Planet typography MyFonts
The typographic Times
Michel Bujardet

 

[November 2001]
“Unless I decide that letterforms are a piece of art, and therefore have no other purpose than to be hanged on the wall, I have to design them for the ultimate user : the reader.”
Michel Bujardet


Match Fonts

Can you tell us more about how you, your educational background, your professional resume?

I am 50, born in Bordeaux, France. I first studied electronics, and to be more precise, telephony, before realizing that what I liked most was design and photography. My grand father was a photographer, as well as an engraver. I suppose his influence is to be found there. So I went into photography for a living, for a while, at the same time I was drawing for my own pleasure.

Because I had training into computers, I had the tremendous opportunity to discover the Apple II before most, at the same time Sony introduced the Mavica (who remembers this first ever still picture digital camera ?). I also put my hands into programming, to be able to generate fonts on my Imagewriter. That is the beginning of my font designer carrier, back in 1983. Soon after, I released in France a product called Le Typographe, that allowed PC users to do the same with the Fx-80.

I started to work on bitmapped fonts at that time, and Match Software early productions in 1987 where bitmapped fonts for HP, and for our own proprietary system. Then came Fontographer, and I haven’t stopped using it since, in spite of its very real limitations in some aspects.

What are you looking for when you create a new typeface ? Where does your inspiration come from ?

Depends on the font, and the moment. I did a revival of BujardetFrères, for instance, early on (1992 or so), after discovering in my Great Uncles documents a nice poster I thought used interesting lettering. I worked a lot from the work of the Bauhaus, and am influenced by some other designers, for instance the architect Le Corbusier. Remove this here, and see what happens. remove this there, and see how it looks. At one point, the letterform will be reduce to the essential. Quite zen.

At the other end, I do like kitsch, and enjoy working on pi fonts and dingbats. One of them is DinosoType. I got the idea from my nephew, who was fascinated by these creatures. I slapped up this font in a few weeks, and never imagined it would be downloaded by the hundreds of thousands in a couple months. Halloween Match or SilBooettes are just the same. I produced them very quickly, for my own pleasure, and here, there no functionnality to worry about.

Being a calligrapher also helps, but I tend to always reproduce the same letterforms. What helped me greatly was to offer a custom handwriting service. That allowed me to work on hundreds of individual’s handwriting, and their peculiarities enriched my own experience at lettering. Also, it enriched my sense of cultural differences that create letterform. One may not notice it at first glance, but there is very drastic differences in handwriting between, say, an American and British individual. Not to mention French or German.

My latest work is based on customer input. I made quite a few monospaced fonts and sans-serif, but relatively few serif fonts. I am now trying to work on the serif families.
All that is to say that even if my final work is computerized, it almost always start with paper and a quill, a brush, a felt-tip marker or some calligrapher square pen.

What is your favorite typeface ?

My favorite type is always the current project. I am currently working on a typeface called GrandBes which will be introduced on my sites this week, if all goes well. It has a lot of readability, and a very nice typographic grey, but a touch of calligraphy in it, and someflavor of Art Nouveau in the “floral” curves over the M, W, A, and a few others. I have great hopes for it.

In my other typefaces I am truly fond of Boum-Boum, because I created it back in 1994, and despite an avalanche of new fonts of all styles and colors, this one remains a truly different design. You may notice by the numerous sans-serif fonts in the text section I like the functionnal school of design. Boum-Boum could be construed as fonctionnal, but the addition of a simple big dot, and the tilted italics, are to this day still quite modern. The amazing thing about Boum-Boum is also (like GrandBes) that it produces very even typographic grey, and legible, good text layout, while remaining an excellent title font.

I am convinced that as strange as a font can be, it must be legible to find its function. Contrary to other pieces of design, that can be completely absurd and serve no purpose other than to stand out, letterforms have an inherent functionnality. If I design a “b” that looks like a “d”, I may make an easthetic statement, but for the reader, I will create difficult to read text. Unless I decide that letterforms are a piece of art, and therefore have no other purpose than to be hanged on the wall, I have to design them for the ultimate user : the reader.

You propose your fonts for non-latin language. Have you found a market with the countries in which these alphabets are used ?

