Clive Bruton interviewed by Jean François Porchez.

After many pleasant years of receiving news from Fontzone, we thought it would be a good idea to try to know more about the man behind one of the best typographical news web sites. Sadly, we took the opportunity at Fontzone’s closing at the end of April 2000 to interview him. Clive Bruton ran this web site with a small team of contributors, showing strong and rare editorial independence in the typographic scene. As a small foundry, we applaud such a web site that shared important news and opinions on new font technolgies, font piracy that we never find in any print magazines.

When did you start Fontzone, and why?

The site started in late 1996. I think it might have been Christmas Eve that year that the first article went up. Why? That’s a really complicated question. I suppose that started back on comp.fonts, some discussion about some kind of digital typographic magazine. My initial thoughts had been to do it in PDF, because I had done a lot of Acrobat development in the previous couple of years, and because of the typographic fidelity offered by the format.

However, for whatever reason, it morphed into a web site. I think the impetus for that was that I had started to do some web database work, and quickly realised that technology was as valid for building editorial or other content-based sites as it was for building catalogues.

There is no such web site at this time?

The only type sites that I can think of that were around at the same time I started are Chris’s Type Index, which I think back then was on a AOL members’ page, and the comp.fonts home page which was run by Norman Walsh.

I think the Digital Type Review and Microsoft Typography pages that Simon Daniels runs came about at around the same time, but I only really learnt of them later. I think my influences at the time were computer news sites like News.com and MacWeek.com.

What do you think about Simon Daniel’s Microsoft/typography web site? And other info/magazine/cultural sites on the web, like the new one, Typophile.com?

I think Simon runs a great site, quite different from Fontzone, but a great site. Certainly we had some cooperation, we’d send each other tips from time to time, but I think the similarity was more due to the fact that we were both going out there and doing the research for our content. I haven’t had a look at Typophile.com yet, but I’m sure it’s a fine site, knowing the people behind it. For me there’s two sites that really stand out, in terms of content, the MS Typography site and Chris MacGregor’s Type Index. There are lots of other sites that I look at now and then, but I think because most of them don’t have a good infrastructure behind them they tend to suffer from low content turnover.

But Type Index and others like Digital Type Review seem dead or close to death. Do you have an explanation for that?

I think, perhaps like Fontzone, the people who run these sites want to move on to new things. From my personal view, two to three years ago Fontzone was a “daring”, new thing to get involved with; even six months ago I could get a buzz out of putting it together and developing the production system to get it to hang together. But, at the end of the day, that very much comes down to “production”, and at some point new ideas come to mind, the old ones lose their appeal. I think the people that were developing those early sites probably felt the same way.

If I’d really wanted to continue with Fontzone I’d have to turn myself into some kind of editor/journalist/publisher, which isn’t the way I saw the site and my role. I was there for the project, to understand how to get this stuff from A to B, the editorial was almost a by-product of that effort.

Fontzone was editorially independent?

No, it was wholly dependent on the views of its writers. I don’t think any magazine is ever truly “independent”, everyone has a point of view, that for the most part is what makes them worth reading – whether you want to read such because it reflects your own views, or because it doesn’t, that’s what makes the character of a publication.

I think what you mean though is that we weren’t influenced by financial or other backing, I think that is true. The coverage was entirely due to the research done by the writers and their opinions, as editor I never censored that. I don’t remember an occasion where an article was submitted and it wasn’t published, maybe it was put in later because similar content had recently been published, but I don’t recall ever rejecting anything that had been written. Of course we filtered press releases though.

As to the financial backing, none of the foundries concerned ever pressurised us for coverage, and I’d say they probably got less coverage than other people. The content was based on research, tips and press releases that we received. If we didn’t get that input, then we couldn’t write about it.

What is your intention? Many times, Fontzone covered font embedding and actions against font piracy. Looklike it’s a sensible subject for you?

I think the intention was to learn more about publishing systems, to make more information about typography available internationally. Fontzone was really trying to get the news of these types of technologies out to users and the industry, some of those things we literally saw “born” on the net, various embedding technologies and different ways of distributing files. Additionally news of either of these aspects spread very quickly, if we’d relied on print media at the time we may not have heard of these issues for perhaps six months or a year.

After few years to serve others people through your Fontzone, we don’t know who you are!

I think everyone who wants to know, knows :-)

I do some type design, a lot of typography one way or another, a lot of web development over the last five years, I studied typography at the London College of Printing and I own a ’67 Mustang.

I imagine Fontzone is not your main activity?

During their “peak” Fontzone and DZ3 were taking up about half my time, the rest was taken up with “type” of one form or another. I suppose I’m kind of hooked into type, everything I do it has some influence in.

