Frost’s Harrison Marshall on the growth of his foundry and what it takes to release a typeface
Frost is a UK-based type foundry run by designer Harrison Marshall, that by combining historical references and contemporary design, publish and distribute both retail and custom typefaces. Despite being a relatively young foundry, Frost have already worked on several exciting projects – collaborating with both designers and industry-leading brands – including a custom brand typeface for international retailer Next. To find out more, we spoke to Harrison about launching and running the foundry, as well as the development of Frost’s reimagined website.
PT Hi Harrison, how are you?
HM Good thanks, how are you?
PT All good thanks! What led you to start the foundry?
HM A combination of things led to starting the foundry. Ultimately, the biggest influence on my appetite for design was growing up with designers in the family. My late grandfather was a compositor for a local newspaper, and over time he gathered a collection of letterpress printing blocks. Seeing those letter blocks around the house was what first interested me in type. I then first started drawing type back in 2015, when I studied the anatomy of typography for a uni module. From there I’ve continuously been drawing typefaces and it naturally progressed into forming the foundry, which I named after my grandfather Colin Frost.
PT What do you find the most challenging about running your own foundry?
HM As a relatively new foundry, I’d say a difficult aspect is getting a typeface out there. It’s like anything else, it’s one thing producing something, but promoting it and getting people to see it is another.
If we’re talking from a type designer's point of view, I’d say the time it takes to kern a typeface is always challenging. It’s a very intricate and time-consuming process, especially when you have a huge glyph set and multiple master styles. But arguably it’s just as important as the actual design of the letters. I have used someone in the past who has written their own script, that mathematically speaking, kerns a typeface perfectly in a matter of minutes. However, I personally find that optically kerning a typeface is always the best way.
Optically kerning a typeface is always the best way.
PT Can you tell us about Frost’s new website? What does it do that the previous version didn’t?
HM Yeah sure. There are lots of different moments on the site that showcase our typefaces in different ways. Individual typeface pages allow users to interact with each style, play with typesetting and try out OpenType features. We’ve also set out each typeface’s key glyphs so people can see each form in more detail, but they’re also there for a functional purpose. If someone needs a glyph that isn’t easily accessible on a keyboard, they can click on a glyph on the site and it will copy to their clipboard. A more exciting place to test out our typefaces is the Tester page. People can get a better sense of how the typeface would work with brand colours and imagery.
A new and important section to the site is the journal. Commissioned work is really important to Frost and we’ve had the opportunity to work on some really exciting commissions over the past few years. So before sharing case studies for those projects, we wanted to show off some works in progress. It’s also a place where we can share some of our favourite examples of type in use.
PT Which typeface are you most proud of?
HM I wouldn’t be able to pin down what typeface I’m most proud of, because it’s usually the one I’m currently designing. But I can tell you my current top two. I had the opportunity to produce a custom brand typeface for Next, and seeing that typeface in physical spaces throughout store signage and OOHs is really cool. My other favourite is the newly released FT System. Because it’s a constantly growing family, it’s something that I enjoy working on as it evolves and pushes on.
PT Could you tell us more about the custom typeface for Next?
HM We were commissioned by design agency Six, to create a custom typeface to achieve brand synergy across all touch points throughout Next. The project naturally took style and structure from the new logotype, as the typeface was first intended to be used in sub-brands. From there, we grew the geometric typeface into a family of six weights, with various OpenType features and support for over 150 Latin languages. You can find the typeface in use throughout Next stores in signage, packaging and lots of other cases. More recently, we worked with Six on the latest uppercase logotype for Next which has resulted in an extended style of the type family.
I have a long list of ideas for typefaces, and the list is always growing.
PT What often triggers the idea behind a new typeface?
HM Usually it’s day-to-day experiences that spark an idea, like walking past a window display or watching a title sequence on a series or movie. But as I’m a graphic designer, it tends to be during creative stages of branding projects. I have a long list of ideas for typefaces, and the list is always growing.
PT How long, on average, does it take to develop a typeface?
HM It totally depends on what the typeface is. The biggest factor is whether the typeface is a commission, or a retail release. If I'm working on a self-published typeface, I’m usually designing it whilst doing a number of other things for the foundry, so it’s hard to put a number on it. If I’m working on a commission, it can be a much faster pace, but it can vary massively depending on the commission. Sometimes it takes a while to explore and discover a tone for a typeface, before expanding that into a fully functioning thing with multiple styles and support for over 100+ languages. But then sometimes I know exactly how I want a typeface to look, so that can speed the process up. There’s also a huge amount of possibilities with type design… OpenType features and all sorts of possible axis for variable typefaces. Then you’ve got to kern the lot, which depending on how many styles and glyphs you have, can take a few weeks to a few months.
I’m excited to carry on expanding the Frost library.
PT What is your approach to licensing, and what have you learned from it?
HM Licenses can be over complicated sometimes, so we’ve tried to keep our licensing as simple as possible. As standard, every license covers usage across app, broadcast, desktop, logotype, social media and web. So no need for people to buy a separate license for all of those different outputs, they can just buy the one and they’re fully covered. Our licenses are simply and solely based on the number of people working for the license holder's company. And we of course offer a 50% discount for all students!
PT What are you looking forward to in the near future?
HM I’m excited to carry on expanding the Frost library and offering a more varied choice of typefaces for people to pick from. We’re also seeing a number of great designers and studios such as Pentagram, Spin and Six using our typefaces and working with us on commissioned projects. So I’m looking forward to Frost continuing to work on collaborative projects with more designers.