Honoring Small Businesses Through Type: FREE by OCD | The Original Champions of Design


Based on a hybrid of stars-and-stripes and neon signage, FREE is a custom 
display face commissioned for the rebranding of America. It was built to honor 
small businesses. And its debut was made with a passionate manifesto :

Small business owners are the new American revolutionaries. Willing to lay down our lives, our fortunes and our honor* we strike out for freedom. We lead a movement toward a stronger, more stable union that functions on a more human-scale. All heart and guts and grit, we find a way to do what we love, our way, every day.
* Excerpt from Presidential remarks July 4, 2013

But it didn’t start out that way, it started out as a logo project.

Actually, that’s not totally accurate either.

It started out as an email from Alexander Tochilovsky inviting OCD to participate in “Image of the Studio” a cross-section of more than 75 graphic design firms in New York City co-curated by The Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design & Typography at Cooper Union and the Athletics.

The assignment was to create “something from nothing to represent your studio’s philosophy and aesthetic; a visual portrait of your studio. It could be typographic, photographic, collage, illustration, whatever you’d like, but it should be something specifically created for the exhibition.”

Where do we begin? Read on, and please come hear us speak at the Type Directors Club on Thursday, Oct. 16. (Register here.)

May 13 2013
The invitation to participate is received. It was an honor to be included. 
Of course we said “yes” and “thank you” right away.

Dear Jennifer, Bobby,

I hope all is well! I am writing today to invite your studio to participate in an exhibition we are putting together.

The Herb Lubalin Study Center, at The Cooper Union, is putting on the exhibition Image of the Studio: A portrait of New York City graphic design this fall, in collaboration with Athletics, at the 41 Cooper Gallery, at The Cooper Union this fall.

We’re inviting a cross-section of studios to participate in the exhibition, 
to capture a collective portrait of graphic design studios in New York and the rare opportunity to bring the design community under one roof. The exhibition 
will map inter-relationships between studios through infographics and data-mapping, based on a questionnaire that each studio will fill out.

In addition to the questionnaire, studios will contribute an original work created for the exhibition as well as a studio portrait.

I’ve attached a PDF with more detailed information on the exhibition. Please look it over and let us know if you’d accept the invitation to participate, or if have any questions – we’d love to have OCD in the exhibition!

Best regards,

The email included an 8-page PDF that concluded: After you’ve contacted us, we’ll send further information regarding timing and dates for providing studio information and original work for the Fall 2013 Exhibition. It was May. Fall 2013 seemed impossibly far away. No problem.

May 20 2013
The timeline is published.

Fri, May 31 – Final specs sent for portraits and work
Mon, Jun 3 – Studio questionnaires open, logins sent
Fri, Jun 21 – Studio questionnaires close
Early August – Studio portraits & work due
Early September – Exhibition opening & reception, website launch

We got this.

May 31 2013
The brief and specs are published by Allison Connell of the Athletics, who is co-curating the exhibit with The Herb Lubalin Study Center, at The Cooper Union. It’s all straightforward and a delight to take-on, but the “visual portrait” immediately emerges as a challenge.

The Brief
Your challenge lies in creating something from nothing to represent your studio’s philosophy and aesthetic; a visual portrait of your studio in a sense. It could be typographic, photographic, collage, illustration, etc — whatever you’d like — but it should be something specifically created for the exhibition.

You’ve got an empty 30”x30” square to work with, so use it how you see fit. It’s an exercise in embracing the blank canvas and being your own client (which is the most difficult one!). Use it as an opportunity to do something exciting and to show off a bit in front of your peers.

Keep in mind that your work will be displayed together with your studio portrait, a brief bio and some details collected from the questionnaire, making up the “image” of your studio. We encourage you to think about these pieces holistically. How do you want to visualize your studio?

Have an idea you want to talk to us about? Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!

• Work is representative of your studio’s philosophy and aesthetic.
• Work is original, created specifically for the exhibition.
• Fits within a 30”x30” square.
• Final file will be sent as a high quality, print-ready PDF (CMYK).

The work will be uploaded to the exhibition website – we’ll send out links closer to the deadline. From there, we’ll take care of getting everything printed and mounted for the exhibition.


Friday, August 9.

June is upon us. Summer is starting. The deadline is now 70 days away.

June 11 2013
We get our login information for the Image of the Studio profile and questionnaire. 
We have until Wednesday, June 26 to fill out the form.

June 26 2013
Our questionnaire is completed on deadline.

July 8 2013
Bobby and Jennifer meet at the picnic table in the backyard to hash out a starting point for the project.

