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Commentary

Farewell, FontShop

Stephen Coles on September 7, 2010

I have news. September 3 was my last day as Type Director at FontShop. Looking ahead, I see a stack of beautifully blank pages, waiting to be filled. But I can’t move on to the next chapter until I pay homage to this last one.

In early 2004 I was living in Stockholm, one foot in graphic design, the other (and my heart) firmly planted in the world of type. Hours were spent updating Typographica with industry news, typographic sundries, and occasional gripes and whines that, if you’re generous, could be called “critiques”.

Often, those critiques were lofted at FontShop. Erik and Joan Spiekermann’s creation was an institution with an important history, a unique regional franchise concept, and a premium collection of typefaces including their own FontFont library. Yet the brand, a well known and loved leader in Europe, wasn’t nearly as vital in the US.

More visibly, the business was late to the e-commerce party. FontFont.com was sorely in need of an overhaul. FontShop.com, despite an excellent visual refresh by Punchcut, was technically behind the competition. Meanwhile, others were beginning to reap the benefits of blogging and social media. FontShop wasn’t ready.

That was when I got a call from Joan. She invited me to Berlin for a day of brainstorming with Punchcut’s Jared Benson. I gawked at FontShop’s archives, shelves of rare type books and heirlooms of a company whose offices once sat at the foot of the Berlin Wall. We visited Spiekermannpartners where Erik was as charming and brilliant as his talks and interviews. It was there that I first saw a vintage Braun hi-fi and learned about a guy called Dieter Rams. We chatted about typeface specimens and office layouts. I was a kid in a candy store. Cue the Wonka music.

The Berlin trip resulted in a job essentially of my own creation. We tossed ideas on the board and I picked the stuff that suited me. It was my introduction to a hiring philosophy that seems logical but is sadly rare: find people you trust and let them do what they do best.

With the self-appointed title of “Glyph Pusher”, I joined the San Francisco office where I worked with gifted and driven folks to rebuild FontShop.com, revive Font magazine, bring in new foundries, and publish regular newsletters, blogs, and podcasts. I was around for the creation of the last printed FontBook, a pioneering webfont strategy, and FontStruct, the kind of purely creative venture that only a company with FontShop’s culture has the guts and vision to build.

Six years later, FontShop is a global force in design. With a curated type collection and a trusted brand, it’s reasserted itself as the font retailer for creative professionals.

The toughest part of leaving an organization like this one is leaving the people. I’m grateful for the example and support of all FontShop’s brilliant souls, particularly for:

Joan and Erik’s courageous enterprise and their faith in my contribution to it,

Petra Weitz’s kind heart and deft management,

Yves Peters, the original überfontgeek who paved my way,

the classy Jürgen Siebert, my model of marketing,

Jared Benson and Zara Evens’ work that set the tone for our online identity,

Mai-Linh Truong, who generously lent me the keys to FontBook,

Mike Schawel’s drive and motivation,

Jason Chapin’s lifesaving code,

our skillful web developers who coped valiantly with my strange fontish requests while constantly teaching me something new,

Conor Mangat’s design wit and typographic prowess,

Ivo Gabrowitsch’s camaraderie on the other side of the pond,

Ivan Bettger and Theresa dela Cruz’s tireless hours on the thankless job that is customer support,

First Officer Michael Pieracci’s cheery disposition and stellar office orchestration,

and my creative team — Wes Wong, Calliope Gazetas, Chris Hamamoto, and Michelle Nguyen — who all demonstrated a typographic literacy rare among young designers.

I’m proud of our work. Now I’m itching for something new. What’s next is uncertain, but what’s obvious is that Typographica deserves more attention. So, expect that. And something else. I’ll let you know as soon as I know. Rest assured, it will involve type. It’s in my blood.

43 Comments

  1. Christoph says:

    I was very sorry to hear this, Stephen! But fortunately the type world won’t ever lose you – so I’m looking forward to Stewf’s next adventures.

    Cheers!

  2. laura meseguer says:

    All the best Stephen, and please, come to visit us in Barcelona, you are veeeeeeeeeeeeeery welcome :)

    Laura

  3. Yves Peters says:

    Sad to see you leave our little family; excited at the prospect of discovering what you’ll do next in the world of typography. It was great collaborating with you, as great as it will be in the future. Talk soon.

    Oh, and thank you again for letting me use the “Glyph Pusher” title too. Way better than anything I came up with.

  4. sad news indeed, but all the best!

  5. Stephen: It was a pleasure to work with you and … thanks for the kind words. I am sad that we will meet less in the future. But I am sure that I will always find projects and/or ideas to cooperate. Thanks for everything.

  6. This must surely be a big loss for FontShop.
    I am really excited to see what you will do next, though – I have always liked your outlook and drive for all things related to typography and design. Enjoy your new opportunities! :-)

  7. HD says:

    I will miss your voice on the US-Fontfeed, your opinions and work were outstanding and always a pleasure to read. Seems like I’ll have to add Typographica to my RSS-Feed now, as well. Looking forward to things to come!

  8. Kent Lew says:

    Stephen — You’ve done some great work. I’m sure your team will miss you.

    It’s been a joy to watch you create and recreate yourself. I’ll be watching to see your next steps, which I hope will include renewed activity here on Typographica.

    But does this mean I won’t be seeing you in Dublin this weekend? I hope not.

  9. Jos Buivenga says:

    Enjoyed working with you. Thanks & all the best for the future!

