Comprising a new typeface, Ilya Bazhanov’s bachelor thesis examines Russian typography from the 60s

The Chelyabinsk-based designer’s latest project sees him create a new typeface named Thaw, inspired by the historical period and change that occurred during Soviet Russia in the 1960s.

13 February 2020


Born and raised in the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia, a young Ilya Bazhanov began his journey with street art, before later realising his adoration for visual arts and graphic design. “I also believe that because of my interest in art, I always tried looking for new ways of expressing my ideas, whether through typography or illustration,” he tells It’s Nice That. As it usually goes, this interest evolved and soon enough he was trying his hands at his new-found interest, lettering.

Such is the case for his recently published bachelor thesis, titled The Spring is coming. Russian typography of the 60s and the usage of its principles in original typeface – devised during his degree at Faculty of Art and Design of Jan Evangelista Purkyně in Ústí nad LabemWith, Czech Republic. With an aim to examine a specific historical period and the changes that occurred – both politically and culturally – during Soviet Russia in the 1960s, which is also called the Khrushchev Thaw, Ilya turned his focus towards the book covers and “expressive fonts” that appeared widely throughout this time. “This inspired me to create a font that would respond to historical examples, but would also come out of my author’s style,” he explains. As a theme that’s always resonated quite closely with the designer, he takes this project as a catalyst for understanding history, as well as his own narratives. In this case, the first half of the thesis is an analytical chapter of the period itself, which coincides with the typefaces that were created in this time. Then the main part is the “analysis and subsequent sign of the authentic typeface design inspired by the examined period,” says Ilya. “This process, including the typeface itself, is recorded in the book, which is the output of the project.”

The result of the analytical project is a variable typeface named Thaw, devised by the designer. Specific elements from the fonts of Khrushchev’s "thaw" times during the 60s is what Ilya describes as his main inspiration: “Thaw font is a distinctive and authentic display font that comes in two weights: bold and light. Its special feature is that it’s a variable set of alternative characters.” Featuring a combination of multiple glyphs, this enables the text to change proportions and dynamics, all-in-all creating a variety of forms and “adding liveliness” to the finished result.

GalleryIlya Bazhanov: The Spring is coming. Russian typography of the 60s and the usage of its principles in original typeface

So far, the font has been a huge success. Not only was it selected as an honourable mention on the modern Cyrillic 2019, but it also part of the international student competition in Poland where it’s set to be exhibited at the end of the month.

Ilya’s triumph can be traced back to his complete adoration with and desire to conquer his medium. Upon learning his craft, he devoted much of his time to mastering illustration and typography design – achieved through travelling for a semi-annual student exchange in Hochschule Düsseldorf, plus his current studies for the Masters program at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague (UMPRUM), a studio of type design and typography.

Since championing his craft, Ilya now spends his day at lectures before working on his own projects in the afternoon. “Sometimes an idea may come by accident,” he says, “and as a rule I often become obsessed with it until I’ve tried all the options of bringing the idea into reality.” More often than not, Ilya will turn to the pages of historical materials in order to harness inspiration. “Then I try to write all my thoughts down in form of a small essay, where I try to explain my own idea and embodiment to myself.” This process subsequently provides a large collection of sketches which Ilya can refer to incase the process begins to slow down. “When it seems that I don’t know what’s next, I go to wash the dishes or clean the room, and then the order comes not only in my home but also in my head.”

Books, posters, custom font and illustrations form the crux of Ilya’s portfolio thus far. And because of his longstanding relationship with bookstores, antiques and various historical resources, it’s not surprising to hear that cultural institutions are his preferred point of call for work, which is where he likes to create visuals for exhibitions or events. Yet most important is the inspiration found closest to him: “Growing up in Chelyabinsk, a very industrial city, I was always inspired by its industrial zones with its brutality and industrialism,” he concludes. “I began to feel that our history was an important component of my sense of self, and I became more and more interested in who the world of Cyrillic script can work with the Latin alphabet. The Cyrillic alphabet that we know today was borrowed by Peter the Great form the Latin alphabet; for me, the theme is how Cyrillic and Latin can work together an influence each other to remain relevant today.”

GalleryIlya Bazhanov: The Spring is coming. Russian typography of the 60s and the usage of its principles in original typeface

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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