Can the process of buying digital typefaces be any less inspired? There’s just nothing inherently exciting, creative or cool about it. You purchase, download and install. Whoop-de-do. Sure, online font shops are an undeniably fantastic resource for designers, but for something that’s purchased so often by so many creative folks specifically for creative purposes, you’d think someone would’ve tapped into all that creative consumerism (and passion for typography!) by now.
Well, Denmark-based design agency, e-Types, has done just that. Along with Web sites, identities, package design and an array of other services, for over twenty years e-Types has been creating custom typefaces for such high-profile clients as the Royal Danish Theatre, the National Gallery of Denmark and the Danish Broadcasting Network, among others. Finally ready to commercialize their house-made collection of more than one hundred typefaces, e-Types launched their own online type foundry—Playtype.com—late last year, but unlike other Web-based font shops, they didn’t stop there.
“Playtype.com makes money 24-hours a day and the products are always available,” explains Rasmus Drucker Ibfelt, partner and managing director of e-Types. “But making a Web site with online typeface sales just isn’t that sexy. I mean it’s just a Web site selling typefaces, how cool is that? That’s not cool." The designers knew if they were going to make any real impact in this “passionate but nerdy type business” they were going to have to be totally innovative in their marketing.
Playtype font packaged in a credit card-like USB, along with its index.
So when Ibfelt spotted a small retail vacancy in Copenhagen right around the corner from the office, on a street where they buy their daily coffee, he knew this was it. The concept: Create an eye-popping, brick-and-mortar shop where customers can walk in off the street and purchase digital fonts (plus a load of other typographic gifts and paraphernalia), all in a space designed with a black-and-white typographic motif. Swoon!
In fact, with a background in fashion design Ibfelt admits, “I’ve always wanted to try out the whole world of producing products and selling stuff in a shop. I’ve been having that vision for many years. And since we’re constantly helping clients grow their own brands, it just felt natural at some point to try it out ourselves...and enter into that battlefield.”
Because it was such a unique concept and would also provide an amazing platform for the designers in the agency to freely experiment and bring their ideas to fruition, everyone—including partners director Mari Randsborg; creative directors Jonas Heskcher and Jens Kajus; and CEO of e-Types Group, Søren Overgaard—was excited about the venture.
There were also a few trepidations. The first, of course, was cost, but Ibfelt adds, “Luckily, the board and my partners thought it was such an interesting, good idea; we all went along and invested a small amount.”
The other issue? Fear. Ibfelt explains, “You know, it’s like when you’re a fashion designer and you have a show on the catwalk—you’re sort of naked. People will see your stuff; they’ll write about it good or bad. We’ve always hidden behind the clients and now we’re out there on our own. We had to make decisions for the look of the store and people will judge us on that. And it was also scary entering that world of producing stuff and not knowing whether people would buy.”
Ultimately, they decided to go for it because, “Sometimes you have to go where it doesn't always make sense in a business context,” Ibfelt confides. “If we should innovate, we should do something that feels right.”
E-Types began the three-month-long process of bringing Playtype, the store, to reality with a huge workshop one evening. They invited the entire 35-member design team to contribute ideas to everything from the interior of the shop, to the products, to the marketing, pr and strategy. Although this was a great way to get everyone committed and involved, they quickly realized it wasn’t the best way of working. Ibfelt explains, “Everybody had brilliant creative ideas and somebody had to decide which creative direction to go. You can’t have all 35 people creating a shop, that’s not possible; that maybe was quite naïve from my side—wanting to have everybody involved in the beginning.”