FontExplorer X: Automatic for the people

a Selected Problem

01/27/20 · Dallas, Texas · Over fifteen years of iteration, FontExplorer X became the de facto font management software for serious typographers. But each release had ramped up the learning curve, driving new users to seek simpler offerings and existing users to stick with previous versions.

I took over as owner of this product in 2019. Working with stakeholders across our organization, I devised a strategy to grow the user base with three key tenets: clarify the UI, set smart defaults to help users see more value sooner, and automate the most tedious tasks in font management. This strategy lead to a new release that exceeded our sales projections for the year and beat previous version sales by almost 20%.


The interface had grown complex for people new to font management and/or new to the product. Having used FontExplorer X since its beta days, even I was a bit lost when loading up the latest version.

  • Many of the features favored by experienced users were turned off by default.
  • Organizing a fonts is seen as critical for a Designer’s workflow, but the experience was tedious.
  • Important and related settings were tucked into disconnected sections of the UI.
  • Discovery of fonts in the library was mostly reliant on user memory, scrolling through long lists, or tedious manual categorization.
FontExplorer X logo
FontExplorer X Pro version 6 interface
The library view from the previous version of FontExplorer X Pro.


We needed to ease the learning curve: Complexity should be clarified, default preferences should set users up for immediate success, and tedious tasks should be automated.

Guiding principles for the future releases:

  • Update Discovery features to allow Designers to find great type in their own library.
  • Key font management activities should be automated as much as possible.
  • The most powerful features should be turned on by default in the first install.
  • Adopt a “Clean-as-you-go” habit: UI elements should be clarified as the underlying features are updated.


Working with our internal Research and Development team, we were able to leverage a proprietary machine learning engine to add powerful automation and discovery features. We named this innovation the “Discovery Engine”.

  • The new “Discovery Engine” was able to categorize any font in a user’s library and organize their fonts automatically.
  • The “Discovery Engine” also analyzed the style of each font, allowing users to easily find similar fonts, or fonts that paired well together.
  • Features like automatic font activation and font previews in the library were turned on by default.
  • Relevant integrations with other design software on the user’s device were highlighted during setup.
  • Related settings were grouped together and moved to the preference panel.
Refreshed homepage
To support the new version launch, we also completely refreshed the homepage.
Similar suggestions and new category navigation.
New categorization tool.
The new version of FontExplorer X added similar and pairing suggestions, as well as browsing by categorization. Also, the classification (type speak for “categorization”) UX was completely redesigned.


Discovery Engine marketing graphic
Marketing graphic for the “Discovery Engine”.

Building on a solid foundation of industry-standard features, our small team was able to pack loads of new customer value into a new version leveraging machine learning. As of this case study, the latest version is still early in its life-cycle, but the results are already impressive:

  • Exceeded revenue expectations for FontExplorer X in 2019.
  • 18% more revenue than the previous version, when comparing the first 90 days.
  • FontExplorer X Pro version 7 was named “Macworld Editors’ Choice in December 2019.
  • Our customer support team reported this was the smoothest launch in the history of the product.

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