Named after the chariot piece in chess, Rukh is a typeface that represents tension
We speak to Mohammed Samad and Bouk Ra of Kaam Kaaj about the process of designing its typeface inspired by a plethora of cultural design references.
- Yaya Azariah Clarke
- 31 January 2024
Three years ago, branding and typography studio Kaam Kaaj set out on a journey to create its typeface, Rukh. Starting out with the desire to just “make something” the team, made up of founder and designer Mohammed Samad, and type and graphic designers Bouk Ra and Joanna Domagalska, went through a cycle of working on it, forgetting about it for a few months and then picking it up again. But one day the team were encouraged to finish the typeface after a client mentioned seeing their work on Twitter (now X).“I was like ‘huh, Twitter?’ I didn’t know Twitter was a space for sharing graphic design work,” Mohammed Samad, tells us. “A design blog called Search System shared an early development of the typeface and through this I started to notice there was a demand for it,” he adds.
While growing up, Mohammed had little understanding of graphic design, but the visuals throughout music videos, film titling, gaming – “Tony Hawk’s SSX” – and specifically Nike’s Joga Bonito campaign, “with its mind-blowing short film and iconic logo,” all stood out to him. Also, an avid lover of skate culture and outdoor clothing, at 19 he tried to start a t-shirt brand, and that’s when he fully began to consider the elements of the medium. “Looking back there were a lot of elements that struck me. For example, the opening production house logo credits at the start of every Bollywood film,” he shares. “When we [Kaam Kaaj] create type or lettering there are many different ways to approach it, because we have a number of contrasting visual references,” he adds.
Mohammed says he “wouldn’t call myself a type designer, more a creator of bespoke lettering or type wordmarks,” he adds, “but since starting Kaam Kaaj I’ve been working with the brilliant graphic and type designer Bouk Ra”. One third of the studio, Bouk is responsible for much of the bespoke typography seen throughout their projects, which occasionally develops into a full typeface. His philosophy hinges on “making significant changes through small actions in his daily life,” Mohammed shares, “which is the same for him with type design”. When it came to Rukh they were interested in creating something that embodies tension – pushing the limits of contrasting strokes, investigating how thin it could be while still being visible, and toeing the line between the elegant details found in serif typefaces while giving it a modular sans serif structure.
Named after one of the early forms of chess, Shatranj (the origins of which can be traced back to the ancient Indian board game chaturaṅga), Rukh is defined as being the chariot piece. “We loved the relationship between the tension of the chariot and the tension in the typeface,” Mohammed tells us. Having imagined the typeface to be used for the cinema, the team also delighted to see it pay homage to the Bollywood film star Shah Rukh Khan, in its naming. With major references and visual references, also came great challenges in making it functional. When starting out, as Mohammed was the sole designer on the project, there were certain elements that he didn’t consider. “The initial designs of particular characters were very creative and intriguing, however using that as a foundation and consistently creating the remaining characters while maintaining the distinctiveness of each letter was challenging,” Bouk adds.
Among the distinctive character of each letter, the team also found it challenging to find the right amount of time to work on it alongside client deadlines and other projects. But maybe Rukh stands out so much because it has been slowly developed over time. With hopes to develop more typefaces – one of them being Rukh 2.0 – and see this one used for “some film titles so we can see it on the big screen,” Kaam Kaaj show us that whether cultural or contrasting, our visual inspirations may initially bare a complication to the design process, but after time and consideration, they can create something epic.
GalleryKaam Kaaj: Rukh Typeface (Copyright © Studio Kaam Kaaj, 2024)
Kaam Kaaj: Rukh Typeface (Copyright © Studio Kaam Kaaj, 2024)
About the Author
Yaya (they/them) joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in June 2023 and became a staff writer in November of the same year. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.