The Society for News Design is excited to announce that Roger Black is joining our lineup of speakers for the SND Charlotte workshop on April 19-21 in Charlotte, N.C.

Since LA in 1972, Black has been chief art director or design consultant for publications all over the world. Among them: Rolling Stone, New York, The New York Times, Newsweek, Esquire, Reader’s Digest, The Los Angeles Times, MSNBC.com, Bloomberg.com, The Washington Post, Semana (Colombia), Panorama (Italy), The Straits Times (Singapore), Kompas (Indonesia), The Nation (Bangkok) Tages Anzeiger (Switzerland), Placar (Brazil), Svenska Dagbladet (Sweden), and Scientific American.

Black has been involved in many startups. This year, he’s starting a new magazine, Type. Previous launches, like Outside, Fast Company, and Out are continuing success stories. He’s a director at Type Network, a new firm that exclusively offers the typefaces of leading digital type foundries, including Font Bureau, which Black co-founded with David Berlow in 1989. Black is a recipient of the SND Lifetime Achievement award.

SND.org’s Jon Wile chatted with Black about founding Type Network, what’s next for digital typography and starting a new magazine.

TYPE NETWORK STARTED LAST YEAR WITH A NUMBER OF BIG-NAME TYPE DESIGNERS. WHAT’S THE IDEA BEHIND SO MANY GREAT TYPOGRAPHERS ON ONE TEAM RATHER THAN COMPETING AGAINST EACH OTHER AT INDIVIDUAL FOUNDRIES? Every typeface competes with every other typeface, one could say. So there is competition in any font library. But type designers, if not loners, need to work on their own. It helps if one designer, like a coder — or an artist — can follow a single line of thought in making a new font. New digital tools have made possible the one-designer foundry.

Type Network is not a foundry itself, and the designers and foundries on TN are intentionally complementary. The company enables these independents to focus on design, and not to spend so much time on things like distribution and marketing.

Meanwhile the market has become bigger, which has made fonts bigger. A “Latin” character set now contains Cyrillic and Greek and all the “funny” little accent marks that are used in the Nordic languages, Turkish, Icelandic and Vietnamese. Fonts can have a couple thousand characters; I remember when 256 characters seemed plenty. So there is a lot more production work to make just a Latin font. And with globalization, there is demand from Asia for Latin fonts. And demand in the West for Chinese, Japanese and Korean fonts.

Type Network can link experts in each language. We have a new partner from Russia (CSTM) and projects going on in distant places like India and Japan.

All of this takes a lot more work, and Type Network can handle production and quality control, combining the efforts of designers from many foundries — supported by our own production team.

CAN YOU EXPLAIN VARIATIONS TO US? WHAT EXCITES YOU THE MOST ABOUT THIS NEW TECHNOLOGY? Variations is a new kind of Open Type font that bundles together multiple styles in a single file. One file can contain both “light” and “black” — and everything in between, on what’s called a “weight axis.”  “Weight” is just one axis these fonts can have. “Width” and “Optical Size” as well. And there are many other design possibilities. We’ll be showing some of the options in Charlotte.

The exciting thing is that Variations enables typographers to design with a rich palette of type styles, making it possible to push their ideas across many platforms and get the result they want.

YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN PUSHING THE BOUNDS OF TECHNOLOGY AND TYPOGRAPHY, BACK TO THE DAYS OF POSTSCRIPT AND TRUETYPE. WHAT DO YOU FORESEE CHANGING IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS WITH TYPOGRAPHY With Variations we see that fonts can have a lot more power. Using style sheets, we can get the same font to do different things in different situations. People have suggested that typography can become much more responsive to things like screen size and contrast.

The direction of design is to become much more responsive. At first it was cool if typography adapted automatically from desktop to phone. Next, design will adapt to all kinds of external information — to data about users and traffic, environment and time. There are already tables in Open Type that we can hook up to this information so that the font behaves better under changing conditions.

For example, we could make it so that titles on video knew what the background was doing, and respond accordingly. That would make it much easier to add text to videos, and to change it quickly (like to another language).

Then, we are going to be able include the reader more directly in the design. Lucie Lacava showed a prototype at the Poynter Design Challenge where the user can select all kinds of parameters to make the kind of news publication they want to read it. Some folks may not want to take the time for customization. I think we’re going to see news publications in the next few years that will do it for them. That is, the typography can adapt to feedback about the readers — what they like, how fast they read, how much. This could extend to style and the actual font.

The cool thing is that with a complete set of Variations fonts, a designer can maintain the branding of a publication, while making the type work better for the readers, the users . . . the customers.

The news publication of the future will be designed by algorithm. and rules. For example, “If this happens, then use this style.” The connection with the reader has become live. My goal is to figure out how to make this better for all of us.

TELL ME ABOUT TYPE, YOUR NEW QUARTERLY PRINT MAGAZINE AND WEB SITE.  TYPE is already fun. We’re focusing on the people around type — the typographers, the type designers, the developers, everyone who loves fonts. It’s a booming field due to the three big trends which I have nicknamed: brand, code and globe. If you check out the magazine, we’ll try to explain what that means.

Of course, I don’t need to tell you that starting a publication these days is a real challenge. In the first few months Doug Wilson, the managing editor, has started a pretty interesting blog. Doug knows how to start things. And a real magazine is coming.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUNG DESIGNERS ABOUT USING TYPE? I try to keep thinking of the user, the reader. Is this working for them? That’s what design is all about. The technology is essential (and every starting designer has to be a coder), but it’s the end result that counts.

IF YOU WERE A TYPEFACE, WHAT WOULD YOU BE? Egiziano. Old, bold, and quirky, but it gets your attention.

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About SND Charlotte

• Don’t miss your chance to UNITE & REBEL, register today: Register
• Book your hotel room (before they run out!): Use the SND discount link
• Check out the lineup of speakers we’ve announced for the workshop. What a team!
• Don’t miss the Think Before You Make pre-conference day at the U.S. National Whitewater Center