“Recently I realised that type designers are actually artists rather than designers,” says Alex Slobzheninov, a Prague-based designer who specialises in creating expressive, characterful type, largely as part of foundry Pangram Pangram. “Most of the typographic problems have already been solved – we have type for books, for screens, for airports, for code, for everything. But type designers are good at noticing changes in the visual culture and pushing it forward with type. That’s what art is for, isn’t it?”
One example of this is Alex’s exploration of augmented reality typography, projecting animated type into real environments in a way that nods to our obsession with this new part-digital, part-IRL space. “Now typography can jump and fly in the real environment, not limited to the laws of physics, to the boundaries of the screen or anything,” he says. “There’re so many things can be done! For now, I’m just having fun, learning and experimenting.”
Alongside his work for Pangram, Alex is currently working as a graphic designer at &Walsh, “working on client projects and solving their problems”, which is “pretty different from having a total artistic freedom,” he says. But despite this, having two sides to his practice – the artistic and the practical – is creating a very fruitful time in his career. “Jessica [Walsh] does a great job on selecting interesting projects, always fun and challenging,” he adds. “It’s that rare kind of job when you’re constantly challenged and learning new stuff.”
When working on personal projects, Alex likes to create type that exists in a liminal zone between usual and unusual, adding unexpected twists to his forms. “I personally prefer typefaces on the edge between normal and weird, functional and readable yet interesting and fresh,” he says. “Sure, there are uses for formal and for cartoony types, but I like those in-between.” He also has a penchant for Cyrillic, recently picking up Cyrillic Award 2019 for his addition to Le Murmure by Studio Triple.
After first working out what the unusual element to any typeface is going to be, Alex then sketches out his ideas, sometimes on paper and sometimes on screen. Like make type designers, he drafts words like “handgloves” or “hamburgefonstiv”, as they include most of the letter forms, before extrapolating the rules out to and entire alphabet. “Since a typeface is a complex system, a little change in one letter can cause changes in half the alphabet, so there’s a lot to keep in mind and the process is far from being straightforward,” he says.
One recent project has been the development of his type family Grafier, an attempt to make classic letterforms a better fit for modern uses. “Serif fonts are often associated with elegancy, classics and printed books, but I wanted to avoid that, to make a modern serif type for the digital era,” he explains. Inspired by the way that serif type can “stick together” to form a long continuous line when reduced to very small sizes on screen, Grafier riffs on this chain format, especially in Cyrillic where letters like П, Ш, Н, И, turn into boxes but still read well. “Designers like simple straight lines, which are easy to align. I made Grafier with that in mind. It’s a grotesque-looking serif, no ball terminals, no soft bracketed serifs. Very rough, very designer-ish. I’ve seen how people use it – they absolutely got the idea.”
This month Alex released a new multi-genre type family, called Relaate, that pushes the idea of a font family into a completely new space. “Normally, when we say ‘type family’, we think of a gradient of weights, maybe widths, even serif and sans versions if you’re lucky; but the design is the same,” Alex explains. Type designers bring one idea at a time and then it’s up to graphic designers to find other fonts to pair it with. In Relaate, I wanted to put together a few very different fonts of different genres, which yet share certain features. Turns out, whenever two fonts are clearly different, but have some common ground, they work together well – that’s the core idea of Relaate.” Although still a work in progress, the typeface is available through Future Fonts and we can’t wait to see how it evolves.
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