There’s a fine line between triumph and disappointment, and quite often the difference between one and the other comes down to minuscule details set in motion by unseen forces. To help us trace the emergence and growth of Fontfabric over the past decade, we sat down with Founder and Director Svet Simov to discuss his initial steps in typography, one very happy trip to Greece, and what the company has in store for the future.
During my university years I had become, like many at that time, obsessed with digital graphic design, and assimilated pretty much anything that surrounded me – drawing, 3D modelling, video games, you name it. It was a very common thing during those early Internet boom years, but it would have been all for nothing without a direction in which to apply it.
At this point one of the studios I worked at ‘stepped in’ and taught me much – how to work smarter, faster, how to optimize the process and be more concise. I had to create original vector images, such as icons, ornaments and various decorations throughout a variety of styles. Tons of vector art went through my hands at that time, which was solid preparation for the years to come. Using the know-how and experience gathered I was later able to develop many of the iconic typefaces at Fontfabric. Back then I barely crafted letter forms, but the core principles were absolutely in line with crafting letters or an entire font family. So in that sense, all the soft and hard skills acquired as a designer are what laid the foundation for the foundry’s birth.
One day, while working on an icon set I decided to play around with geometric shapes. I crushed and rotated solid, cubic shapes, and voilà – Blou was born! I can’t recall how or why I chose the name, but as soon as it ‘blew up’ in popularity I knew that my path as a font designer had been revealed. Looking back at it, I don’t think the actual font was that original, but I had a lot of fun creating it.
To feel satisfied from your first solo project is absolutely incredible!. The font turned out tight and clear. I put two or three words next to each other with short distances between letters in the line and everything felt compact and complete. Afterwards, I cut and mixed the letters with sparkling blue and green backgrounds, as the original look still felt quite dense. More or less, it is what set the tone for the font’s entire presentation.
Around that time, I met designer and Behance co-founder Matthias Corea. At first, we exchanged messages but eventually it turned out that he was a fan of my work and sympathetic to the cause of young and upcoming designers. This relationship would later grow to a point where most Fontfabric projects posted on the platform would find their way to the front page.
Reasons for Success
Following the initial buzz around Blou, a series of events converged in quick succession, giving me a strong impetus and a clear sign that something significant had been ‘born’ – three signs, to be precise!
First of all, my original idea was not to focus on creating free fonts, even though it was a major factor behind the foundry’s initial growth. Some of the first releases, like Blou or Snail, were created with a commercial version in mind. They were selling well despite being decorative and graphically ‘heavy’. Of course performance back then was nowhere near the margins nowadays, but it gave me an indication that the fonts are, at the very least, readable and usable enough for people to buy.
Another important milestone was the success of our Behance publications. The design platform (which was just taking off) came to my rescue for there wasn’t yet a critical mass of fellow designers around me to share an objective assessment of how fonts worked. Behance encouraged users to express themselves by placing an emphasis on visual presentation as the center-piece of any project. Back then, this type of lengthy, vertical formatting was new to the industry, and it turned out to be the push I was looking for. Most sites and stores consisted of a large amount of text strings or type specimens. Few had thought of a ‘visual-first’ approach like we did.
Fontfabric was among the first foundries to present fonts in such a format and it became extremely popular with the entire Behance community. In later years, I would often hear that website visitors wanted to not only download a font, but to find inspiration from our templates. In the end, we depicted how we envision our products being used. Many designers got a spark thanks to us and in some cases we have even started trends – milk typography to name one.
Finally, our dedication and hard work seemed to pay off with consistent growth. The foundry profile kept growing, and along with the followers count came growth in visits and downloads, month after month. Each new release exceeded the results of the previous and the amazing feedback motivated me to continue giving all I have to push the concept forward. I think I was more preoccupied with continuous productivity at the time rather than finding a purpose or setting goals.
