It starts with working with what you’ve got.
A couple of years ago, one of my graphic design students handed in a project that used the typeface Gotham. As soon as she handed it to me, I looked at her skeptically.
“You have a license for Gotham?” I asked, knowing that the least expensive license runs close to $200—which is not typically the kind of cash students in New York City, or even in the United States, tend to have to spend on school projects.
“Yes!” she declared triumphantly. She, like all my students, knew that I do not accept projects using pirated fonts; it’s stated clearly in my syllabus, and I assertively read this aloud on Day 1 each semester. She continued, “Professor ___ gave us all a CD of it!”
[insert swear words and stunned faces here]
The macro issue at hand is that even professional designers and professors of design do not value type. So starting off by demonizing students who are clueless is short-sighted.
Students need to be taught that type has value, and good type is expensive. Even a lot of bad type is expensive. And so in order to teach them how to know the difference, and how best to spend their money once they have it, they need to work with what they have: system fonts.
No one needs to be taught how to use type designed by Tobias Frere-Jones or Christian Schwartz. Those fonts set themselves, with few exceptions. And that is a wonderful thing, and the typefaces that talented type designers spend years making should be expensive.
But in the meantime, isn’t design all about working within parameters? How to make something beautiful out of disparate parts? A student who can actually typeset the system version of Baskerville impresses me. One who can actually find elegant sans and serif pairings within Creative Cloud’s defaults has done the work of truly looking at these typefaces.
No, a bargain bin of fonts that costs $49 is not fair to type designers, because it devalues their work as a whole, as a concept. But when the link was sent to me by one of my students, who was asking if it was a deal he should take, I concurred that four or five typefaces in the ‘collection’ would be useful to him as he built up his type library. For every legitimate license of Trade Gothic, Avenir, DIN and Malabar this student has in his toolbox, is another shitty free font abandoned. With the pride of legitimate typefaces will come a sensitivity to their forms, and a recognition of the differences between those fonts, the shitty ones, and the really expensive ones he can save for or write into a future budget.
This is not just speculation or hope. I’ve seen this in action with my own students and even designers I’ve worked with (many, many of whom had absolutely no problem whatsoever with pirating fonts, until they met me.) And I think this is one of the points type designers make when they lament deals like the one above: that when something costs money, society assigns it value, and when it is free, it does not. But the other, more important thing that assigns a font value? Understanding what a good font is.
Nothing makes you appreciate the design of a well-crafted typeface quite like having to work with inferior typefaces. To clarify, many of the fonts students use out of default have made the leap from wood or metal, to phototype, to the early days of digital—so while the original design may have worked for one medium, it may not work as well digitally as contemporary faces, which get to employ a whole slew of tools that adjust for space and size that early digitization did not.
I do not believe that giving away typefaces makes a student a better designer. I do believe that fostering an appreciation for type by showing students realistic ways to begin building their own type libraries leads to future designers who will buy type. Fontstand is an excellent choice for introducing this in a gradual way, although it’s better when searching for type for a specific project rather than building up one’s own library. Teaching students about finding typefaces and then finding the budgets to pay for them makes them better designers and avoids them undercutting other designers on cost by stealing fonts. The same student who before had thought she had a legitimate copy of Gotham not only learned the mistake, but in a later semester saved up to purchase Karloff for her final project—an interpretation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. What a good choice.