A campaigner for the unconventional, Kia Tasbihgou discusses his latest typefaces
Last year, we were gripped by Kia's type designs. Gracing our screens for the second time, he returns with a bunch of new projects and a fresh perspective infused by a heavy dose of travelling.
- Ayla Angelos
- 26 November 2019
Last year we were instantly gripped by Kia Tasbihgou’s type designs – drawn in by his distinctive personality and contemporary style that shone throughout his portfolio. Gracing our screens for the second time, Kia returns with a bunch of new projects and a fresh new perspective infused by a heavy dose of travelling.
Not only has Kia been moving around a fair bit – from Taipei to a two-month stint in London to his current residence in Portugal – but the designer has also just finished up working with art director Alex McCullough from Whities on, his own words, a “handful of really fun sleeves.” He’s also been grafting on new type design projects, with plans to launch his own independent type foundry next year, and has even drawn some bespoke type for Warehouse Project, Salomon and Mana Contemporary, plus logotypes and lettering for Trix magazine and various other publications.
Clearly flourishing in his discipline today, Kia hails from a less-creative upbringing. He decided to pursue his studies at art school, a move inspired by his sister who is also an illustrator and a key force in his practice. What’s more, his brother, graphic designer, served as a gateway for the young Kia to explore the realms of art and design. Both siblings informed his development as a designer, their influence leading to his first piece of album artwork produced at the tender age of 16.
Having spent just over a year away from London, the move has enabled Kia to breathe a little – giving him time to work on developing his style and method of practice without any immediate impressions. Admittedly, what he perceives to be as “good” design has changed quite a bit. “My biggest takeaway from living in the far East for a decent amount of time is just how interesting and engaging visual culture is there, and how little of that value depends on information I can’t read.” Attempting to explain his new-found process without sounding “preachy” or like a tale of, in his words, an “English dude speaking about his time in Asia wilfully positively”, he goes on to explain how “there’s a lot that Western designers, institutions and publishers (et al.) can learn from the East without co-opting their motifs, scripts and culture – American and Euro-centrism can be really toxic.”
A keen traveller, Kia hasn't tied himself down by renting a studio. Working either from libraries or cafes for the time being, he tends to begin his day with a “massive” to-do list and spends about 90% of his time developing his own typefaces. “I do all of the image-making myself and I try to source content as little as possible,” he explains. “I’m always worried that my inspirations are imbedded pretty deep, so the less sourcing I do, the less I feel like I need to worry about subconsciously doing something that somebody else has already done.” But when he does look for a little inspiration, he turns to artists Stefan and Franciszka Themerson, or the comedian, writer, director and producer Chris Morris. In particular, the designer is fond of “how [Chris] uses language and subverts the British vernacular in his sketches and radio bits.” Kia continues, “I think a lot of what I’m trying to do lately is the equivalent of that – trying to make unconventional things work conventionally in useable type.”
Consciously attempting to avoid common design tropes, Kia has applied his critical vision towards a new typeface, titled Corso. Originally inspired by birdhouses and developed as a concept for a piece of masthead lettering for a new publication, Kia explains how the project naturally evolved even further. “The idea was to fit a perfect circle into arbitrary forms where possible, and to let this concept lead the decision making for the letterforms where this approach would no longer make sense,” he says. Much of this typeface’s evolution comprises of inspiration taken from an early 1960s sketch by designer Max Bill, “some ‘pootjesglas’ lettering from the 1940s” as well as Joseph Churchward’s Design 70.
We’re not too sure where Kia will end up next geographically, but we’re certain that he will be making more moves to broaden his career in design. But for now, here’s a quick glimpse into what’s coming next – a hoodie for Party Chat, a “fun book”, some identities for jewellery designers, photographers and musicians, and, of course, his own typefaces.
About the Author
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.