Frere-Jones is suing Hoefler for being denied his half of the type foundry

H&FJ, a prominent New York based type foundry, is run by Tobias Frere-Jones and Jonathan Hoefler. And now, one is suing the other for being denied his half of the company.

“This is an action to enforce an agreement made between Plaintiff Frere-Jones and Defendant Hoefler to become equal owner in The Hoefler Type Foundry, Inc. presently known and operating as Hoefler & Frere-Jones.”

First, Competition.

So here’s how the story goes (according to the lawsuit). Frere-Jones and Hoefler were competition. Frere-Jones worked on Font Bureau and Hoefler ran The Hoefler Type Foundry, a one man operation. Frere-Jones, noted in the lawsuit as “one of the world’s leading and most recognized type designers,” was doing his thing. He lectured at the Yale School of Art, had his work included in the permanent collection of the Modern Museum of Art, became the first American to receive the prestigious Gerrit Noordzij Prize, and received the 2013 AIGA medal (the highest honor in graphic design).

Hoefler was doing his thing too. He had designed original typefaces for  brands like Rolling Stones, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and Esquire. He also designed the Hoefler Text family for Apple. Hoefler wasn’t lacking in honors either. In 1995, he was named one of America’s 40 most influential designers by I.D. In 2002 he was presented the Prix Charles Peignot, the Association Typographique Internationale’s most prestigious award.

All this to say, H & FJ were both rising to the top of the typographic world. So at some point, it would only be the two of them left to battle it out for the #1 spot. Well that, or team up.

 Then, Collaborators.


Gotham Bar & Grill in Manhattan. Where Hoefler and Frere-Jones met to discuss a collaboration.

In the summer of 1999, inside Manhattan’s Gotham Bar & Grill, Hoefler approached Frere-Jones with a solid business proposition. Leave Font Bureau, move to New York, bring his most popular fonts over via Dowry Fonts (the biggest of which was the popular Whitney family), use his personal brand and notoriety to push HTF forward, and become an equal co-owner of HTF with Hoefler. He was also promised “his name on the door,” which would later happen during the June 2003 name change (to H&FJ).

Later that year, Frere-Jones made moves that signaled his agreement to the partnership proposition. He left Font Bureau, moved to New York, and joined HTF as Principal Designer. His role included the responsibility of creating new fonts, new methodologies, troubleshooting, and recruiting. Hoefler ran the business. It was another early-day Steve Jobs and Woz combo. Frere-Jones (Woz) built and Hoefler (Jobs) sold.

Things were going as planned. Money was coming in, notoriety was going up, Frere-Jones was designing fonts, Hoefler was selling them, and most of all, Frere-Jones felt confident in the plan he agreed to – do amazing work, own 50% of the company.

Recently, Close Friends.

Frere-Jones went on to acquire Dowry Fonts from Font Bureau, thereby bringing it over to HTF. Hoefler began to proudly promote his new-found business parter around early 2000. And between 2000-2004, the type duo grew HTF from a one-man shop into something of major significance. They also began discussing steps to finalize the deal that was struck back at the Bar & Grill. First step? Rebrand into the name we know today.

“Jonathan Hoefler, Principal of The Hoefler Type Foundry, and Tobias Frere-Jones, Type Director of The Hoefler Type Foundry, announced today that they have entered into an agreement to become equal partners and to rename the business Hoefler & Frere-Jones Typography.”

Now, Civil War.

There was a typo.

Time and time again, Frere-Jones would remind Hoefler of their 1999 agreement. Time and time again, Hoefler would tell Frere-Jones that it was on his todo list. This went on for years until 2012, when Hoefler informed Frere-Jones that their deal would be completed right after the foundry launched their new product, The Cloud. The product, although postponed a number of times, finally launched July 1, 2013. On that day, nearly a year later, Frere-Jones reminded Hoefler again of his statement. Hoefler scheduled July 31, 2013 as the day. On that day, Frere-Jones followed up again. Hoefler responded with “Stop it. I’m working on it. Stop harassing me.”

On October 31, 2013, Hoefler “explicitly reneged on his personal agreement to transfer 50% of HTF to Frere-Jones.”

And finally, Hoefler transferred the 50% intended for Frere-Jones to his wife, Borsella. In other words, Frere-Jones owns 0% and the Hoefler couple owns all of Hoefler & Frere-Jones Typography.

Frere-Jones states that the damage he suffered during this breach of contract is in an amount “not less than $20 million.” So, after failed attempts to resolve the issue, Frere-Jones is suing.

What about the rest of us?

H&FJ has graced the design world with a suite of high-quality fonts. One of which we use for The Industry’s brand. The list of their accomplishments, honors, and most especially fonts, are quite endless. So it’ll be more than interesting to see how this plays out. Will an agreement be reached? Will the type duo make up? Or will the only thing that’s close about them be their initials? Only time will tell.

You can read the full lawsuit here.

Jumpstarting a Design Community

Understand Your Compensation

Designer Monoculture

The State of Design Leadership

The Science of Product Design

Interview with Michael Flarup: Co-Founder and Lead Designer at Robocat

The Importance of Design Conventions