The Trouble
the Commerce
of Type

A Product Design Thought Experiment

During the fall of 2014, I participated in a product design workshop. I was asked to identify an issue plaguing me and those adjacent, and to put forth a solution for how we might correct it. From there each of us was guided through the process of creating user stories and their accompanying flows, designing wireframes, and thinking about how interactions would work.

Being in a graphic design graduate program, what was front of mind for me was an issue surrounding one of the tools I regularly used: typefaces.

The Model

design typeface

First, a type designer or foundry spends months, sometimes years, designing and drawing a typeface with painstaking effort.

sell typeface

Then, they put electronic copies up for sale, which can be used for all of eternity or until the license is up.

use typeface

Finally, graphic designers purchase these typefaces and use in their painstaking designs.

The Grievances

Fonts are prohibitively expensive, such that:

Muggles Don’t Participate

I’ve met non-designers with a lot of expensive habits: shoes, bags, brunch, but not a soul among them made it rain on typefaces. What’s more is the simple fact that one cannot do good design without good typefaces. The high price is a barrier to entry for the untrained, but curious, to the field of design.

Designers Barely Participate

According to the Wall Street Journal, by 2020 freelancers are expected to make up 50% of the full time workforce. Freelancers can’t afford the overhead of a typeface library that agencies maintain.

This disrupts the secret graphic design process.

the secret design process

What is Subletter?

Subletter is a font rental software service that is installed locally to a hard drive similar to font explorer and font agent and manages your font rentals.

How does it work?

There are two ways to use Subletter. The first is a pay-as-go rental service, rent what you need for how long you need it. The other is to become a subscriber, which gives you access to a variety of curated fonts or to a specific foundry.


  Single Family
Day $0.99 $4.99
Week $4.99 $17.99
Month $17.99 $29.99

Monthly Subscription

Basic Premium Foundry Fan
Subscribe for a selection of fonts. Subscribe for a selection of fonts and ongoing rentals. Subscribe to a foundry.
$19.99 $49.99 $9.99 - $49.99
wireframe sketches

User Story Sally

Sally is a graphic designer. She has a main gig but does freelance on the side to support her dog’s expensive toy habit. A friend of hers put her up for a small project with one of his clients because he is out of town. Their branding is all done with Avenir: a typeface that she does not own. Since this is a one time project and Sally has a geometric sans that she normally prefers to work with, it doesn’t make financial sense for her to purchase a copy of Avenir for this one time use. Sally wants to use Subletter to rent the font for a short period of time.

wireframe userflow