No, I do not address local markets. Clearly, fonts, and web sites, are a cultural product, and as such, they are directly related to precise cultural markets. As a Franco-American, I naturally address English and French-speaking customers. The non-latin fonts have been created for my regular customers, who wanted to have them with the friendliness of the US of French system and keyboard.

The exemple of Cyrillic fonts is striking : the demand litteraly exploded when the Berlin wall fell. People came to me from right and left asking for Russian fonts, but they did not want to learn any Russian or Urkrainian keyboard. They wanted to use the standard QWERTY layout, to type in Cyrillic. Most of the non-latin fonts I have are distributed with that concern in mind. I think system designers (namely Microsoft & Apple) are doing a huge mistake by providing multilangual support based on local keyboards. Besides the real hurdles customers encounter installing the support, they have to cope with a sometimes huge learning curve to be able to use the keyboard. This is ridiculous. If I think “i”, I should be able to type the “mirror small cap N” in Russian, rather than to learn a new layout.

What is Match Software ? A foundry which edits other type designer or you personal company to sell directly your products ?

Originally, when me and my partner created Match Software, we thought about publishing other designers. Then my partner died, I met a few designers, and realized my job was not to be a salesman. And even less to manage the burden of publishing. I am primarily a designer. Let other people do the selling. As a craftsman, I sell from my own shop. My latest site, fontmenu.com, is even more oriented towards a direct relationship between users and designer.

This does not mean I cannot refer customers to other publisher friends. Recently, I became an affiliate of ITCFonts.com, and do appreciate the opportunity to direct my customers to them when they need a font I do not have in stock.

Your name is also known because some you propose some of your typefaces in shareware. Is it a commercial strategy ?

Yes, indeed, it is a commercial strategy. I am not a lucky personal friend of one of these legendary and secretive venture capitalists who created Apple, Microsoft and Borland. Where could I find the millions of dollars necessary to enter the shelves market ? I started in shareware when the Internet was not yet known. My very first products where distributed on Compuserve, and in France, on CalvaCom, as shareware. An let me not forget the network of BBSes; without them, there would no Usenet today.

Shareware is a very sensible way to get a product to market, when one does not have the financial power to advertise. In effect, getting samples to the proper customers is a technique used by many other non-internet companies. Think about it : what is the difference between a shareware font, and the sample shampoo I get for free at the gymn ? Both are tryout samples. Both will help me decide if I like the product enough to buy it. Difference is, it costs a fortune to the shampo maker, because he has to use plastic, and some chemicals.

Shareware is made of a lot of time, then it becomes simple electrons and bandwith. Sure, I have no idea where they will end up. But that’s a bit like buddhist prayer banners : when they shred away, the wind takes the gospel of Buddha where it needs to be known. Shareware is an act of faith : I believe that once in a while, a font will be nice enough, original enough, so the customer will drop by my site a few dollars. This, plus word-of-mouth, will help my little shop pay the rent. As a member of Association of Shareware Professionals, I know this act of faith has worked for many other companies and individuals. It still does.

What are your main clients ? Is it a profitable business ?

I have two kinds of customers : individuals, a lot of them coming to download shareware, or to browse, and decide to buy on impulse. This is a bit like the shop of a painter : casual circulation creates sales. Companies, sometimes very big (Ikea for instance), come to me for specific needs that bigger foundries could not, or would not, address. I then work for them the same way a tailor would do a custom fit. Prices are not the same, nor are the difficulties involved. One of the most challenging work I ever had to do was that software publisher who had designed a product on Mac, and wanted text to flow exactly alike on PC screens. Between different pixel shapes, different resolution, and kerning support, I had quite an intersting learning experience.

As for the profitable aspect, I cannot answer but with a sentence from Confucius : “The man who considers he has enough, is the richest in the world”. If I have enough to pay my rent, to buy my food, to buy a new computer now and then, I am content. I would not advise a youngster with long teeth and a longing for Ferrari cars to go into fonts, though : graphic design is much better paid in advertising or packaging. But then again, do I really want to design shampoo packages, or posters for laundry soap?


Related article: Boum Boum, typeface portrait (November 2001).

Typography fonts