We find it impossible to work without a client, so the Image of the Studio’s open-ended brief was problematic. We ask ourselves: Who is our dream client? The answer: America. We agree that we will listen to the Presidential Address on July 4 2013 and take that as
a brief to rebrand the country.
At worst, we would deliver a portrait of our (ridiculous) ambition. At best, we would find deeper meaning along the way.

July 16 2013
Great news. The exhibition is pushed back from September to October and the deadline for the visual portrait is extended to Friday, September 6. Forty-six days later and the deadline is still 68 days away. Fantastic.

July 17 2013
We brief the team during our weekly staff meeting. We watch the Presidential Address 
and layout the project timeline.


July 18 2013
During our first workshop, we each present an audit of America’s branding. With just 24-hours notice, people come really well prepared.


July 23 2013
Allison Connell reaches out for early submissions to be used in long-lead press. (Ha.)

July 24 2014
Second team meeting. We brief the design team to focus on the flag and hand out homework. Bobby has prepared a flag-making worksheet that challenges us to “create 
a new American flag for the future,” “create a new American flag only using stripes” and “create a new American flag about commerce” among others.



Aug 1 2013
Team meeting #3 and homework is due. Three of four have completed their assignment.


Aug 8 2013
Team meeting #4. We pin up visual research along with some of the homework sketches. Using the brief (the Presidential Address), we develop brand characteristics for the country: innovation, leadership, free, equality, united. We convert the characteristics 
to design drivers: progressive, bold, open, balanced connected. Then we use the drivers to sort our visual research.

Aug 9 2013
Allison reminds everyone that we are four weeks away from deadline.


Aug 15 2013
We bring the homework sketches on to the computer. Something interesting starts 
to happen around the word “free” and the flag. The striping evokes a cynical notion 
from the homework assignment. To “create a new American flag about commerce” someone had proposed that the glowing neon “open” sign should replace the stars and stripes. A glowing, red-white-and-blue “free” implied so much: freedom, capitalism, commercialism, accessibility, open source … on and on.


Aug 16 2013
We start refining.


Aug 22 2013
Almost there. The deadline is now 15 days away.


Aug 27 2013
We begin to test a system.


… and we do crazy things with state flags.


August 28 2013
Allison reminds everyone that portraits are due next week Friday, September 6th 
and there will be no late entries. The good news is:

If you’re planning to produce your own piece, please check in with us this week. We’ll need the digital version of your piece by September 6th, but physical delivery will be mid- to late September to the Lubalin Study Center (located in the 41 Cooper building, 3rd Ave at E. 7th St).

We’ll do that. The deadline is now nine days away.

Aug 29 2013
The files go out for neon sign manufacturing.


Aug 29 – Sept 4 2013
The neon sign is made.


Sept 3 2013
We organize ourselves to take a photo of the team.

Sept 6 2013
Today’s the day. Allison sends the “submit now” email.
The neon sign is delivered to OCD and it goes back out the door after we snap a few pictures.

Bobby and Sasha organize for a dropoff of the sign at 4:30PM.
Sasha reassures him that there are plugs on the wall, so power shouldn’t be a problem.

Sept 7 2013, 12:15PM
Allison sends a followup.

Sept 7 2013, 6:24PM
The digital files go out.

Hi Allison.
Please use this link to download OCD’s entry.

We take a deep breath.

Sept 11 2013
With the exhibition work done, we focus on the system. (We’ve now convinced ourselves that we’re really rebranding America and – as such – can’t stop at just a logo.) 
One of the first tests is to build a text face. We settle on extending the FREE wordmark to a complete set of 24-characters.




Sept 11 2013
And we draft a manifesto for New America. Based on the brief (the Presidential Address), we believe small business owners will be our true patriots.


Sept 16 2013
We get a flag pin made, of course.


Sept 16 2013
And a stamp for a card to stick the pin on.


Sept 24 2013
We test type on posters.


… We need an ampersand.


Sept 16 2013
We get tee shirts made. (We don’t use them until the AIGA National Conference 
in Minneapolis on Oct 12.)


Sept 24 2013
We develop animations for the case study that we will post to our website. The flag effect requires 3D software, so we make a new friend (by phone) Edward Wu, from Zaxwerks.

As we polish the manifesto and prepare for the exhibit, we realize that most of the design 
firms represented in “Image of the Studio” are small business and – as such – can be part 
of the New America movement. We celebrate the coup with an animated GIF.


Sept 27 2013
The posters are done.


