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Can this free font change the world?

Can this free font change the world?

Grey London's Nils Leonard explains why he commissioned a free typeface that uses 27 per cent less ink than its nearest eco rival.

I used to think about sex at work all the time. Now I think about how I can do some good in the world. Why? Because I found love? Or God? Nah - because using sex as a way to create cultural currency is over. Doing good is where it's at. It's relatively easy to identify trends and express a social conscience in marketing campaigns. It's much trickier in design. But there is one weapon we have in our armoury with the power to save the world: the font. Quite apart from the words expressed, any design choice we make here has massive implications on how much ink is used (or, rather, misused).

This may not sound like a big deal on the (type)face of it. But it is. That's why the US government is all a-buzz because of a 14-year-old boy, Suvir Mirchandani. He's worked out that it could save millions just by switching fonts on official documents from Times New Roman to Garamond. To his fresh face - and to my not-so-fresh-face - it's a no-brainer.

I commend him for challenging the apathy. But why stop at Garamond? Let's push creative boundaries harder and develop an entirely new font that is both sustainable and sexy. Every effort I've seen on the eco-font front has been lame, ugly and expensive. Like so many eco products, they've felt like one big, fat compromise.

And that's why we briefed Monotype to create something beautiful, sustainable and completely free. It's one of the most exciting projects I've ever worked on, and it forces you to constantly balance the tension between these three objectives. Monotype's response is incredible. I love that the font gets more elegant as it gets bigger. I love that, at more standard sizes, the ink bleeds into the white space between the dozens of thin lines and curves making up each letter. And I really love the 'Q' and 'R'.

Once we had the font, we needed a client home to take it global. We pitched it in a tweet, and in Ryman found a soul mate. A company that's smart enough for an idea like this, and understands asking people to use less ink doesn't undermine their business - it sets them apart by doing something good. Together we're determined to change the world, one letter at a time.

Now it's over to you. We want it to be the world's default font. If everyone used Ryman Eco when printing, we would save over 490 million ink cartridges and nearly 15 million barrels of oil. That's equivalent to 6.5m tonnes of CO2 emissions a year.

But I don't want you to use Ryman Eco because you 'should' (although you definitely should). My dream is for the design world to embrace it and play with all the ideas tied up in the typeface.

It's not just about a font. It's about creating a design for modern life that works. And it's never been more urgent - just read the UN's latest findings on global warming. This is our chance to put a design dent in the Universe. Are you up for the challenge?

Words: Nils Leonard

Nils Leonard is the executive creative director at Grey London, and since being appointed has overseen the most profitable and creatively awarded years in the agency's 52-year history. This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 227.

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