Home / About ATypI / Who we are / Elections 2023: ATypI board of directors / Board candidate Thomas Phinney

Board candidate Thomas Phinney

Portrait of Thomas Phinney

We asked Thomas to share everything ATypI members could ever want to know about him. He had a lot to tell us!

Please provide us with your bio.

Thomas Phinney (he/his) is a type designer and font forensics specialist, who has created fonts for Adobe and Google, and given sworn testimony in legal cases in many countries. He is also involved in the business of type, having been product manager for fonts at Adobe and Extensis, and CEO of FontLab. Phinney was on the board of ATypI from 2004–2020, mostly as treasurer, but also secretary and VP. He was deeply involved in rebuilding ATypI’s finances and instituting more financial controls after the financially disastrous Rome (2002) conference, which nearly bankrupted the organization. Phinney has twice been on the jury for the Prix Charles Peignot. After stepping down from the board in 2020 due to the institution of term limits (which he supports), Phinney served on ATypI governance, finance and conference program committees. Phinney views being an ATypI board member as a way to serve the typographic community, in appreciation for a career he loves.

Phinney has a Master of Science in printing/typography from the Rochester (NY) Institute of Technology, where he did his thesis on “Extreme Form Change in Multiple Master Fonts,” a 1980s precursor to modern variable font technology.

While working at Adobe (1997–2008), Phinney also got an MBA from UC Berkeley. At Adobe, he helped define the company’s approach to OpenType fonts, including leading the conversion of the entire Adobe Type Library to OpenType, and evangelizing OpenType technology and font production methods to outside type designers and foundries, and to app developers both internal and external.

Phinney’s first retail typeface was the Adobe Original Hypatia Sans, first seen as a registration incentive for Creative Suite 3. His most recent original typeface is the open-source typeface Science Gothic, commissioned by Google Fonts, which is still just shy of being released. It is a 4-axis variable font inspired by Bank Gothic, and created with the help of Vassil Kateliev and Brandon Buerkle. For the past several years he has been working on a 4-axis variable font version of Google’s Material Design icons, the public version of which has over 2000 icons, and is called Material Symbols.

Phinney has four font-related patents: two joint patents related to glyph synthesis, one for a font identification system, and one design patent.

At Extensis, Phinney drove the creation and recruited foundries for one of the first web font services, and was product manager for the Suitcase font management app. With FontLab, Phinney as CEO oversaw the launch of a complete rewrite of their flagship font editor. As a consultant, Phinney has done work for clients including Microsoft, Google, Monotype, and Oxford University Press.

Phinney first investigated font-related crime in a 1999 will contest, in which he testified that the will was forged because the imaging of the font showed clear evidence of being done with an inkjet printer. In the years since, he has gradually ramped up this expert witness work under the Font Detective name, and it has become a major area of his work.

Phinney has been recognized as an expert on fonts, typography and printing by courts in the USA, Canada, and the UK. Phinney’s expert witness clients include a major auto maker and a major California city. He has been consulted on questioned documents by The Washington Post, PBS television’s History Detectives, BBC News, the US Treasury, and many others, and his testimony made the front page of Canada’s National Post.

Give us a sentence that perfectly describes your love for type.

Fonts and typography are a fun and unique expression of human culture, melding art, science, and design.

Before this year, were you a member of ATypI? If so, when?

From about 2000 to present.

Were you previously a member of the ATypI board, or a country delegate? If so, when?

Board member 2004–2020.

Describe your experience/involvement with ATypI activities.

Attended all but four ATypI conferences from 2000 to present. Board member for 16 years, member of the steering committee for most of that time. Served on many other committees including program committees for many ATypI conferences. Co-organizer of the tech track of several ATypI conferences.

Tell us about your current and past involvement with other type and design organizations.

I have no current or ongoing involvement with any other type/design organization. I served on the jury for the Granshan awards once or twice, but not in recent years.

Describe your leadership experience with other nonprofits and work with conferences, workshops, publications, teaching, or other activities in the type, design, tech, and related communities.

In the 1980s and 90s I was involved with organizing several different non-profit science fiction clubs and conferences. I also co-founded and was first president for one of the first non-profit LARP organizations in the late 80s. I have been co-instructor or solo instructor for about a dozen Crafting Type workshops (2013–present). I attend and often speak at forensics and document forensics conferences.

Why should ATypI members elect you to represent them on the board of directors?

I was previously on the board from 2004–2020. I care about ATypI, its mission, and keeping it relevant for people interested in or working in the fonts and typography field today. I am happy doing necessary-but-invisible behind-the-scenes work, as well as the things more people notice.

Although new ideas and new blood are important, having one or more people with lengthy past experience on the board is helpful for preserving institutional memory of previous choices, problems and outcomes, which can inform present decisions and thinking.

We asked Thomas for one more thing…

Please make a short video explaining why you want to be elected to the board, what makes you a good candidate, and why your skills, experience, and ideas will serve and help our community thrive. Something memorable that our members will think of when they are choosing who to vote for.

Thomas Phinney is asking for your vote.

Answers and materials were provided by the candidate as part of their self-nomination for the ATypI board election. Candidate is a paid ATypI member in good standing and agrees to remain so if they are elected.