The Adobe Cronos story
The players in this story are a highly original
1987 font family
by Kuester called Today Sans Serif
Mannesmann-ScanGraphic) and a 1997 Adobe font family
developed by Adobe's Robert Slimbach.
The story was reconstructed from postings on
the Type designers Forum
in August 1999.
All text in [..] was added by me to clarify
The people mentioned in this story include
David Lemon (an ex-Adobe employee, now at Adobe again),
Carol Twombly (another Adobe type designer, now ex-Adobe),
and independent type designers and type specialists Joe Treacy, Bill Troop
and Hrant Papazian.
got the ball rolling with the following statement:
When, for instance, Adobe Cronos (which, as far as I can tell,
Adobe has privately conceded is a knockoff of Today Sans Serif) is put into
the Adobe Original series and then Adobe actually accepts the prize given
by an unusually inept jury of the Type Directors Club. Is that perhaps
going too far?
And the design patent I find a matter for concern. When a
design patent for Cronos is sought, and actually obtained -- well, that
seems to me to cross the border of good ethics and sharp practice, to land
in the precincts of fraudulent misrepresentation. At best, it mocks the
patent process in a manner I find arrogant to an extreme.
In addition, Today Sans Serif is too recent -- 1987 -- and too well-known.
BUT ... is there an alternative path that could have been taken? Had I
wanted to 'improve' a great typeface that was not well-known in the US?
Yes. I could have freely acknowledged my debt to the pre-existing artist's
work. I could have discussed what I did differently. (Now here, competent
wordsmith though I am, I would be hard-pressed, if I were the designer of
Cronos, to point out any visible differences between Today and Cronos. I'd
have to rely on enormous enlargements to show details that would normally
not be visible to the naked eye.)
Still, it's the *intentionality* that counts. For instance, Joe Treacy,
good lad that he is, candidly acknowledges his debt to Today Sans Serif in,
I think, Treacy Forever, a typeface that little resembles Today. Many other
foundries are equally candid about derivation/reinterpretation issues. Font
Bureau is so candid about it that I must believe its attributions are
considered a marketing point. And why not? Such confident generosity proves
strength, not weakness.
It's one thing to steal someone else's idea. It's another to attempt to
rewrite history, to claim Cronos (at worst a bad copy, at best a highly
derivative reinterpretation of Today Sans) as original. To seek a design
patent? To have David Lemon
[note: David Lemon used to work at Adobe]
write passionate letters about how he
personally witnessed [Robert]
Slimbach drawing Cronos for over a year? Does it
seem, lately, that David spends an inordinate amount of time over Robert's
and Carol's [Carol Twombly is another famous Adobe typographer] shoulders?
Can this be the same David Lemon who, in 1997,
when I was asking for his help in solving a problem with ATM 4.0 and the PC
version of Today Sans Serif, said -- "Oh, just use Cronos instead!"
So in sum, I'd say, I don't care what you do. But I'm enough of an art
historian that I deeply care that you don't at best mislead, at worst lie,
about what you are doing. Needless to say, Adobe knew about the Today
problem many months before Cronos was released. I clearly remember
encouraging Adobe to license Today from Scangraphic. Fred Brady responded:
"Just wait for Cronos. If you like Today, you're going to love Cronos."
Do I hold Adobe to a high standard? Perhaps. Why? Because in the past it
seemed, comparatively speaking, a standard bearer for ethics in the
software industry. I don't like to think that during the years I spent
publicizing this company in good faith, I was merely a puppet being led by
Hrant H. Papazian adds:
And to be brutally honest, it matters little what I,
Roy or Bill think. What matters, and what we should
disclose -if nothing else, for our own potential
satisfaction- is whether there was a breach of
ethics in the TodaySans/Cronos case. This can
only be arrived at through earnest and fearless
analysis by each one if us as well as us as
Bill Troop then provides
more historical detail, and should make us all think hard
about the silence imposed by the big companies on its
Today is an acid case. It is one of the
MINUTE number of typefaces that actually makes several entirely original
contributions to the art. It is one of the truly rare triumphs of
originality in all type history. Every single one of those entirely
original contributions is used in Cronos--and nowhere else. What difference
does it make what you call it? It was eviscerated.
Why? Why do something so obvious? Well, it wasn't obvious that they would
ever be found out. Nobody in America knew Today ... and the few who did
could be relied upon to hold their tongues, couldn't they? Couldn't they?
But then something happened ... the first article in an American magazine
about Today Sans Serif appeared. And if ever a review was a love letter to
a typeface, that was it. The article did not mention Cronos -- and it
should have. But it did bring Today to the attention of the American design
community for the first time. The article was by me; it appeared late in
1997. Funny thing, it was just about that time that Adobe decided they no
longer wanted to work on their project with me.
May I confess something? I thought -- with shocking naivete! -- that if I
suppressed all mention of Cronos in my article on Today, that Adobe would
be happy. And I discussed this very point with both Robert [Slimbach] and Carol [Twombly]. I
obviously didn't get the message I was supposed to. I was expected not to
publicize Today. Today was not to exist. It was as if Today was never to
You know what? Fuck that!
I may be a fool of every kind, and sentimental beyond belief, but I'm not
going to let Adobe make Kuester a non-person and Today a non-font.
Now, here is the text at Adobe's web page for Cronos:
Created by Adobe type designer Robert Slimbach,
Cronos is a new sans serif typeface family
that embodies the warmth and readability of oldstyle roman typefaces.
Because it derives much of its appearance from the
calligraphically inspired type of the Italian Renaissance,
[wow: no acknowledgment of Today!!!]
Cronos has an almost handwritten appearance, setting it apart
from most other sans serif designs and making it an
effective choice for text composition.
The italic design was inspired by
early chancery style italics and is both elegant and distinguished.
[again, no credit!!!]
U.S. Patent Design 400,913.
[booh to the patent office]