Interview: Neeraj Gulati, Managing Director, Monotype India

Monotype, makers of the world's most iconic fonts, talk about piracy, their India operations and the technology that underlines their fonts.

By Siddharth Parwatay Published Date
21 - Dec - 2013
| Last Updated
21 - Dec - 2013
Interview: Neeraj Gulati, Managing Director, Monotype India

Can you tell us a bit about Monotype?

Sure, Monotype is a company that has been in existence for the longest time, contributed tremendously to the time of typeset printing and desktop printing came alive. Initially it was more of a company that did font design and it was the creative arts that was the major focus and as technology became integrated with communication instead of just print, monotype has products focusing on type, technology and the expertise that goes along with that. So you’re familiar with all these web portals that we have – we have, were some of the most conic fonts are available for designer around the world to try and use, buy and subscribe. We already love technology because one area of technology is about delivering fonts to the different types of designers, so that they leverage the cloud a lot. There’s a product that we’ve got called, it is basically fonts from the cloud for designers. We’ve got other technologies that make available fonts as a service.


Can you elaborate on this concept?

So when the web started out, if I was the designer and I was making any asset on the web, I had to ensure that the fonts that I was using in my artifact, unless inside a picture, had to be a font that my end-use has on their desktop, on their computer. That was quite a restriction because very few fonts are found on an average machine, right? This restricted a lot of creative space that designer could operate in. Then together with partners Monotype drove a standard around web fonts, where I can publish my content using any of the latest fonts, using custom fonts, and the end device – whether a PC, Mac, or tablet, or a mobile phone – as it’s downloading the content, doesn’t need to have the font as it’s being fetched from the cloud that we host. So you as a designer the creative boundaries for your products completely vanish and you can move-in any of the creative types that you think work for the brand. So at the top-line we’re basically into type and technology.


So is this an open standard or proprietary?

No, it’s an open standard that we’ve also helped developed and helped promote. So the overarching theme for us is that we want to be a part of every bit of communication which is happening in print and predominantly on the web. Since a lot of it is text and a lot of it is from designer who want to catch the attention of the end consumer or partner or whatever it may be – creative type becomes a very important ingredient.


What solutions does Monotype have for various device makers?

So with connected devices and disparate screen sizes and resolutions one of the challenges for anybody who is publishing, especially brands, they want to maintain brand fidelity across all different devices. So if I’m a British Airways or I’m a Tata or whatever, I want my brand communication to look as crisp and as clear and as legible irrespective of end-device that the consumer or user is using. So that challenge is quite huge and it exists across screens like handhelds or screens found inside cockpits. Monotype has done a lot of work in the area of rendering legible text across different screen-sizes, screen quality, and memory availability while you’re connecting a screen to the net. That business line call ‘Display Imaging’ we have our products deployed inautomotives like Ford, Hyundai. So the display technology ensures that all content irrespective of language comes across as crisp as it should be on very high resolution or on large screen.


So for these interfaces – say in-flight entertainment – do you just develop the fonts for the interface or you work closely with the partners involved right down to the display technology itself?

So let’s take the example of automotive. In automotive you’ve done a lot of work in terms of fonts as well. We have very specific set of font that we know work very well in the automotive sector. We did this very in-depth study with MIT to figure out in terms of time and attention of the driver is there a difference when it comes to fonts. Every minute that needed the attention and the distraction can cause problems so we’ve fonts that we’ve designed and researched on over the years that work very well in certain industries. Beyond that, we also have technology that make fonts legible and clear. Our tech is not restricted to just these in fact Amazon Kindle device uses our display text rendering technology as well. Also almost almost 9 out of 10 laser printer manufacturers out there world wide have our print driver technology. So across printing devices, across the screen, across the web our technology is spanned in different areas.


What about you know Indic fonts what monotypes position there?

