Kustomtype, based in the Flemish town of Otegem, is a font-design studio
Letter art in the digital age
You come across start-ups in many industries, but we hadn’t heard of an independent type designer yet. Coert De Decker, a resident of the Flemish town of Otegem, is one of the very few in Belgium. In 2011 he founded Kustomtype, a studio which creates custom-made fonts. He combines this with other graphic design work. “It’s feasible,” he says, “but I’m not putting all my eggs in the same basket.”
You won’t find many font designers in Belgium, and definitely no one who is doing it on their own. But Coert De Decker has ventured into it with his studio, Kustomtype. How he got into it is a long but beautiful story.
“Around the age of 16, I was sick and tired of school, and a company in a nearby city was looking for a draftsman. Without any education, but with lots of enthusiasm and of course some talent, I grabbed that opportunity with both hands. That company, where I’m still working part-time today (this article dates from 2015, Kustomtype is now a full-time business), at the time did the lettering of gravestones.”
“Computers didn’t exist back then, so this job still had to be done manually, using engraving machines. That’s how I became their typesetter. At the same time, I was already drawing posters for parties or for friends’ gigs with their band. Also, desktop publishing did not exist. All we did was cutting and pasting and photocopying. My knowledge today about how a font is created, how large the spacing should be and so on, I all learned by working on it from an early age and by devouring dozens of books on the matter.”
“My friend Wim Vandamme was a wonderful mentor. He gave me the tip to take a two-year weekend course at the Plantin Institute for Typography in Antwerpen, where I was taught by all kinds of great masters of this craft.”
Good fonts provoke emotions
In 2006, Coert took an important step: he became an independent graphic designer as an independent contractor, mainly focused on the music world. “With everything I had learned about fonts, I started designing them myself about ten years ago, initially just for myself. Dozens of designs, refining them and … starting over again.”
Gradually, customers came knocking on Coert’s door for a unique font. In 2011, Kustomtype, as a dedicated font developer, saw the light of day. “In Belgium, hardly a dozen people are working on this and only four do so professionally,” says Coert. “I often develop a font as part of a complete concept or as part of a whole new house style. It rarely stands alone”, Coert explains. “The people who knock on my door are looking for something different, something unique and authentic and often have creative ideas of their own. A good font radiates a certain feeling and also provokes an emotional reaction in many people.”
Designing fonts is a niche business in Belgium, but Kustomtype has proven to be viable. The return in such an industry should be viewed in the long term, emphasizes Coert De Decker.
“The deal with my customers is always that after some time I also commercialize the font developed for them via specialized internet platforms like MyFonts and Fontshop. That also makes it affordable for my customers. Because the development of a font family crawls an awful lot of hours. The profit of my fonts has to come from sales abroad, through numerous specialized online channels. And that goes well. For example, the international coffee chain Starbucks and even Disney have already bought a font from me to use in their e-pub! The subsequent sale compensates for the working hours that have crept into the development of the font.”
Coerts’ Four tips for Starters
If you are doing a niche activity, you can limit the risk by keeping a part-time job.
Don’t let setbacks scare you away. To persevere is key!
Spread your activities to a wide audience. With social media and the internet, it’s easier than ever.
If you have a good idea, have a passion for something and want to do business, just do it!
Besides the development of fonts, Coert is also active as an independent graphic designer of websites, folders and the like. “That also makes my business financially feasible. I am strongly expanding the website section by developing a whole new concept. Webtank should make it even easier for smaller businesses and self-employed people to manage their site completely themselves in terms of content, customer management, ERP, invoicing, you name it. Webtank is almost completely finished and I hope to be able to launch it in two months’ time.
Check it out on this website and here.