Input, where I worked with Font Bureau to create a license that allowed programmers to use it in their code editors for free, with a separate license for published use. It became important to me to find ways to get my work into hands of the users that will use it best, and how that is achieved can and should vary from typeface to typeface.”

These pragmatic aspects hardly impeded Ross’s motivation to blossom as a designer and to explore new territories. “Most of my early typefaces were published at Font Bureau, and I wanted to make stuff that would contribute something to their library. Of course this was tough since the library already had so many great typefaces. Should I really be spending my free time drawing a Scotch Roman when they already had Miller? Today, especially in the Latin corner of the market, there are already so many options out there to cover ‘meat and potatoes’ typography, so why make more unless they’re really interesting? Much of the time, I feel like I can serve my users better by offering typefaces that are specific in their design intent and relatively narrow in their scope of intended use. I guess I see it as my job as a type designer to push my users to explore options that are slightly (or not-so-slightly) outside of their comfort zone, in the hope that it will lead them to use type in more interesting and unexpected ways.”

This may be one of the reasons that Ross launched the Font of the Month Club to provide his subscribers with an exclusive font, fresh from the workbench. “I won’t tell you what the next Font of the Month Club release will be, because A) I like for it to be a surprise, and B) I’m not sure what it will be yet! But I have been hoping that this month’s font, Fern Micro, will give me the kick in the butt that I need to expand that family into something that includes versions for larger text, and perhaps a titling style. And I’m also keen to publish my sans serif for user interfaces, kind of a cousin to Input. It’ll be called Output, of course!”

Font of the Month Club

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DJR font families available to rent on Fontstand for a fraction of their retail price.

Last month, during the ATypI conference in Antwerp, Ross received the prestigious Prix Charles Peignot, awarded roughly every five years to a designer under 35. This was a welcome opportunity for him to address the current state of the industry: “As I mentioned in my talk, I am a white man making Latin fonts who received a prize that has been primarily awarded to white men making Latin fonts, and which was named after a white man who made Latin fonts. (I also learned that the selection committee consisted of white men working primarily with Latin as well).

So even though I’m not the most qualified person to speak on the topic of diversity, it felt necessary to raise the issue.

Our typographic community is full of welcoming and open-minded people, and it would be really nice if that were enough to ensure that we were inclusive in all that we do. But unfortunately that’s just not the case: old structures tend to stick around unless we are proactive about creating opportunities for underrepresented folks and taking corrective steps to provide resources to those who wouldn’t receive them otherwise. I am hopeful that we can find ways as a community to recognize and support great work happening all across our diverse and multiscript community. There are already great initiatives from organizations like the Alphabettes Mentorship Program and The Beatrice Warde Scholarship, and I was happy to hear that ATypI is working on something as well. And I think that each of us can assume some responsibility for promoting diversity in our respective corners of the field (for me, that has meant orchestrating conference ticket giveaways and setting aside time to chat with folks about their in-progress designs). And I think we would all benefit from listening to members of our community who have been marginalized, and taking their suggestions into account.”

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