Designing for designers as a non-designer - an interview with Noemi Stauffer (Fresh Fonts)
Noemi Stauffer, founder of Fresh Fonts, about her process of operating her newsletter, launching a new product, her workflow stack and why we should talk about mental health more openly.
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Hey and welcome to Creativerly’s Interview series! 👋
Surprise, surprise, I talked about this for quite some time and now it is finally happening. I am very proud and happy to introduce you to a new format here on Creativerly. Since starting Creativerly my number one goal has always been to provide my readers and subscribers with only the best content possible. Besides curating creativity and productivity-boosting tools and resources, combined with useful insights, articles, and learnings from the fields of design and tech ever single week, I also wanted to go more in-depth into the creativity and productivity space by interviewing Designers, Founders, Entrepreneurs, Indie-Hackers, Content Creators, and just creative and forward-thinking people in general.
Creativerly is about Creativity and Productivity, therefore I want to know how people with different backgrounds stay productive, focus on creating, what they do to live a more balanced life, how they achieve their goals, what tools they use, how their workflow looks like, and how they fully focus on their projects.
This is going to be regular content, although I do not have a specific publish schedule. Whenever I have finished an interview and I feel it is the right time, I am going to publish and share it with you. But, I will try to share at least one interview per month. I am super excited to kick-off this new content section, with a person I deeply admire, who has been an incredible inspiration for me and creates awesome content.
If you have any recommendations or feedback do not hesitate and contact me. I am super excited to hear your thoughts about this content section/interview series. Also, if you have suggestions regarding interview partners just send them my way, I will then try my best to get them for a quick interview with me.
And no worries, although Creativerly will move to Ghost really soon, all content will be transferred so it is available there.
Thank you so much Noemi for taking your time and answering some questions. First of all, I want to ask you to give us a quick introduction about yourself.
Hey Philipp, thank you so much for having me! I’m Noemi, a Swiss, Canadian, Barcelona-based indie maker. I’m not a designer, which usually surprises people, given that I run a newsletter showcasing the latest and hottest type. Called Fresh Fonts, it’s a monthly curation of the best new fonts released by independent designers and type foundries from all over the world.
You are building Fresh Fonts for over three years now. How would you describe your journey so far? What led you to the decision to start a type-orientated newsletter and would you have ever expected to grow it to over 20,000 subscribers?
It was totally an unexpected journey! When I started Fresh Fonts a few years ago, in my mother’s basement, I knew nothing about fonts. The story behind its creation is not what you would expect. At the time, I was trying to create an online store of sleek office accessories for designers. I also knew that an online store’s best channel – to keep its customers engaged, and returning – was its email newsletter. But I wanted mine to be more interesting than simply sharing new products and updates. So I joined a few online communities of designers, like the French Designers Club, to find out what could be interesting for them. That’s where I noticed that they were sharing new typeface releases pretty often. It caught my attention, and I was surprised to find out that there are literally hundreds of small type design studios out there. Keeping track of all their new font releases must have been difficult. A scrappy landing page confirmed this, and brought me my first 250 subscribers. What initially got me excited about this project was that I had identified a pain point that I could build a solution around. But with time, I grew very fond of fresh typefaces and today passion is what keeps me going.
Looking back, I’m so glad that I decided to pursue this project full-time, despite the financial hardships. It was also though from a social perspective, especially at the beginning. I would get criticised by family members for not having “a job”. The friends I graduated from Business School with – who are now climbing the ladders in important consultancy firms – don’t get it either. I don’t blame them. But I’m just not fit for a corporate career. First, I’m way too creative and second, I can’t stand being treated like a pawn who’s just there to execute someone else’s vision. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the hard work, but I need ownership over my ideas. And my work has to benefit me – not my boss or a CEO I’ve never met. I want credit for what I do. No matter if it goes wrong or right.
Following this path opened so many doors for me. It brought me great friends and important connections in different fields. In May I will be giving a talk at OFFF Barcelona. I would consider this to be a lifetime achievement. And it is unthinkable, knowing that I’ve stepped into the design world only three years ago. But of course, this comes as a result of the bold decisions I’ve made.
How do you operate Fresh Fonts? How did your workflow change over the last three years as your newsletter grew from 0 subscribers to over 20,000?
Well the workflow hasn’t changed that much – I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. During the month, I keep my eyes open for interesting new typefaces. I usually find them on social media or via the newsletter of their respective designers. Christophe, my co-curator, also sends me great font finds. I block two consecutive days on my calendar to prepare a single issue of the newsletter. So when time comes, I sit down, look a the fonts I have, pick the ones I want to feature, and start researching each one of them. This helps me write a description for every font that I feature. It might not look like it, but writing a quick summary requires more time and effort than writing a long one. I’ve become better at it, though. It used to take me twice as much time. I then seek appealing visuals for each font, and when I’m done, I hit send.
You are constantly sharing insights about your newsletter on Twitter, also asking your audience for help, feedback, and suggestions. What does building in public mean to you? How big of an impact do you think it has on growth and building a community?
