Bloomberg Businessweek Goes Inside the Font World's $20 Million Divorce

Bloomberg Businessweek Goes Inside the Font World's $20 Million Divorce Time for a coffee break, everyone, and your Wednesday longread: Bloomberg Businessweek has published the most detailed yet coverage about the lawsuit Tobias Frere-Jones filed against Jonathan Hoefler in January of this year, and their subsequent...divorce is just the only word that feels right here. 

For 15 years, Frere-Jones and Hoefler seemed charmed. They made typefaces that rendered the stock charts in the Wall Street Journal readable and helped Martha Stewart sell cookbooks. They created an alphabet for the New York Jets, based on the team's logo. And they saw their lettering chiseled into stone as part of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center. Last year, the duo won the AIGA Medal, the profession's highest award. It seemed to be one of those rare situations whereby two successful soloists had combined to make an even better supergroup. Hoefler was asked if there were any troubles in their working relationship for a video produced for the AIGA in 2013. "We do have a longstanding disagreement over the height of the lower case t," he said. "That is the only point of contention."

Not quite. In January, Frere-Jones filed a lawsuit against Hoefler, saying that their company was not actually a partnership, but a long con in which Hoefler had tricked him into signing over the rights to all of his work, cheating Frere-Jones out of his half of the business. "In the most profound treachery and sustained exploitation of friendship, trust and confidence, Hoefler accepted all the benefits provided by Frere-Jones while repeatedly promising Frere-Jones that he would give him the agreed equity, only to refuse to do so when finally demanded," the complaint charges. Frere-Jones is asking a court to grant him $20 million. Hoefler won't comment on the suit directly, but the day after it was filed a lawyer for the company issued a brief statement disputing the claims, which, it said, "are false and without legal merit." (About Gotham's creation, Hoefler writes in an email: "No one is disputing Tobias's role in those projects, or my own, for that matter. [Our] typefaces have had a lot of other contributors, as well -- everything we do here is a team effort.") According to the company statement, Frere-Jones was not Hoefler's partner but a "longtime employee."

Though there was a lot of discussion this winter when the suit was originally filed, this report from writer Joshua Brustein, with quotes from design and typography-world luminaries Debbie Millman, Michael Bierut and James Montalbano, among others, gives some of most detail we've seen yet about the way the superstar duo (we can say that, because Major Typographers are stars to us) worked together--and maybe how it all fell apart. Although, as with any story of things coming to an end, there are surely many interpretations of the same story, Businessweek's piece is a must-read start. Read it in full here.

Other categories we considered for this one:
The Business Side

See also:

"Font Men" was created by Dress Code for the AIGA 2013 Medal presentation to Hoefler & Frere-Jones

(Full disclosure: Hoefler & Frere-Jones gifted several typefaces, including Gotham, to The Society in 2008 for use in our logo and style guide. We will be forever grateful.)
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