When a story about a young boy who determined (erroneously, some say) that the government could save money by simply changing the default font used when printing—thereby reducing the amount of ink used—began making waves online, the timing was perfect for agency Grey London. The agency had been working on a similar yet unrelated project, and the fact that the story inspired such awe from people on social media affirmed that they were onto something. If people were enthralled by the fact that simply changing from Times New Roman to Garamond could reduce the amount ink pouring from printers, they’d surely be intrigued by a new eco typeface that reduces the ink burden by 33% when printed.
It’s in this climate that Grey London and U.K.’s Ryman Stationery have released Ryman Eco, a free typeface available to all that’s specifically designed to use the least amount of ink possible while retaining a beautiful design sensibility.
The project was born of an internal initiative at Grey London that encourages its employees to approach every brief with the question: How can this project create social good? "I'd written a point of view around the idea that good is the new sex. The idea that good stuff, not sex, sells these days," says agency ECD Nils Leonard. "One idea that bubbled up when looking at our industry was the idea of a sustainable font, with the thinking being that everyone is writing about how to do good in the world but no one is thinking about the font that they are writing in."
To put into context how great an effect changing the default printer font can have, consider that almost 1.5 billion printer cartridges are sold globally each year, which contain toxic, oil-intensive, and largely non-biodegradable materials that can take cover 1,000 years to break down. Ryman Eco uses an average 33% less ink than standard fonts including Arial, Times New Roman, Georgia, and Verdana and 27% less ink than the leading sustainable font. Simply switching Ryman Eco when printing would save over 490 million ink cartridges and nearly 15 million barrels of oil—equivalent to 6.5 million tons of CO2 emissions a year, according to Grey London.
While being environmentally responsible is sure to grab initial attention, Leonard says that just being green was not enough. The font had to look good. "Good stuff or ecological stuff often feels like a compromise. It's never quite as beautiful or crafted as it could be. And we wanted to make a font that worked for businesses but also for designers and art directors."
Grey partnered with specialists Monotype and Hogarth. Created by Monotype type director Dan Rhatigan, Ryman Eco takes advantage of how ink bleeds on paper to create a less ink-intensive font. Each character form is a series of fine lines, so at smaller sizes (10 to 14 point size) the lines appear to merge from ink bleed, whereas at larger sizes, the lines become an interesting visual characteristic of the typeface. Rhatigan says that the key with Ryman Eco was to find the perfect balance between saving ink, legibility, and aesthetics, which he did by looking at how our eyes and brains compensate by filling in "missing" areas of what we see. "The cleverness in the font is what makes it special. It’s not a compromise. It’s rare to have something that’s good for the world and also precious aesthetically," offers Leonard.
Since Ryman Eco was the result of an internal process, Grey London could have simply rolled it out through the agency—which it still intends to do by installing it as the default font for all printers across it’s 96-country network—Leonard says they wanted to release it with a client partner that could give the idea scale and reach. Leonard reached out to Ryman chairman Theo Paphitis (who is also a celebrity entrepreneur and judge on Dragon’s Den, the U.K. equivalent to Shark Tank) over Twitter and set in motion a partnership that would give it the clout they were hoping for. "Theo instantly understood the idea and matched our energy to see the project happen."
Leonard says the creation of Ryman Eco is more than a frivolous exercise for the agency. Instead he sees it as a crucial responsibility for companies like Grey London that have the ability to use their skills to effect positive change. "We all know we should be saving the world but not enough people are looking at the small but powerful changes that might actually make things better," he says. "The student looking at the benefits of Garamond is a powerful lesson, but brands and institutions should go further. Recognizing small changes with big impacts is one thing, but why aren't more brands commissioning in this area? Type and fonts sit across our lives. They tell us where to go and entertain us in every medium. For Grey London, Ryman Eco is more than just a sustainable font, we hope it’s the start of a category of font that others will invest in and be inspired by."