Font War: Inside the Design World's $20 Million Divorce

Joshua Brustein, writing for Bloomberg BusinessWeek, on how Hoefler & Frere-Jones came to be and how it's now splitting apart:

For 15 years, Frere-Jones and Hoefler seemed charmed. They made typefaces that rendered the stock charts in the Wall Street Journal readable and helped Martha Stewart sell cookbooks. They created an alphabet for the New York Jets, based on the team’s logo. And they saw their lettering chiseled into stone as part of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center. Last year, the duo won the AIGA Medal, the profession’s highest award. It seemed to be one of those rare situations whereby two successful soloists had combined to make an even better supergroup. Hoefler was asked if there were any troubles in their working relationship for a video produced for the AIGA in 2013. “We do have a longstanding disagreement over the height of the lower case t,” he said. “That is the only point of contention.”

Not quite. In January, Frere-Jones filed a lawsuit against Hoefler, saying that their company was not actually a partnership, but a long con in which Hoefler had tricked him into signing over the rights to all of his work, cheating Frere-Jones out of his half of the business. “In the most profound treachery and sustained exploitation of friendship, trust and confidence, Hoefler accepted all the benefits provided by Frere-Jones while repeatedly promising Frere-Jones that he would give him the agreed equity, only to refuse to do so when finally demanded,” the complaint charges. Frere-Jones is asking a court to grant him $20 million. Hoefler won’t comment on the suit directly, but the day after it was filed a lawyer for the company issued a brief statement disputing the claims, which, it said, “are false and without legal merit.” (About Gotham’s creation, Hoefler writes in an email: “No one is disputing Tobias’s role in those projects, or my own, for that matter. [Our] typefaces have had a lot of other contributors, as well — everything we do here is a team effort.”) According to the company statement, Frere-Jones was not Hoefler’s partner but a “longtime employee.”

Here is a short film of the two of them, shot not too long ago, and yet during better times.

Font Men: A Short Film About Jonathan Hoefler & Tobias Frere-Jones

Font Men is a SXSW 2014 Official Selection in the Film Festival. It is a behind the scenes look at Jonathan Hoefler & Tobias Frere-Jones. Given the recent company split it also feels like a sad obituary of sorts.  

You've seen their work. Before their recent split, they collectively ran the most successful and well respected type design studio in the world, creating fonts used by everyone from the Wall Street Journal to the President of the United States.

Font Men, gives a peek behind the curtain into the world of Jonathan and Tobias. Tracking the history of their personal trajectories, sharing the forces that brought them together and giving an exclusive look at the successful empire they built together.

NASA’s Top 19 Typography Tips

From Smithsonian Magazine, the typography tips NASA shares with anyone creating content for them: 

1. Sans-serif fonts are usually more legible than fonts with serifs.

2. Avoid using a font that has characters that are too similar to one another, as this will reduce the legibility of the print.

3. Avoid using dot matrix print for critical flight-deck documentation.

4. Long chunks of text should be set in lower case.

5. If upper case is required, the first letter of the word should be made larger in order to enhance the legibility of the word.

6. When specifying font height, or accessing graphs to determine the size of a lower-case character, the distinction between “x” height and overall size should be made.

7. As a general recommendation, the “x” height of a font used for important flight-deck documentation should not be below 0.10 inch.

8. The recommended height-to-width ratio of a font that is viewed in front of the observer is 5:3.

9. The vertical spacing between lines should not be smaller than 25-33% of the overall size of the font.

10. The horizontal spacing between characters should be 25% of the overall size and not less than one stroke width.

11. Avoid using long strings of text set in italics.

12. Use primarily one or two typefaces for emphasis.

13. Use black characters over a white background for most cockpit documentation.

14. Avoid using white characters over a black background in normal line operations. However, if this is desired:

1. Use minimum amount of text. 
2. Use relatively large typesize.
3. Use sans-serif to minimize the loss of legibility.

15. Black over white or yellow are recommended for cockpit documentation.

16. Avoid using black over dark red, green, and blue.

17. Use anti-glare plastic to laminate documents.

18. Ensure that the quality of the print and the paper is well above normal standards. Poor quality of the print will effect legibility and readability.

19. The designer must assess the age groups of the pilots that will be using the documentation, and take a very conservative approach in assessing information obtained from graphs and data books.