Face to Face

When it comes to type, some great things have come out of Arnhem in the Netherlands. Jos Buivenga is no exception. Art Director and type designer, well-known for his quality free fonts, Jos is quite a talent, and has quite a passion for type. After numerous requests from readers, I finally got around to interviewing the man behind exljbris.

Why do you design typefaces?

It has grown on me. It’s now more or less like breathing to me. I can’t help it. I just want to do it. It allows me to be highly involved—or even lose myself—in a creative process. That’s the most important thing in my life. I’ve had similar experiences with painting and writing short stories, but it doesn’t come close to designing type. I’ve taught myself and still have lots to learn but I hope to improve with every typeface I make.

sketch

How did you get started?

I started my first typeface Delicious in 1994 just out of admiration for type design(ers) and I was fascinated by how it would be to set a text with your own typeface. I can’t remember if I made sketches or not, but I do remember sitting behind my first Mac—an LC pizza box with a 12″ display—staring countless hours at non-aliased contours.

delicious

A challenge I set myself then was to try to keep the same metrics and kerning for all weights (upright and italic do differ). Also because most of the italic sans faces (in 1994) I knew were more or less slanted romans I wanted Delicious to have true italics.

delicious metrics

What are the best and worst things about designing type?

The best thing is to be in this wonderful creative process where every decision brings you closer to the final thing. The worst things: things that hold you up like sometimes technique/software issues or misjudgements so that you have to redraw or change real substantial parts of your design.

Why do you give most of your typefaces away for free?

There wasn’t really a plan when I made my first typeface Delicious. Because I didn’t study type design, the real challenge was to explore all caveats and find proper solutions to come up with a reasonable looking, working font of my own. Selling it never crossed my mind … It just felt great when people liked it or wanted to use it. It was only after 10 years when I decided to make another face. Fontin still was a typographic exploration which I rather liked to share with people. rather than sell it to them—because I didn’t consider myself a real type designer. Shortly after I finished Fontin my fonts got listed at Vitaly Friedman’s “25 Best Free Quality Fonts” and that’s when things really took off. Many people got to know me and my free fonts and the responses were heart-warming.

fontin

Because I had a job and I didn’t have to earn money from my type design hobby, I found it very comfortable to give my fonts away. I could just do what I wanted. No need to create something like extra weights of more italics because of a foundry demanding them. No deadlines … I felt as free as my fonts.

What are you working on now, and what are your plans for the future?

At the moment I’m working on an italic version of Anivers, because it will be used together with the regular Anivers to set a book about free fonts.

anivers italic

I’m also working on Museo Sans to accompany Museo.

museo sans

Then there’s Calluna, my first serious attempt to do a text face.

calluna

Last but not least: DeliciousX and Fontin Serif still wait to be finally finished and I have to update Fontin (Semi) and Fontin Sans with extended language support. I’m also thinking of making a payed pro version of Fertigo. Often a new idea comes along (like Calluna when I was working on Museo) and I take a “break” to investigate if it’s worth continuing. It always comes as a natural thing and I never have to bother about what I shall do next. Sometimes I wish there were three of me to get all the things done that I want to do.

diavlo progress

How do you design type? Sketches first? Or everything on screen?

I sketch a lot. Most of the sketches I can’t use, but that doesn’t matter, because I really like doing it. Often I use drafts as a starting point for a new typeface, but the real process always takes place on screen.

sketch

Do you have favourite typefaces and type designers?

My favorite typefaces are the faces that had the biggest impact on me: FF Quadraat by Fred Smeijers and FF Legato by Evert Bloemsma. Evert (also from Arnhem as I am) showed me betas of FF Balance and FF Cocon and we talked about what drove him on each face. That made such a big impression on me that he’s still my favourite type designer.

You can see more of Jos’ typefaces on his web site and blog. And of course, iLT will keep you up-to-date on new releases from the exljbris foundry.


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  1. Tony

    Nice interview, love the work by Jos.
    One comment on “(also from Arnhem as I am)”.
    Mr Bloemsma passed away in 2005. Shallow reading of the above line suggests otherwise.

  2. What program do you use (visible in the screenshot)?

  3. Calluna is looking gorgeous! Can’t wait for Museo Sans, also.

  4. Damnit, too short! Wish it would go on a little longer, but that is a feeling i get every time at the bottom of an article at iLT – i always want more :)

    Would love to see more sketches by Jos, those are very inspiring!

