Typeface designer Bouk Ra looks to literary influences to create intensely refined pieces of work
The Paris-based designer tells us about how a typeface can reflect our past, present, and future with the right amount of research.
- Joey Levenson
- 13 October 2021
Bouk Ra never thought he was going to become a designer. “As a Korean, I did my military service in Korea for two years and then I came to France to find out what I wanted to do,” he says. “I thought I was going to become a scientist or engineer.” But, one nagging feeling led him to try out graphic design, and soon Bouk was a visual communication graduate in Paris with a penchant for typography. “I was just happiest and most passionate when I drew and observed letters,” he tells It’s Nice That. This genuine passion and admiration for the craft of letters are definitely prevalent in Bouk’s work: bold and eye-catching shapes, curves, and colour unify to create typography that is fun and instantly iconic. But rather than pull from graphic influences around him, Bouk has found that turning to literature keeps his designs laser-focused. “I am greatly influenced by literary works or humanities, history, and society, and information about various components of society,” he explains. “I think I am walking the path of a typeface designer who depicts the past, present or future world.”
In his bid to remain a typeface designer who leaves historical records and messages about our lives, Bouk has turned to two literary icons, Faust and Tartuffe, as starting points for some of his work. “My font Tartuffo was started drawing sketches inspired by working on the branding of a company that works in the field of theatre and performance,” he explains. “When I finished the first sketch and looked at it, the crossing of a slightly fierce form and softness reminded me of Tartuffe, a hypocrite character in Molière’s play called Le Tartuffe ou l’Imposteur.” It’s the direct contrasting nature of “softness” and “evilness” in the typeface that Bouk really worked to refine, honing in on Le Tartuffe ou l’Imposteur’s greater themes to really make the typeface pop.
GalleryBouk Ra: Faust Typeface (Copyright © Bouk Ra, 2020)
“On the other hand, I have another typeface that I started recently and am working on which is called Magnetik,” Bouk adds. “That came about because I was immersed in books and documentary videos about human life in the present and future digital information world.” After rigorous research into artificial intelligence and human life co-existing with the machine and digital worlds, Bouk created Magnetik. “Complex elements such as the mechanisation of humans, humanisation of machines, and humans who are densely connected and share each other in a virtual digital world, are characteristics of modern life I focus on in the typeface,” he explains. “I want to leave this trend in my typefaces.”
If it sounds like Bouk puts a lot of intensive labour into the typefaces he creates, it’s because he does. “The typefaces were born from my hands, so they are like my children,” he says. “When a life is contained in the typeface, it is easier for me to communicate with the typeface, and it is easier to access what the typeface itself wants to express or what I want to express in the typeface.” In humanising these typefaces – nearly to the point of anthropomorphising them as “children” – Bouk gives the letters a personality, values, and disposition. They become recognisable relics of humanity. “These elements can be created by me as a writer, but the humanities insights of the main arcs such as Homer, Shakespeare, or Goethe are truly enormous, and it is very interesting to borrow their wisdom and express them,” Bouk describes. “I rely on them and get a lot of inspiration.”
Bouk clearly has an admirable dedication to his craft. It’s why none of his typefaces feel rushed nor amateur. They are all expressive and deeply refined, yet still somehow fun and joyous. “I always draw recklessly at first,” Bouk says. “I have a strong belief in the potential that comes from unconsciousness.” Now, the designer continues to work on several new typefaces with foundries, and expects to “continue to produce more typefaces over the next few years.” More importantly, however, Bouk wishes to challenge himself. “I also always have a desire to do something creative that represents or develops the world we live in, and I will constantly explore and express in any way for that desire.”
Bouk Ra: Magnetik Typeface- WIP (Copyright © Bouk Ra, 2021)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.