I am a non-designer designing a product for designers — isn’t that ironic? The way I see it, my readers are a goldmine of feedback. Of course, I believe in the customer-centric approach that is so venerated in entrepreneurship, but in addition, I have the chance to have a pool of talented designers at my fingertips. It would just be a shame not to consider their opinion.
What are you currently working on regarding Fresh Fonts? What do you have planned for it in the future?
I’m working on rebuilding Fresh Fonts from the bottom up. This includes a new, state-of-the-art website, with a member area, and a redesign of the newsletter itself. The current platform that I’m using to send the newsletter was fine to get started with a paid membership, but it comes with many UX glitches, so I am migrating to a new set up. Many of these things are beyond my abilities as a developer, so I had to hire freelancers. Thing is, suddenly the pandemic hit, and I got affected financially, so I had to put everything on hold.
The solution that I found is to launch a new product. Called the Half Price Card, it’s a limited membership where you get all the fonts at 15 great type foundries for 50% off for a year. It’s inspired by the Swiss Railway Half Fare Travelcard, and it comes with a beautiful physical card. The idea has been on my mind for a while, but now that I was facing a wall, it was finally time to test it out. I guess the lesson here is, test that idea right away, don’t wait until you’re facing a wall. This way, you might never face the wall at all.
I could have gone for an easier solution to resume the work on the website, like borrowing money. But I really believe in bootstrapping. I want the growth of my business to only be fuelled by its own cashflows. It’s not some kind of fantasy, every data supports the evidence that bootstrapped businesses fail less often than startups who receive external funding. The trade-off is that bootstrapped growth takes more time. But I’m in it for the long game.
While writing a newsletter consistency is one of the most important parts. How do you keep that consistency? How do you make sure to keep productive during the process of writing a newsletter?
I have to admit that I’m not very good at consistency. I mean, I do fulfil my promises, but not always in a timely manner. Sometimes I ship the newsletter late in the month. Most publishers ship their newsletter on a regular basis – on the same day, every week, at the same time, for example. It’s a good strategy because it helps building a habit. I’m sure it’s paying off, and I really admire them for that. As for me, I basically ship the newsletter whenever it’s ready. I’d rather make my readers wait but make sure they get blown away every time they open my newsletter.
Every now and then we hit a wall and feel kind of burn out. How do you overcome a situation like this?
I’m glad you’re asking me this because I think we should talk more openly about mental health. Especially after the year we’ve all had. I do experience that feeling, and at least once a year. It’s usually triggered by a repeated feeling of “not doing enough”. Sometimes I get the impression that I’m always behind, that results are not coming fast enough, especially when comparing myself with others. I’m trying to rewire my brain into thinking that I’m going at a good pace, considering how much I have to learn. But it’s not easy to detach myself from the belief that my self-worth is measured by my output and productivity. I’m still working on it!
So, whenever I reach that point, I take some time off to recharge my batteries. The way I see it, there’s no point in forcing it. Creativity is not on demand. So I disconnect from work, normally by going on a surfing or snowboarding trip. I usually come back fully energised, and with fresh ideas in mind, so in a way, it’s productive too.
Are there any productivity techniques you follow?
The Action Method is one that really stuck with me. I read about it in Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky. It’s by far one of my favourite books, because it explains many of the productivity pitfalls that creative people fall through, and how to avoid them. I like the Action Method for its simplicity: everything is either something to do, a reference for something to do, or a back-burner (something that could potentially be done in the future). Once you see things through this lens, it’s easy to get organised and create your own system.
Another simple technique that I follow is to do “one big thing everyday”. I make sure that the first task that I work on everyday is the most important one. This way, even if it’s the only thing that I accomplish during the day, I’m still making long-term progress.
Since Creativerly is all about creativity and productivity-boosting tools and resources, let us know: What is your favorite tool? What is currently in your workflow tech stack? What is your number one productivity advice?
There are three tools right now that I love using! Each one has a specific role (loosely based on the Action Method that I mentioned before):
Doo is a cute, simple and well-designed app for to-dos. They launched a new version recently (Doo 3.0) which looks great, but slightly less easy to use, so I keep on using the first version.
Notion, which you probably know. I use it for both project references, backburners, and all the rest. During the quarantine, I went over the top and reorganised my entire life in Notion. I now have a dashboard, helping me keep track of each project, and of my yearly goals (broken down into quarters). But also, a page for all the resources and tools that I come across that are useful for work – organised by categories and subcategories. Plus, reading summaries to remember what I learn in books, notes from my coding classes, travel plans, gift ideas… Pretty much everything.
Fabulous is a beautiful app that challenges you into building habits and routines. It’s basically built around positive reinforcement, and it’s a good support to help you develop a healthier lifestyle.
My productivity advice would be to prioritise excessively well. Make sure that you are always working on the task that will make the most difference. Something like ‘the 20% tasks that bring the 80% results’. The rest can wait, be delegated, or automated.
If you want to connect with Noemi you can do so right here on Twitter, and if you are looking for your monthly hit of inspiration and first look at new typefaces from independent designers and type foundries, make sure to check out and signup to Fresh Fonts.
Till next time! 👋
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