  5. Anivers is still one of my favorite typefaces.

    Amazing type designer, thank you for all you work, and I look forward to what beautiful creations you have for us in the future!

  6. Leigh

    Great interview! Can’t wait for more!

  7. Thanks Jos and congrats on making it #1 april 2008 Rising fonts at MyFonts! I will be looking forward to Musea Sans. Dutch Type all the way!

    Gio
    It seems like fontlab to me..

    Manuel
    Got the same feeling :)

  8. @Sander
    ya, i notice other screenshot

  9. Bert Vanderveen

    Yep, just purchased it — the dollar being at an all-time low re the euro it’s a steal. And I had to keep my Buivenga-collection complete, of course.

    Wonderful read, Johnno. Wish it were longer ; )

  10. Jos sounds like a genuine, nice guy to get to know. He is so grateful for the attention his little hobby is getting and so passionate about typography. I love his reason behind providing his fonts for free, “I rather liked to share with people.” That was so sweet :)

    I liked seeing his sketches and the evolution of Diavlo. These inside peeks really make you appreciate all the work that goes into designing a font! Wow!

    This was really cool, Johno. I hope there are plenty more down the road, with lots of sketches!!

  11. That is really cool about giving fonts away.

    I’d love to see an article about the open source/free software community and fonts and the interplay between them.

    I’d like to get some insight into how all works (and could work).

  12. I want to thank all iLT readers who requested an interview with me and of course Johnno for asking me. I feel deeply grateful.

    @ Tony
    You’re right about the line that can be interpreted the wrong way. Thank you for clarifying.

    @ Gio
    As already identified by others … it’s indeed a FontLab (Metrics) window.

    @ Alec
    Thank you! I feel privileged when people can’t wait for my upcoming typefaces.

    @ Manuel
    LOL! Too short :-) Now that’s a compliment! I’ll try to find the time to post some sketches on my blog soon.

    @ Cody
    As you can see Anivers Italic is in the making. I’ll release that one soon. Bold and maybe bold italic will come out probably later this year.

    @ Sander
    Dankjewel Sander! After Anivers Italic is finished I’ll be working on Museo Sans.

    @ Bert
    “To keep my Buivenga-collectie complete” :-) Thanks for purchasing Museo Bert!

    @ LaurenMarie
    What a nice comment. Thank you!

  13. Great interview John and Jos! Thanks so much for putting this together.

    There’s really something special about each one of Jos’ fonts, if anyone hasn’t tried them; I highly recommend it. :)

  14. Font design simply amazes me. I’d love to try my hand at it, but I’d have NO idea where to start. :)

  15. The Anivers in the ‘i love typography’ headline here is beautiful, I absolutely love it, and will be keeping it in the need to use folder when the right project comes along. :)

    Fontin is awesome is well, I particularly love the italic font.

    Great work Jos, looking forward to more. :)

  16. I love Jos’ type. He even conviced me to actually buy fonts (his Museo 100 and 900, of course). Can’t wait for more.

    Nice to see sIFR here, John. Now I’m waiting for your words about it.

  17. @Matt, you’ve definitely come to the right place. Why not start with the excellent article So You Want to Create a Font? Right here on iLT :)

  18. Those sketchbooks are lovely. More organized than mine; my glyphs just end up all jumbled.

    And I’m now anticipating the release of Museo Sans.

  19. Very nice interview, John. I must echo what others have said: Jos sounds like the real deal, a creative who’s also a genuinely nice, likeable guy.

    Jos, I like your creating type because you love doing it. At this point, I can say that’s why I do book design and production. I very much want to hear of the progress of Calluna. Where does the name come from?

    I believe I’d like to try setting a book with it. What would be an interesting sans to pair with it. I’ve been staring at Fontin, but I’m not altogether sure.

  20. we love him also….hey jos, come be happy

  21. Wonderful interview!

    I can’t wait for the release of Museo Sans and Calluna looks gorgeous.

    Where do you come up with the names for your typefaces?

  22. Sorry to chime in so late, but I had a very busy day at work.

    Thanks Johno for setting the questions in Museo (sIFR)!

    Thanks for the recommendation Hamish! Nice to read that you have the same experience when using my fonts. I always thought that it was because I made them myself :-)

    Thanks Kyle.

    @ Felipe
    Thanks for purchasing Museo!