Sept 30 2013
We finalize the case study and go live at


Oct 1 2013
Image of the Studio Opening Reception and After Party at Cooper Union.



Nov 5 2013
The exhibit comes down and we pick up the neon sign. (It’s not over.)

Dec 5 2013
Nelson Mandela passes away.

Dec 17 2013
We change direction on our New Year’s card in order to pay tribute to Mandela. After testing several faces, FREE is the clear and best choice. The card is printed using 
the colors of the South African flag, then embossed. Each card is signed and numbered and sent to friends, family, clients, co-workers and/or heroes of the team at OCD.


Jan 8 2014
Rich Franconeri of Rubenstein Tech reaches out with a nice note about the card:

Hey Guys!
Happy New Year!
Thanks for the card, it’s stellar. We’d be happy to convert ‘FREE’ in to a web font typeface you could use / distribute, if you are interested and have not done so already. Let me know.
Rich Franconeri

Our response is “[We] can’t tell if you you’re kidding.” The variable adjacencies are many and complex, but they’re up for the challenge and we schedule a kickoff.

Jan 16 2014
We kickoff the type design process and handoff the now pixel-perfect Illustrator files 
to Rubenstein.


Feb 6 2014
Our first tease from Rubenstein.


Feb 7 2014
We get to take it for a test drive and Rubenstein sends samples of sizing relative 
to other typefaces.


Our first output …


Feb 12 2014
After a week of trying to break it, we’re in love with the typeface.
We send over a series of “L” ligatures and a few thoughts on baseline 
alignment, but they’ve really nailed it. The plan is Option (Alt) + ‘the letter’ 
will give you the ligature.


Mar 13 2014
It’s ready ! Rubenstein provides the stats on their programming work:
– Over 50 versions tested
– 26 ligatures
– 5 type editing programs
– 2 really smart interns (like should be building bridges smart from Cooper Union)
– 1 pesky ascent issue


May 27 2014
The typeface sits on our computers for a few weeks, then we figure out what to do with it …

Rich. Hello. Hope all is well.
The TDC awards and exhibition are scheduled for JULY16 
… about a month and a half away.
Do you guys have any interest in developing a site for the FREE font ?
If you’re game we can pull together Photoshop files by early June.
Let us know what you think. And take care ! JK

Since it’s called FREE we want to make the typeface available to everyone for free. All we need is a place to “sell” it.

May 29 2014
Microsite design kickoff call with Rubenstein.

June 18 2014
We handoff layout files and specs.

Hi Rich.
Attached is the layered PSD file as well as a PDF for your reference.
Specs are as follows.

_ 980px

_ 10 column grid

_ 80px wide with a 20px gutter

_ Grey: #939598 

_ Dark Grey: #58595b (link color)

_ Red: #c71f3e

_ Blue: #223570

_ I’ll be sending through the two gifs

_ Weight: 1px

_ Color: #939598
Here’s a quick run down of each section.
_ The image will be a gif we’ll supply

_ “commissioned” will be a link to the FREE case study on the OCD site.

_ The download button will let you download the font.

_ We kept the “pay with a tweet” language incase you’re able to find an easy solution, otherwise it won’t be hard to just change the copy.

_ Each letter should individually change to it’s hover color when scrolling over it.

_ Straightforward

_ Could this receive the same individual hover treatment as the ALPHABET section?

_ “here” should be a link to a drop down that contains the installing information and trouble shooting

_ The gallery and footer will drop down with it.

_ Included in the PSD is group of layers called INSTALLING DROP DOWN.

_ We decided to just show a simple gif of FREE examples that could update.

_ “here” will be an email link to where people could send us images and we could add them to a gif.

_ The download button appears here too.

_ Let us know if the crediting is okay with you guys.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.
P.S. Please also let us know what your favorite bottle of wine is… We can’t thank you guys enough for all your hard work.

Jul 11 2014
First review of the site. It’s great.

Jul 16 2014
The site goes live and the typeface is made available for free to celebrate our wins at TDC60. We release it by email newsletter and publish a microsite at


Jul 20 2014
In response to the release, Matteo asks us to write this article.

Are you guys willing to write an article about the project to be featured on the TDC website? Say yes please.
Matteo Bologna

The end.

Design Partners: Jennifer Kinon, Bobby C. Martin Jr.
Design: Matthew Kay, Jon Lee, Kathleen Fitzgerald
Lettering: Matthew Kay
Design Intern: Desmond Wong
Neon: 419 Neon/Roger Borg
Photography: Jeffrey Schifman

Please come hear us speak at the Type Directors Club on Thursday, Oct. 16. (Register here.)