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An Interview with Ray Larabie

In this interview, Ray discusses font usage in PowerPoint.


Ray Larabie Ray Larabie became interested in fonts in the early 70's when his grandmother gave him sheets of Letraset. He became so familiar with typefaces that, by the time he was 17, he could identify hundreds of fonts by name. He began creating typefaces with pen and paper and later, on his first computer, a TRS-80.

In 1996, Ray launched Ray Larabie's Freeware Typeface of the Week, a small website featuring his latest font designs which he offered free of charge for anyone to use. This evolved into Larabie Fonts. In 2001, Ray launched Typodermic, his commercial site devoted to larger families of fonts available at very reasonable prices.

Geetesh: Tell us more about yourself and your interest in fonts.

Ray: I've been designing fonts since 1996 and now it's my full-time job. It's pretty much all I do. I think about fonts every few's very annoying for people around me.

Geetesh: Tell us more about Typodermic, your commercial font foundry.

Ray: I used to make freeware fonts as Larabie Fonts but I decided to go commercial in 2001 under the Typodermic name. Now I release about two fonts per month, sometimes more. Most of the fonts I've released in the last two years have been the direct result of non-exclusive font designs for corporations, businesses and individuals who commission them. By keeping the work non-exclusive, I can make custom font design affordable with the benefit of potential long-term sales. Often people have tried to license a font from another company, and found that their fee is far too steep, their expectation of royalties is way too high or that they're unwilling to add accents or make other changes. They find that it's much less expensive to have me create a custom font. Of course, I'm not allowed to alter someone else's font and I would never make a "knockoff" version of another font (unless it's almost a century old).

When I create a custom font, I come up with designs that are much better because they're custom fitted to the project. For example: when I created fonts for Roxio Inc. (DVD creation software) they gave me examples of existing fonts that they liked but they needed fonts that were "video friendly" . . . fonts that contain design aspects that make them perform well on video. So I created a series of fonts for them. Part of the deal is that they have no distribution restrictions: Roxio can include them with any product they make. So, they saved a lot of money and ended up with something suited to their exact needs.

That's pretty much all that goes on at Typodermic these days. Occasionally, I have time to create a new fonts just-for-fun but it doesn't happen very often. The rest of the time is spent dealing with technical issues, interviews like these and helping other people with their font projects. Fortunately, my wife deals with the administrative side of the business allowing me to concentrate on fonts.

Geetesh: What do you feel about the proper usage of fonts in PowerPoint presentations? Why is this such a neglected area?

Ray: I think most people stick to the fonts that come with their system. PowerPoint presentations shouldn't have a lot of text. All the PowerPoint presentations I've seen were just bullet points outlining what the speaker was saying. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz. I've seen some good presentations where they use engaging stock photos or illustrations with a striking headline in an appropriate font.

For example, if the speaker is talking about foreclosure, instead of a white screen with coma-inducing Arial bullet points, you could show a picture of obviously low-income housing with Foreclosure written in a grunge, rubber stamp or stencil font (fonts like Dirty Baker's Dozen, So Run Down, Interplanetary Crap).

An unusual display font can help wake people from the dreaded PowerPoint slumber. Presentations can be a powerful sedative and a hard-to-read or interesting font choice is an easy way to wake people up. Using a single hard-to-read heading can encourage people slow down to read it and begin to think. Making people read a lot of text in a display font will wake YOU up . . . because your audience will throw cups of hot coffee in your direction. Be careful: PowerPoint can be DEADLY.

Note from Geetesh: Make sure that the font is available on the machine that will play the presentation. While PowerPoint does support font embedding, results are not always predictable - and many fonts don't allow embedding at all. And you certainly should not copy commercial fonts from your system and give them to others - an alternative is to use freeware fonts such as those designed by Ray.

Geetesh: What can PowerPoint users do to make their font choices better?

Ray: Consider the use of typefaces on road signs versus fancy gilded lettering used on a sign outside a pub. The road sign needs to be understood quickly by people in moving vehicles so the font must be clear. The pub sign needs to attract the attention of pedestrians at eye level who may even need to slow down their reading speed while trying to decipher the fancy letters; gaining their attention and interest.

This same principle should apply to a good PowerPoint display. There are times when the same, static image may be onscreen for a minute or longer. This is when using a striking font can make people slow down and absorb, like the pedestrian reading the pub sign. When you have a lot of information that won't be onscreen for very long, use clear, easy to read fonts, like traffic signs. Don't worry about budget approval: there are plenty of good looking free fonts from sites such as mine.

Geetesh: Can you share a fun story, trivia, or even some tips with Indezine readers?

Ray: There was this time I saved a PowerPoint presentation by thumping the presenter's notebook really hard. I guess the battery connection was loose. The audience cheered. Then a guy threw up. It was the best PowerPoint presentation EVER!

That's a funny story, right?

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