The Company has been in Indic fonts from so long time from the 1960s in fact. The number of fonts that are quite heavily used in India. We were actively involved in the Typography Day in IIT Guwahati last year and a font called Frutiger Devanagari. Our focus is to understand the Indian market, where type is headed. We see a of brands are looking to have complementary Indic and Latin fonts for their brands. You know there’s a lot of vernacular population that doesn’t understand English. We see indic languages as extremely important and there are complex scripts that pose challenges to render on screen. It’s an area where a lot of work needs to be done and will be done over the coming years.


Do you commonly work with OEMs, you know helping them create regional packs, for example Apple recently added bangla support from iOS 6 onwards right?

Ya, so we work with OEMs when it comes to screens, mobile devices, say Samsung. We also work with independent software vendors like Google and Android, and Apple device, so yes; both Apple and Google are our customers.

Considering today’s mobile devices is there a type of font and display technology that is best suited for reading text?

When a font works very well on a given type of screen, it is because there’s some technology that is embedded in the font. So the things like heating, so the technology called ‘hintting’ where we create add-ons to a font so that it looks well on low resolution screens, for example. So there are lots of technology elements so that font looks better and very clear on different screen types. In terms of the future, I think, one of our focus areas is to bring incredible global fonts – one of the largest libraries out there – onto the fingertips of creative professionals. Skyfonts will be doing that. It allows you to try fonts anywhere on the cloud and our library, and try them out in your designs so you might be working in InDesign or PowerPoint or whatever tool you might be using. If you like it, for no cost you can try it, and if you like it, then you can go for a subscription or any other suitable payment model that you want. So for a limited period it appears as any other desktop font on your system.

And what is the kind of DRM being used here? If someone wants to just go ahead and use it in their final production, what stops them?

See ultimately when the file download is done, the font is sort of encapsulated by our own technology. So you don’t have to delete it, after a few minutes it will evaporate or disappear. And, if anyone wants to sort of buy it then there is an e-commerce way to do that. But, this is a very huge relief for creative community because this ability to use a font that was created yesterday by some iconic designer, which is not available to anybody around the world, within minutes. That’s huge! As it reduces the time in market tremendously.


This raises another question: we have thousands of fonts packs on torrents and all available freely. Does this kind of piracy affect your business at all?

Any form of art or technology or IP there’s always a dark side, right? And it happens with music, it happens with arts, so yes, definitely it’s the area of concern. Now having said that, the market is becoming easy, right? Let’s look at it this way: some people were doing this because they do not have easy access legally to get fonts quickly. A designer gets a few days, a few weeks to get a production or a new creative done. Now, it was impossible to get these fonts in your own hands, so some people took the law in their own hands and did that. Now, with things like SkyFonts easily available the logic is, what’s the point? I’ve a legal way that’s easy so why bother doing illegal things? So that hurdle has been removed. Similarly, the models of payment have changed tremendously now. We have payment models that suit every requirement, and its not just tailored only for the high-end requirement only. So if you want to subscribe for low usage or if you want to subscribe for web fonts, you pay as you go. So for web fonts there’s a little bit of a cost upfront but most of the cost is by usage. As people are using that font, they’re paying so that reduces the sort of overall front-end cost for the designer or firm that is using it.


Is there any big name brand or website that I would know of that’s using your fonts?

There are pretty much iconic brands out there, if you know Timberland, Nike, Adidas, Samsung, American Idol uses it, if you talk about our web-fonts, huge brands are using it. If you talk about fonts then pretty much any big company in the world uses it.

What are your operations in India like?

We decided about 16-18 months back that this will be our innovation center globally. So we’re working on developing technology that we talk abou. We are developing and designing fonts as well in Noida, so our guys take a lot of pride in doing this here. We want to share that at have people come over, see your yourself what we are building, interact etc. I am giving an open invitation to come and see for yourself what’s going on.


Siddharth ParwataySiddharth Parwatay

Siddharth a.k.a. staticsid is a bigger geek than he'd like to admit. Sometimes even to himself.