René Bieder on launching his typefaces independently and designing 14 families within two years
René Bieder is an independent type and graphic designer born, raised and based in the German city of Berlin. Following over a decade of selling his retail typefaces through external websites, he recently took the leap to launch his own shop with a new and improved range of exclusive fonts. Alongside updates to six of his most popular typefaces, Bieder has also crafted eight new and exciting type families. In conversation with us, he describes the challenges and rewards of the project, as well as the habits and tips that helped him tackle the process.
PT Hi René! How are you?
RB I launched my online shop yesterday. I am doing great! :)
PT Congratulations on the launch of your new site! How are you feeling about it?
RB I feel relieved and excited! I am happy to finally be able to show the new work. It has been a long way to get here. The last two years have been very intense.
PT Why did you decide to launch your own shop for your typefaces, instead of continuing to only sell them via Monotype?
RB The whole thing is an experiment for me. I have been selling my fonts on Monotype platforms since my first release. Next year marks my 10th anniversary with MyFonts. Without them, I probably wouldn't be where I am now. I am very grateful for that. Nevertheless, I was curious to see if I would be able to stand on my own feet. To find out if I can make it without them, I had no choice but to start my own shop with fonts that are exclusively offered there.
My existing fonts will continue to be sold through Monotype. I will continue to do the customer support, make modified versions or offer updates for all existing fonts. Everything remains the same. Except that customers can now additionally buy new fonts on my own channel.
Always look at the work with fresh eyes.
PT How long have you been working on the new site? And what was the process of making it like?
RB I started designing about two years ago. Now and then off and on. At the time, I was actually planning to refresh my portfolio a bit. For most creatives, it’s nothing new that working on one’s own portfolio can be very challenging. It was the same for me. As soon as I was happy with the layout, I found it horrible a few days later. Eventually, it clicked and from then on the process was relatively straightforward with less dramatic changes. My developer Tom Conroy from Fontdue was very relaxed about everything. That helped incredibly.
PT You mentioned that you planned to design 14 font families in two years – can you tell us about that?
RB Actually nothing was planned at all. Two years ago, I received a request for a modification to one of my fonts. It was just a small thing. The client was happy and I wondered what would happen if I changed other small things. But in type design, every little thing can have a massive impact on other big or small things. Instead of stopping there, I worked on and on until the Freigeist typeface family became Neue Freigeist. One family quickly became two, three, four and finally six revisions of my most successful typefaces.
At the same time, I worked a lot on new designs, so I jumped back and forth between the reworks and the new drafts. This created a kind of new workflow for me. Most of the time I worked on one design for a few days only and then jumped to the next one and so on.
The positive side effect was to always look at the work with fresh eyes. Quite different from before, where I sat on a draft for months. In general, it’s nothing new to let the work rest but with my workflow, however, it was possible for me to continue working directly on another draft without losing time.
Apart from the six revisions, I went relatively far on about 15 other drafts. At some point, I had to decide which fonts should go in the new shop. In the end, eight of the 15 new drafts survived, of which one new family will be published every month from October onwards.
Everything is like a kind of white noise.
PT How do you know when a typeface is finished?
RB That is difficult to explain. Probably when everything has come together to form a harmonic whole. At the beginning, everything is like a kind of white noise or like an orchestra that plays completely out of tune without notes. Pure chaos. At some point, the instruments become more and more in tune with each other until, in the end, it becomes a symphony. Or at least something that can be called music. This is the point at which I think the font is ready for release.
PT What tips or advice would you give a type designer who wants to speed up their approach?
RB My approach is to work on many designs at the same time. This keeps the eyes fresh.
PT Going back a little while, how did you actually get into type design? Your site mentions that you have also worked as a graphic designer?
RB Yes, that's right. Before I started my own business as a type designer, I worked for about 10 years in various advertising agencies as a designer and art director. At some point, when I was looking for suitable typefaces for a project, I had the idea of designing a typeface myself as a side project. At the time, a colleague of mine had also happened to be working on one of his first typefaces. He was in contact with someone who was already more involved with fonts and knew how to use the software. We both sent our font designs in an Illustrator file to this guy and received a finished font file back. After I installed the font file and began writing with my own typeface for the first time, it was clear that designing typefaces would keep me busy for a while. Four years and two successful type families later, I started my own business and dedicated myself completely to type design. About 10 years have passed since then.
PT Back to the present – when revising your six most popular typefaces, how did you maintain the ‘spirit’ of the original type family whilst updating their look?
RB With Neue Campton, Neue Rational and Neue Galano, I simply tried not to move too far away from the original concept and give it a new interpretation. With Neue Magnat or Neue Faktum, which already had very distinctive features, it was easier to stick to the original and ‘only’ rework the curves.
PT Which was your favourite to revisit? Which one did you find the most challenging?
RB In both cases, it was Neue Campton. It took a long time until I began to like it. It was especially difficult to find the balance between an updated look and the original concept. I think I started from scratch three or four times.
PT How much do you consider the commercial sellability of a typeface before and during working on it?
RB I remember when I designed the Mackay family (a transitional serif), I wasn't sure for a moment if it was too extravagant. After all, I want my typefaces to be used. But in general, I don’t worry about commercial sellability. A classic example would be, does the world need another geometric sans serif? Maybe not. But that's like the question for more music pieces. Actually, there is enough already. Or not? :)
I’m fortunate in that I specialise in fonts with a timeless aesthetic. I guess those are always needed. Hopefully.
I’m fortunate in that I specialise in fonts with a timeless aesthetic.
PT For the launch of the next eight new type families, which will be launched over the next eight months, you’ve invited design studios to design a poster showcasing each family – did you give them a set brief or were they free to ‘go wild?’
RB Exactly, the briefing was do whatever you want. Of course, I sent along some information about the fonts, but first and foremost it should be fun and in the best case visualise a connection between the designer/studio and the font. I was aware that a brief like this can be quite challenging. As a graphic designer, you try to solve problems. Free works are more artistic in nature. But that was the exciting part about it. Creating work at the intersection of communication design and art.
PT What was your reaction to seeing the posters?
RB All of them surprised me in an absolutely positive way! I wouldn't have expected the final work from any of the studios. I am very happy with the results.
PT Following the release of your new site and ‘neue’ typefaces, what do you have in mind for the future?
RB First of all, I am looking forward to seeing how the new shop is being received. Along the way, I will work on new and old drafts that didn’t make it to the final round. I will also expand the collaboration with other creative disciplines.