Bad Credit

Zuzana Licko
Rudy VanderLans

(Reprinted from Print LI:II, with permission from Print)

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  This article is about an unpopular subject, namely giving credit where credit is due in graphic design annuals. With design being an inherently collaborative process the question as to who should take or deserve full credit for the final product has always been a matter of contention.

In the past, it was common practice to simply attribute the entire work to the star designer, the head of the company, or simply to the company itself. Over the years, perhaps as the result of disgruntled employees and other contributors who felt that their contributions deserved perhaps at least a modicum of acknowledgement, things have changed. It became clear that the anonymous assistants in many cases did much more than simply realize the ideas of the great "conductor." This must have caused the editors of design annuals to start listing a hierarchy of contributors including art director, designer, photographer or illustrator.

For one reason or another, these lists of contributors have continued to grow, to include printers, paper manufacturers, copy writers, clients, even film separators. When the personal computer was introduced and graphic designers took control over typesetting and other production functions previously left to others, certain design annuals added software programs and computer models to credit listings. In the introduction to one design annual it was even suggested that the person filling out the credit questionnaires and competition submission forms is as much a part of the collaborative effort as anybody involved in the creation of a design. It will only be a matter of time before the person making sure there's coffee in the morning, or the cleaners who come in on the weekend, will receive credit.

All of this, I believe, is a good thing. Comprehensive credit listings function both as a nice gesture to thank the people involved in the realization of a design, and they inform us, to an extend, about how a design was created. However, among the ever growing lists of credits, there remain two absentees: names of typefaces and typeface designers. With a few exceptions, the bulk of the design annuals published today do not list what is often one of the most significant building blocks of any design, namely the typeface and, by extension,the typeface designer. This one piece of software, the font, that can contribute the most to the look and feel of a design, is usually not mentioned, even in cases when type is the only visual ingredient of a design.

Type designers invest their artistic skills in their creations. And while most design professionals regard type design as a valuable, creative activity, it has suffered in the public eye because of a lack of recognition. As a result, the works of type designers are often pirated - something that has become easy with digital fonts—with no reward for the author who often has invested months, if not years, to create them. The anonymity of typeface origins and their designers is an unfortunate situation that has become increasingly detrimental to the field of typeface design.

Before the democratization of type, which resulted from the introduction of personal computer technology, just over a decade ago, there existed an established collection of typefaces and foundries that were familiar to graphic designers, typesetters, and others who worked with type. The introduction of new typefaces in those days was a slow process that allowed ample time for the type community to become accustomed to the new designs. Because everyone in the industry could identify typefaces, graphic designers and typesetters had grown accustomed to leaving out credits for the typeface names or typeface designers. Today, however, typefaces are being introduced into the marketplace faster than anyone can keep up with the selection. One way to keep the design community informed would be to credit typeface names and their designers, whenever practicably possible.

Having witnessed, over the years, the list of credit lines in design annuals and publications grow to include many peripheral professions of graphic design, we took the initiative to approach publishers of design annuals with a petition outlining our thoughts regarding credits. The basic request was for publishers to add the categories of "type design" and "type designer" to the credits listed in design competition submission forms. The petition was signed by more than 30 fellow type designers and foundries and sent to some 10 publishers in the U.S. and abroad.

Although the response to the petition has been positive, publishers agreed in principle with the idea that the type designer and the font should be credited, many raised questions regarding the practicability and logistics of doing this. Following are some of the objections brought up by the Print magazine editors. Our reply follows each point.

Designers can use four or five fonts—maybe even more—in one design. Crediting all of them would take up too much space.

If space is a consideration, then we would ask to list only the two most prominent fonts.

Designers often submit work to competitions and/or publications months after it has been designed and printed. In the case of work submitted to a magazine for publication as part of a profile of the designer, or a historical survey, the work may have even been done years before. It is unlikely that the designer will remember what specific typefaces he or she used.

First, our request focuses primarily on design annuals that solicit comprehensive design credits in their Call for Entries mailers.

Second, it is difficult to imagine that a designer would forget the typeface that he or she used in a particular design, especially for a design they deemed worthy of submitting to a design competition. Designers spend much time studying and picking fonts, and many designers use only four or five fonts during their life time.

To solve this problem entirely, we suggest that designers credit the fonts in the design piece along with their other credits. This is not at all uncommon in book design, and makes it easy to identify which fonts were used, no matter how much time passes since its publication.

While it is illegal to borrow fonts, designers, unfortunately, do borrow fonts, and as might be expected with designers who engage in this practice, they don't always know exactly what they have borrowed.

It is difficult to see this as a reasonable excuse since it is in principle illegal to "borrow" fonts. Perhaps the designer who "borrows" fonts should simply fill out the form stating: "stolen." It stands to reason that this "borrowing" is somewhat the result of the anonymity of typefaces. It's easier to steal from someone you don't know. By repeatedly crediting fonts, and by attaching the name of the designer to the font, awareness and knowledge will be raised, hopefully resulting in an increased respect for the intellectual property invested in the design of a typeface.

Even if a designer knows, for example, that s/he has used an ITC Garamond, how does s/he know who designed it? In a sense, that particular Garamond is like a stock photo that belongs to a stock house rather than to a photographer: It belongs to ITC rather than to the designer.

While I understand the skepticism, I'm optimistic about designers being able to identify typefaces. Designers are very passionate, picky, and therefore quite knowledgeable about the typefaces they use. Also, designers now buy their fonts directly from the manufacturers, which adds to their awareness of the origins of the fonts. And when it comes to the classics, designers have always been specific, to the point of snobbism, about choosing one version of a particular font over another.

For those designers that are unfamiliar with the names of the designers of the fonts they use, there's all the more reason to try and raise their awareness. I should also note here that many type foundries can do a much better job than they do currently in identifying the type designers whom they license their fonts from. In response to the question of whether the foundry or the designer deserves credit, I would like to ask; should illustrators forego credit when their work is done "for hire"?

What if the designer uses an identifiable font and then manipulates it. Does the original designer want to be recognized?

Here, too, I need to respond with a question; should the photographer forgo credit when his or her photos are being cropped, or should the writer relinquish ownership when the designer manipulates the writing? These questions run to the very center of the discussion regarding who deserves credit for what.

All we ask in our petition, since there seems to exist a definite tendency to list ever more credits, that design annuals also solicit credit information for fonts used. There will always be situations, such as the one described above, that are not clear cut. How to resolve this? There is such a thing as a code of ethics in every profession. If graphic designers enjoy the continuing influx of new type designs, and their usage shows us that they do, it becomes simply a matter of decency that they acknowledge and credit the fonts they use, just as they acknowledge the work of the illustrators, photographers, copy writers, printers, etc., who make their work possible. In the end, however, it is up to each individual designer to decide how much of the spotlight they are willing to share.


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