    @ Darren
    I’ve only shown two spreads ;-)

    @ Stephen
    Calluna is about an experiment to lead the eye to the right upper corner of each glyph. The street where I live in is called Calluna(street) and is also a one way street. That’s how I got to the name.

    It’s no where finished at this moment, but if you would like to do some tests with it at a later stage I’ll be more than happy to provide you with a beta. Let me know.

    A little bit more info on Calluna can be found here:
    http://typophile.com/node/40440

    @ wangjel
    I did become happy. I saw Diavlo on your site!

    @ Diane
    Thanks. Most of the names just come to me. Delicious is named after the Golden Delicious apple because I made that font on my first Mac. Diavlo is named that way because it’s a bit sharp and pointy. Tallys because it “is tall”. At least the asenders and descenders … I do google on future names and take into account if a new font name can become #1 if you search just for the name.

  23. Stephen … forgot something … in the Typophile topic you can also get a glimpse of Calluna Sans.

  24. darwinDEE

    I shall add my two cents,

    I’m amazed that Delicious was your first font Jos, I have just used it for the entirety of a book i designed, from the cover title font, to the headers to the body copy, and it just works. Am currently setting a book which uses Fontin Sans for the headers and Delicious for the body, whilst i also use Diavlo for my personal branding (well my CV and portfolio captions). As a designer on a budget i really really appreciate the fact that these are high quality, stylish fonts that are available free. It means i can offer my clients something fresh and unique without hitting them with a hefty expenses bill as well.

    A little coda, seeing as we are a small company i get a certain level of creative control over the information we include on the imprint page, so i make a point of naming the font i have used in a book, but for the ‘delicious’ book i went a little further, adding ‘a typeface by Jos Buivenga’ to the credit.

    Regards, dD

  25. Museo Sans looks nice. Can’t wait for that one :)

  26. I too felt like screaming at the end - no, it can’t be the end, more, please, more… ;-)

    I love how Jos described his reason behind giving away the fonts - “I felt as free as my fonts”. I’ve heard from many people that once they turn their hobby into business they stop enjoying it as much as they used to. The deadlines, demands, limitations seem to add lots of pressure on the pure joy of doing what you love.

  27. great read as always John!
    iLT has been my home page for a good while now and it’s just ace.
    Thanks Jos for this interview it’s really helped me with the confidence to explore creating a font; I have been wanting to make a font for a script called gurmukhi (about 400 years old from North India) and this has given that push I needed.

  28. @ Darwin
    Would you mind to e-mail (josexljbrisnl) me the two titles of the books you made so I can add them to my portfolio? Thanks for crediting!

    @ Robert
    Thanks!

    @ inspirationbit
    You’re right. It’s inevitable that deadlines, demands and pressure eventually become part of my type design thing. For now -fortunately- the balance still feels right.

    @ Sundar
    That’s really great. From what I just read about Gurmukhi (“from the Guru’s mouth”) I think it is a very interesting project to be working on. All the best!

  29. Is there any sort of Ivy typeface? I can’t seem to find one. I am having a cover design contest for my book and think it might look great.

    http://www.designcontest.net/forum/showthread.php?t=9878

  30. ilt, wow I revel in this site, loved the interview with jos buivenga, also matrix type, what a discovery

  31. I love his fonts, free and high quality.

  32. Must add my $0.02 here!

    Johno, thanks for having Jos. Keep up the great work, both of you. This was a real treat, and totally made my day (what’s left of it)!

    Can’t believe I didn’t see this until now! My birthday was on the 19th… I’m going to pretend this was a gift from iLT & Exljbris. Haha, thanks again!

  33. I just discovered that Museo, which is the best freshly released font I’ve seen this year, was made by Jos. Brilliant job!

  34. Thanks Erika and Hajime.

    @ Jason
    Thanks for having me on your delayed birthday ;-) Congrats!

    @ Piotr
    Compliments like this really make my day. Thanks!

  35. Michael Turek

    It’s very nice to have an inside perspective on the creation of a font. All the sketching and decisions that need to be made are incredible and inspiring. Thanks for this.

  36. Jos is an amazing guy - in my (very humble) opinion, he’s one of the most important people in typography today. He’s pioneering the new wave of typography on the Web, by allowing his fonts to be used in CSS3’s @font-face declaration - opening doors for young and blooming internet-savvy typophiles everywhere, without the money to purchase a commercial license to a typeface.

    As more and more browsers support @font-face, it will be Jos’s fonts that we see cropping up everywhere astute typography is welcome on the internet.

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