Each new project felt like an adventure, though. It was me, the white screen, and an everlasting urge to outdo myself. To create from scratch is a wonderful process, and you get to name the final product – unlike with people, there will only ever be one of it. It builds identity and adds a certain flair and character to it. Then you put icing on the cake by making a presentation to go along with your font, which in reality is the best environment for it to begin with.
I can’t recall how the name came to be, but I’m sure it also sprung to life on its own. The word ‘font’ had to be included at all costs, and ‘fabric’ carries a message of production, craftsmanship, textile work, and handcrafted details. When the two came together, I felt inspired and confident that this was the right brand to build.
Using my pre-existing contacts in the design community, I enlisted Asen Petrov to create our first logo, which stayed with us for many years until our complete refreshing earlier this year. In fact, we used to get a lot of questions from customers as to what font was used as the basis for it, so now seems like the right moment to finally answer those – it’s a modified version of Bodoni.
Geometric shapes are an essential part of classic font design. This is evident when you look at letters such as H (square), O (circle), and A (triangle). Geometry is present in white space too. Voids grow their own personality, just as spacing between individual letters does.
The Cube series took advantage of a ‘modular grid’, which builds each letter from a pre-set database of geometric modules, akin to a LEGO block design. There weren’t many such fonts at the time. I still remember the positive feedback on the grid concept, along with the birth of a few copycats. All in all, Cube was a great case study for the impact of following clear logic when dealing with form, and presenting it in a concise and visually appealing manner.
Going ‘isometric’ when building letters proved an absolute hit. It gave each symbol the chance to exist in 3D space without actually being a 3D object. The trend would become much more pronounced in graphic design during the years to come. Most of the letters were developed using vector software instead of the industry-specific programs used for our contemporary releases. Then, as now, this gave our designers much more freedom to manipulate and color objects as they wish.
On a personal level, working on the Cube series allowed me to express genuine passion for geometry and typography, thus revealing creative possibilities I wasn’t fully aware of until then. At the same time, as a company, we showcased a simple and innovative product and it was the direction we would stick to in later years.
Up to this point things were running smooth and easy, despite the many technical challenges faced on a daily basis. Social media networks were on the rise, and that meant paying close attention to what made a particular product successful, and then applying and replicating those details as needed to custom font design and corporate typography.
Simultaneously with this I was also creating fonts, of course, and for a while it was literally a ‘study-on-the-go’ situation where there was no time to waste. Friends and private life gradually took a back seat to a frenzied, at times almost feverish desire to just come home from (regular) work and jump back into the world of typography. Eventually the moment came for me to quit my regular studio job and devote myself entirely to Fontfabric.
Fast forward to 2009, when things were really beginning to heat up – not to mention it was also the summer when my wife and I got married. Towards the end of that year Fontfabric released Uni Sans – our first more notable font family – and I decided to celebrate with a winter vacation in Greece. At the time the monthly MyFonts newsletter was among the most anticipated and reputable sources for promising new releases, with a sharp look and custom font presentations. The medium had serious potential with regard to sales, and it came as no surprise that MyFonts were focusing a lot of resources on it.
As far as I recall there was no wi-fi at the apartment we were staying at, and I don’t think I owned a smartphone or a laptop just yet. I found the nearest internet hall, which ended up being not so close after all, patiently waited for my inbox to load up, and opened the December 2009 Rising Stars email to find Uni Sans neatly tucked in the featured section. A complete surprise at first, and definitely the best spent few euros during that vacation.
Afterwards I felt so happy, that on my way back I kept jumping and whistling random tunes throughout the center of Athens. It was an incredibly satisfying and grateful moment that, most importantly, I could immediately share with my loved ones. Over the following weeks this single newsletter feature pushed Uni Sans deep into the top-selling charts, and after MyFonts included it as a Follow Up during the following month, it eventually peaked at #2, behind the then-immovable Helvetica.