  10. Allan Haley says:

    Stephen,

    You are leaving behind shoes that will be difficult to fill.

    I wish you the very best of luck and great success in your next gig.

  11. And I thought my ride through this typographic themepark was fulfilling. Godspeed, my friend. We should chat further about those little things mentioned during TypeCon. Onward.

  12. Best wishes in your future endeavors, Stephen!

  13. Best of luck to you wherever you land, Stewf.

  14. Luke Dorny says:

    Wow, unexpected news, sir.
    Excited about what lay ahead for you and your type ideas. Being at the top of your game is a great launching point, to be sure.
    Good luck in your ventures, and we can’t wait to hear the news as it comes.

  15. Thank you, all!

    Kent — unfortunately I can’t make it to ATypI. I just had a month in Europe so I can’t complain.

  16. Claus Eggers Sørensen says:

    Whoa! I didn’t expect this, but I’m so looking forward to seeing what you will venture into next. Best of luck and all that jazz.

  17. Andy van der Raadt says:

    Onward, sir, and most certainly upward. Congratulations!

  18. Good luck, Stephen. I had no idea this is something you were considering, but seeing how much you’ve done with FontShop – and how little there is left to do after your incredible efforts – I’m not really all that surprised you’d make this decision.

    Wherever you go, they’ll be excited and very lucky to have you.

  19. Tiffany Wardle de Sousa says:

    You are like a stealthy typographi-cat. And wherever you jump next, I’m sure you’ll land on your feet!

  20. Best of luck in your new ventures Stephen, it was a pleasure having worked with you!

  21. That’s a surprise. All the best on your future endeavors, Stephen!

  22. Maria Glenda Bellarosa says:

    Looking forward to seeing what comes next from you. Best of luck in your new ventures.

  23. Ivo says:

    I already told you what a loss it is both in terms of your expertise and your personality. I am firmly convinced that you will go your way and I’m therefore looking forward to see what happens next. All the best, my friend. It was always a great pleasure working with you.

  24. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by design:related, Typophile, Michael Surtees, litherland, Frank Chimero and others. Frank Chimero said: RT @litherland: Congratulations, thanks, and looking forward to whatever is next for @stewf + @typographica. http://bit.ly/9uzXIa […]

  25. I wish you all the best Stephen and thank you for the countless time you’ve helped me ID fonts.

    David

  26. Congratulations, Stephen.
    You’re a credit to the type community. Certainly ILT would never have existed had it not been for sites like Typographica, and people like you.

    Wish you all the best. You’ve set the bar high, so we’re all expecting great things from you.

  27. THIS BREAKS MY HEART. I’ll miss you, Stephen. Please stop by for your monthly haircuts.

  28. M says:

    Don’t be sad everyone. Stüf is at the top of his game – be that type, Nerf jump shots, furniture curating or Foosball. His career trilogy starts here. FS.com was only the Hobbit, yo.

  29. Best of luck for the next chapter

  30. Rudy says:

    I am sure that we will meet again. And jump in if one day you’re planning visiting Ghent – as you promised to do so a few weeks ago ;-)

  31. Nora Gummert-Hauser says:

    Curious looking forward … The very best for you. It’s a pleasure to have you in the type scene. But even if you plan to open a restaurant, no problem … tell us where and we’ll be there!

  32. asegalini says:

    Best of luck for the next chapter, from me, too.

  33. Rob Meek says:

    Anyone who has an opportunity to work with you is very lucky. I’m excited to see what happens next.

  34. Kevin Woodland says:

    A knowledgeable, helpful and polite gentleman.

  35. Erik Spiekermann says:

    Please, people: Stewf’s posting was not a suicide note. He’s still with us, albeit in a different capacity. In fact, he’ll be part of our next TypeBoard meeting at FSI in December, so we shall still be able to pick his brain, rely on his good taste and make fun of his shirts.

  36. Always respected you, Erik, FontShop and Jared. Expect I always will. Thanks for all your great work, good luck to you and past and future collaborators.

  37. Yay for Typographica and mister Stewf. Good luck in your next typo-venture. I’m excited for you (is that weird). Anywho, looking forward to whatever you churn out.

  38. Chris Lozos says:

    Stewf,
    Can’t wait to see what you are up to next! Best wishes and happy landing!

    Chris

  39. Linzella Tillery says:

    I’m sorry to hear you’re leaving. Wish you much success.

  40. Wes Wong says:

    Reading your post brings back memories. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to you for the times spent as my type mentor at FontShop. You’ve shared knowledge that has helped me grow in my career and empowered me to support my family.

    Thank you Stephen! I wish the best for you on your future endeavours and can’t wait to see what’s next.

  41. Nick Shinn says:

    So long, and thanks for all the glyphs-pushing.

  42. Laura Olson says:

    So sad to see you are leaving, your good bye to everyone was very touching and reminds me of what a great team of characters you have over there! You were a pleasure to work with, I look forward to hearing about your new adventures.

  43. […] in its integral version – was conducted by Vivien Anayian at the end of last August, when Stephen still was Type Director at FontShop International, San Francisco office. How would you describe the current state of […]

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Typographica is a review of typefaces and type books, with occasional commentary on fonts and typographic design. Edited by Stephen Coles and designed by Chris Hamamoto. Founded in 2002 by Joshua Lurie-Terrell. Relaunched in 2009 by Coles and Hamamoto.

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