Font designer "supercouple" prepares to do battle in the courts
April 11, 2014 1:35 PM   Subscribe

Popular font designers Frere-Jones and Hoefler split, with one claiming the other was his "employee". "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. An interesting story about a business partnership of supposed equals - or were they? - going very, very sour.
posted by mitschlag (30 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
PDF of the Court filing. [via]
posted by Smart Dalek at 1:46 PM on April 11, 2014

Hoefler sounds like a moron; alienating the creative driving force of his business, as well as his longtime friend.

Over the medium and long term, he likely would have made more with a percentage of a powerhouse brand rather than complete ownership of a company with the talent departed.

posted by leotrotsky at 1:49 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Frere-Jones' first entry on his site is worth an FPP all on its own: an exploration of the geography of turn-of-the-century New York type houses.
posted by Shepherd at 1:50 PM on April 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

The idea that Frere-Jones was an "employee" is such a friggin' joke. I hope Hoefler gets dinged for all that Frere-Jones wants, and more.
posted by letitrain at 1:58 PM on April 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

And a court filing in Arial. With bold + underline heads. The ultimate indignity.
posted by mazola at 2:05 PM on April 11, 2014 [21 favorites]

It's amazing how easy it is to get fucked over like this. First you trust someone. Then you don't want to believe that someone you trusted betrayed you. Then you don't want to believe how badly you've been burned and how much time you've wasted. When set out in black and white it seems insane, but it's so hard to see it day by day.
posted by Grimgrin at 2:13 PM on April 11, 2014 [22 favorites]

I like how the fonts that Frere-Jones transferred to Hoefler's company are referred to as the "Dowry Fonts" in the legal document. There is no way someone would transfer their work for $10, just to have the chance to work as an employee.
posted by Harpocrates at 2:13 PM on April 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

I guess there's a new serif in town.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:20 PM on April 11, 2014 [115 favorites]

On another note: perhaps I'm just feeling my age, but it's weird to look at this article (these dudes are only about four years older than me), see the photo from 1996, think "yes, that's just how everyone looked, I think I even had that roll-neck sweater" and then look again at the photo at the top of the page and realize that I too have aged out of nineties minimalism into sub-fusc prep and that the zeitgeist has me, will I or never so.
posted by Frowner at 2:24 PM on April 11, 2014 [9 favorites]

It's interesting the post below this is titled True friends stab you in the front.
Yeah, I had to go back and make sure it wasn't a duplicate and didn't say "True friends stab you in the font".
posted by Redfield at 2:26 PM on April 11, 2014 [20 favorites]

I talk to a lot of people who want to start companies. One of the primary bits of advice I always give: write it down. Write down all legal agreements. Important ones like contracts or corporate ownership should probably involve a lawyer and signatures and stuff. But even a simple email that someone responds to is better than nothing. So many people say "but it's my friend.. brother-in-law.. frat buddy, I trust him!" Fine, if you're such good friends it should be very easy to write down exactly what you mean and agree to it. No drama!

Frere-Jones recent court filing is readable and interesting. Key statement:
We agreed that I would move to New York and join HTF, contribute my name, reputation, industry connections, design authority, and a group of fonts we came to call the "Dowry Fonts," which I believe had a value in excess of $3 million, in exchange for half of Jonathan's shares in HTF and my name on the door.
Everything I've read makes Hoefler sound like a shitheel. So much so it's almost comically villainous, surely the real story is more nuanced? is Hoefler's shop, if you feel like boycotting. Gotham's overexposed anyway.
posted by Nelson at 2:32 PM on April 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

“We do have a longstanding disagreement over the height of the lower case t,”

How picayune.
posted by wensink at 2:45 PM on April 11, 2014 [9 favorites]

Hoefler:“To think about type design in the narrow confines of drawing alphabets doesn’t seem to me like a recipe for success.”

