Posted in Typeface
This week, designer Alex Haigh launched a new, improved version of his online font shop HypeForType.
I’ve been a fan of the site for a long time, so when Alex announced he had the new update ready, I caught up with him to find out a bit of background on the refresh.
Could you give me a short explanation of your background and what your motives were to start the website in the first place?
I’m 30 years old, and run HypeForType from the 3rd floor loft studio conversion of my home in Sheffield.
When I first left college in 2005 I had set up a portfolio of work under the guise Thinkdust. This was a creative release for me whilst working doing boring dead end adverts at a local newspaper. What originally started off as a creative release eventually gave me the big break I desired. In 2007 I left Sheffield and the newspaper to take on my first serious design job, which was as a junior digital designer in an agency called Mook. At this time I felt like I was dreaming, I went from creating newspaper adverts for greenhouses, to banner ads for Sony Playstation, it was a life changing experience, and i moved from a small town in Derbyshire to the big smoke in a matter of weeks. Within three years I went from working as a full time Junior Designer at Mook, to freelancing as a Senior Designer/Art Director at AKQA working with some of the most gifted designers I have ever met, one of them being Andrew Jones who now has his own agency called Future Deluxe.
My last year of working in London was really quite tough. At the time I didn’t live there so I used to commute each weekend and stay in hotels during the week. I either wasted time drinking after work, watching rubbish TV, or I did something productive with my time. In the previous two years (2006–2008) I had actually designed a couple of typefaces myself, so it was a common interest and type just seemed to dictate the way I worked. I guess it was kind of my passion along with digital design. It turned out to be a side project I’d work on from 9pm till 1 or 2 in the morning most nights before work the next day. It was a few months later when I finally came up with the name HypeForType, and launched the first ever site (A one page site with twelve fonts).
What makes you different from the other websites who are selling fonts?
I’ve had first hand experience designing and art directing some of the biggest brand sites on the internet. I think all of this experience has shaped me as an individual in such a way that I am lucky enough to be able to handle all of the design, information architecture, and planning for bringing the commerce shop together myself. As I have a in-depth knowledge of both design, how commerce should work for users, and code this gives me a core advantage of being able to direct what I want without having to rely on others. I personally think that this gives me an edge along with my determination to constantly improve and build HypeForType.
What a lot of people forget or are unaware of is 60% of the entire font market in the world is controlled by an investment group. This group owns most of the huge font sites many visit, and so for small fishes like myself it’s hard to compete. In order to compete I have to use all of my experience and strengths to the best of my ability. I just hope designers will see this and support something I am incredibly passionate about, and that isn’t a huge corporate investment. It’s the old butchers vs supermarket scenario I guess, however this butcher has a few tricks up his sleeve!
What was the reasoning for giving the site a refresh and can you share any details on the process?
I guess time and feedback. The old site was ok but it lacked quite a few things both technically and visually. Coming from a design background I was confident I could make something attractive, it was just a case of fine tuning the technicalities in a way that worked for people. The information architecture side of the site was probably the hardest part. When it comes to the actual font pages you’ve got so much information that it’s completely overwhelming when it comes to thinking about how to show that, what takes pride of place over the rest, and how you can create all of this in an understanding, enjoyable, attractive, and easy to use method — that was very, very difficult.
The actual design aspect of the site took a long time, I first started looking at the redesign back in January 2012, and it’s been a part time thing I have had to work on until I was happy. In total I would guess I spent hundreds of hours on the font page alone, that single template took a development company over 200 hours to build, it’s a very complex page that has to work both front end for the user, and backend in a dynamic fashion for 15,000 fonts.
In terms of my approach I began by trying to find what worked and what didn’t. This was done by putting prints of every single font shop big or small on my studio walls. Over a period of four weeks or so I made pages of notes on all of the functionality, content, user experience, and look and feel. The trick is to produce something that’s functionally understandable, attractive, and most important easy to use.
After doing this I had a set of elements to work with and it took months to bring them all into a design that works, especially when you’ve got so many things going on within 1 single page, it’s a tricky process. Following the font pages, the next step was to spruce up the homepage and also improve the typesetter listing pages as these were the main aspects of the website. Hopefully they’re at an attractive level I was originally aiming for, and so far the feedback has been very flattering.
The end result is to have the functionality and technical aspects the major players have, but to use my design experience to make HypeForType visually stronger than all other competitors.
Are there any new services, features or functions people should be aware of?
The most challenging update that took over 200 hours to build are the actual font pages themselves. These now have slideshow graphics for every single font we stock (that’s over 15,000), new improved typesetter functionality, glyph display maps, language identification, keywords, and a brand new online integrated extended licensing model. Along with these we’ve also moved the site to a server five times as powerful before, improved the search pages so users have less clicks and more browsing.
Following this the homepage now works off a dynamic engine meaning users will constantly get to see fresh content, and that our best selling fonts, featured fonts, and featured items will rotate randomly to constantly keep everything fresh and updated. Along with these we’ve also got new foundry pages coming in which create a profile for every foundry and designer on HypeForType, which is currently somewhere over 180.
How do you manage to secure exclusive typefaces for HypeForType and collaborations with designers?
I first worked with Alex Trochut, Si Scott, HelloHikimori, Luke Lucas, and Jon Burgerman quite a few years ago when HypeForType first started. At that time they had no reason to work for me, and as this was a collaboration (they design, we build and market) it’s obviously a risk for them financially because this is all based on royalty sales. The reason I believe they worked with me initially is because they could see how incredibly passionate I am about HypeForType, and the fact I am trying to create a great range of exclusive fonts that are not available anywhere else on the planet, exclusive faces is unique in its own right and I think that in itself along with the collaboration process all makes for an exciting working partnership.
After the first exclusive faces launched, Alex’s Neo Deco typeface won a D&AD accolade, and following that I never looked back. The first two or three volumes meant I had a platform to work off and some solid fonts to show up coming exclusive faces designers, so overall it worked out quite well. Don’t get me wrong though it’s never been plain sailing, I had plans for years to do some exclusives with some other very well known and exciting designers, but unfortunately those collaborations just didn’t work out.
This pattern of working with famous designers has carried on throughout the years and has over time turned into six individual volumes of exclusive fonts on the site, known as exclusive faces. Now HypeForType is a bit more well known it’s easier to collaborate with artists and given what other designers and studios have done in the past, the majority of the time they’re very interested – it’s just a case of finding someone who I think can really create something amazing for designers.
What are your plans for taking the business forward?
I have a few more large ideas that will hopefully help HypeForType to grow, however as you can appreciate this all takes time, some of the biggest font shops in the world have been running for 20+ years, and HFT is only just four years old, so I feel in that time it’s come a long way. Other things I need to focus on are constantly improving the website and shopping experience, building more exclusive fonts, and also just listening to what customers want and bringing those aspects into further improvements.
I’ve heard that you have plans for a sister site? Would you like to elaborate on this?
I can’t tell you too much, but yes, this year I am going to focus on building another site. This is going to be more for the designer rather than the designer who needs to find a font. It’s a brand new concept and hopefully with enough hard work and planning I can create an extension to HypeForType that’s going to be of value.