The Apple logotype appeared on all of your pages!

Actually that changed with the re-design in October 1999. I figured that Apple had Steve Jobs’ “reality distortion field” to take care of their promotion at that point. But it was there for three years.

There were a few reasons for that, mostly it was because the tag line that went with the logo was true: designed on a Mac, built on a Mac, served on a Mac. I just wanted people to know you didn’t have to be a Unix geek to run a web site and generate content through databases.

Are you an Apple fan?

Yes I’m an Apple fan, everyone who uses a computer should be, or anyone that uses a GUI anyway.

We understand that you run everything at Fontzone, that’s right?

I didn’t write everything, I was always the editor and got the stuff up on line, but many people contributed articles, we always acknowledged that.

You edited the articles, designed the web site, made the HTML, etc.?

Yes, I designed the site. There’s not really very much HTML to consider, the databases take care of that. I’d say that the site “design” was more about functionality than aesthetics, how easy was it to find content, how easy to get from one area to another. I think it was quite successful in those terms, though many people don’t see the achievement in that. They just want “eye candy”, which was never what the site was about.

Fontzone worked through a database system powered by FileMaker. Why this choice and tell us more about how you managed that?

I think it was Filemaker because it was an easy database to use. When I first started looking into these things, mid ’95, that’s what I found, Filemaker tied into an AppleScript CGI written by Russell Owen: ROFM. In the spring of ’96 I had a leased line and a PowerMac 8100/110, I bought a copy of WebStar, FileMaker and hooked them up to ROFM. I played with that for about six months, trying different ways of using the database. Then I started thinking about editorial sites.

Later in the year I went to the ATypI conference in Den Haag (1996), saw what Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum were doing with Filemaker and decided that was the way to go.

I’d seen Erik and Just at a conference that spring, in Toronto, again I was influenced by what they were doing and saying “designers should make their own tools to get their jobs done”. I think they’ve got an excellent attitude, and I’m glad to see that many designers are getting into that way of working, whether that’s making “simple” database solutions with tools like Filemaker, or playing with scripting languages like AppleScript and Python – I think many people are seeing a benefit from working like that.

Several times during Fontzone’s publication you covered conferences such ATypI’s annual conferences and Linotype Typomedia – why?

I think the reasons for doing them were more to do with making that content available to the “world”. I don’t know how many people worldwide are interested in these events, but certainly the number who actually get there number only about 500. Putting that stuff up on the web made it available globally, coverage that would never usually happen. We’d be putting anywhere from 50 to 150 pages of info up during the event. If you were lucky, print magazines would do a double page spread on such events, but more likely a couple of paragraphs.

I think it was an important thing to do to expose these events to the outside world.

Theses actions help you to make you a reputation into the type world?

Reputation? Not really. I think at the stage I was doing those things I knew most of the people involved in such events. Those clued into the web were up there and running anyway, as I mention with Erik and Just; those that weren’t didn’t really get it anyway. So I don’t think I was impressing anyone.

What I did get out of it reputation-wise was divorced from that scene. The people that were impressed were some of my other clients who could see us putting large numbers of pages together in just a few days. As a result of that I could demonstrate the experience to take on some fairly large web projects that were time sensitive, and manage the project from start to finish.

Again the ability to do it was tied to databases and technology like AppleScript.

Do you want to continue these actions in the future?

I’ll certainly be using databases and scripting languages in the future, what direction that will take I’m not sure.

What are your future projects? Type design?

Some type design, some other projects that I’m still thinking about that are really very early in their development.

With your background and experience, what are your typeface preferences? Or in terms of style or period?

Mostly late 20th Century sans serifs; Gill, Univers, Frutiger – the humanist style. I also like the general feel of what I term the “European” sans faces that appeared during the ’80s-‘90s, again after some humanist model; Meta, Thesis and dare I say some of the sans you have produced. Even some display faces like Erik’s Kosmik or Just’s BeoSans I think sit in that category for me.

Obviously, all those faces were designed by Europeans, but I think the genre is wider than that. Those, in my humble opinion, are the faces that reflect the creativity of type design in the last 10 years, those that will have longevity or at least ongoing influence.

It so happens that I also think these are the faces best suited to screen display.

So I guess that’s my period, the one we’re living in, with more than a nod to Swiss layout and the developers of the early humanist sans.

Will you come to Liepzig for the next ATypI conference?

Most probably, I can’t think of a reason not to right now. It’ll be the first ATypI conference since Barcelona (1995) that I’ll be able to relax at and enjoy.

Note to readers: Fontzone.com is relaunched from 2002.