I can't fathom what this means. So the future is kerning? Diacritics?
posted by Iridic at 2:48 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Making others draw alphabets for you?
posted by hat_eater at 2:56 PM on April 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

I don't know what it means either, but I can feel the word "solutions" coming on!
posted by enn at 2:57 PM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Redfield: Yeah, I had to go back and make sure it wasn't a duplicate and didn't say "True friends stab you in the font".

Gotta watch out for that type.
posted by hangashore at 3:08 PM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I like how they describe the parties:

4. Plaintiff Tobias Frere-Jones is one of the world's leading and most recognized type designers, having designed over 800 fonts, in over 145 languages, [HALF A PAGE OF MORE ACHIEVEMENTS] In 2013, he received the AlGA medal -the graphic design profession's highest honor-in recognition for his exceptional achievements over the course of his career, and his contributions to the field of design and visual communication.

5. Defendant Jonathan Hoefler is also a type designer and a businessman.

posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:09 PM on April 11, 2014 [16 favorites]

sometimes you gotta love lawyers, any port
posted by Diablevert at 3:19 PM on April 11, 2014

Good discussion from some professional peers here:
posted by 99_ at 3:32 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have to assume that, from a corporate law perspective, Hoefler's got a strong hand here thanks to Frere Jones being dumb about papers and signatures, because if he doesn't, this seems like "watch the world burn" levels of asshole. It'll probably end with a cheque being written, but Hoefler needs to retain the legal high ground to keep to number of zeroes manageable, since the moral high ground was lost long ago.
posted by fatbird at 3:39 PM on April 11, 2014

I can't fathom what this means. So the future is kerning? Diacritics?

I think maybe it means that one should think in terms of usage and context, rather than just the act of shaping letters.
posted by graphnerd at 4:01 PM on April 11, 2014

Sounds like Hoefler's ready to sell-- perhaps with a buyer in the wings-- but doesn't care to split the take.
posted by jamjam at 4:10 PM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

A recent FPP on another instance of typographical testiness.
posted by Jakey at 4:55 PM on April 11, 2014

If you change the names, this almost sounds like the story of The Smiths.
posted by 4ster at 5:25 PM on April 11, 2014

I recently rewatched the great documentary Helvetica (Netflix), and these two guys were so smart and erudite about design and type in it. And the really ironic thing is the font Helvetica itself was also not just one person's creation. It was a product of a collaboration between two Swiss type designers, Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann. Listening to them made me think Frere-Jones and Hoefler really had this working together thing figured out. Guess not.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:02 PM on April 11, 2014

Trust, but verify. It isn't just for super villains anymore. Sign nothing without your own lawyer. I feel for Frere-Jones, but I don't know enough about contract law to know if what feels right will prevail in court. I certainly hope so.
posted by dejah420 at 6:16 PM on April 11, 2014

Say what you will about either of them, I have managed to impress and awe more people with the simple application of Hoefler Text than I can easily recall. Can't figure out why your layout isn't quite working, but you want it in a serif? Try it in Hoefler text. If it's not what you ultimately end up using, it helps you diagnose underlying issues.
posted by Mizu at 1:46 AM on April 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

I especially like the way numbers look in Hoefler Text.
posted by 4ster at 6:00 AM on April 12, 2014

Typographers' feuds tend towards the bitter; I suppose this is an occupational hazard of a profession that requires obsessive attention to details invisible to 99+% of the populace, and the self-belief to justify ones choices to a notoriously conservative* peer group.

(*)Because good layout is hard enough; designing a good face is so much harder that you've got to have good reasons for not sticking with the established classics.
posted by Jakob at 12:59 PM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a long-time fan of the foundry, I was upset about this lawsuit. But holy hell does Hoefler sound like an unethical ass, so despite this being a complete disaster for Frere-Jones, at least he will be good going forward. Still, I can't imagine losing legal ownership of your life's work.
posted by spiderskull at 4:45 PM on April 13, 2014

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