Intro and Nexa
2012 saw the release of two major milestones in Fontfabric’s timeline – Intro and Nexa! With excellent legibility and optimized kerning, they proved to be commercially successful and incredibly versatile. Both fonts are still featured across a wide range of projects to this very day.
By now, ‘raising the bar’ had become more of a regular experience than an exception to the norm, and accomplishments piled up quickly. Clients rushed for custom fonts and soon we got the chance to work with the likes of Lipton and Telenor, which opened up additional business opportunities, and further increased our international portfolio. Eventually we moved to a brand new office and expanded the team to four designers, setting the stage for the Fontfabric of today.
The Glober Award
Glober won Best Text Typeface at Modern Cyrillic 2014 and it definitely came as a surprise. We didn’t specifically prepare our fonts for contests back then. I myself was not even aware that an event of that magnitude was coming up. The competition was diverse and very tough, with strong entries across the board. It was held once every five years and you could view it as the World Championships in Cyrillic typography, I guess. The jury and organizers were both top-notch, and with open submission guidelines you can imagine the sheer volume of applications we were up against.
Fontfabric submitted several fonts and we won the heavyweight category – the so-called ‘text families’, where there was a record number of contestants. To me, this was another sure sign that Fontfabric was on the right track. The foundry constantly rose the bar and we knew that we can work shoulder to shoulder with some of the world’s leading type designers (Glober was made for the most part in collaboration with Russian type designer Ivan Petrov). Most importantly, the certificate filled us with a certain poise and tenacity – that Fontfabric has the potential to win many more competitions in the future!
The Rust Series
This was a case where more or less, we hopped on a pre-existing trend to add the Fontfabric touch and flair. We recognized the rise of this particular style of typefaces and further developed the concept of larger packages with several different weights and a variety of textures and extras.
I wouldn’t hesitate to call Fontfabric the ‘godfathers’ of Rust fonts. They’ve become something of a trademark for the foundry, and still occupy top spots across many best-selling charts, just as Nexa Rust and Intro Rust do. Naturally, this has much to do with the high-quality fonts they are derived from, and a lot of thought goes into that selection process as well.
A New Vision
While perhaps lacking some of the rough-and-tumble commotion of our early period, the past few years have been no less formative for the company’s long term outlook and goals. Our team doubled in size, expanding to a full roster of type designers, alongside marketing and content specialists. This gave us much more space to work with when preparing a new release, and results were not far behind – at the turn of 2017 Fontfabric occupied 10 of the top 50 best selling products on MyFonts!
In 2018 we celebrated a decade of Fontfabric with our very first printed type specimen and an exhibition at Sofia’s Gallery 2.0, where we shared our achievements with Bulgaria’s typographic and design community at large.
Earlier this year we set our sights on a fresh new look for our website and initiated the first complete corporate redesign since Fontfabric’s launch in 2008. The goal was to transform our home on the web so it becomes a vibrant community and a one-stop destination for all your typographic needs, whether that means a responsive and contemporary font database or a blog platform to deliver your weekly dose of inspiration.
We’ve also continued working on our typographic chest of treasures, snatching the MyFonts prize for #1 best-selling 2018 release with Mont, and releasing Gilam, Panton, Slovic, Squad and Singel before the year was done. With a larger team and a renewed incentive, we’ve followed up with debuts for Noah, Intro Script, Mozer and Panton Rust – and it’s still only September!
I’m happy to share that we have much more in store for our clients as the year draws to a close and we look toward our second decade in business. Expect to see our very own ecosystem and portfolio of services, which will allow us to take care of 100% of our customers’ needs as related to font production and design – from presentation to e-commerce and all the way to support. We will also continue to invest resources in the development of a wider variety of scripts and languages, as well as updating and expanding older releases from our portfolio.
At the end of the day we might even have a surprise or two hiding in our pockets – but until then, on behalf of the Fontfabric team, I would like to thank the entire community for sharing this journey with us. We cannot wait to show you what we have in store for 2020 and beyond!