Local Characters: Anna Kulachek typographically depicts her hometown of Moscow


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This winter It’s Nice That commissioned three creatives to explore the broader possibilities of type, in partnership with Fontsmith. The result is Local Characters, a series of posters and typefaces to showcase the effective use of Brandfont, a service that enables brands to create exclusively licensed typefaces. In the first of the series, graphic designer and art director Anna Kulachek uses an existing Fontsmith typeface to depict her hometown of Moscow.

For graphic designer Anna Kulachek, choosing a hometown to base her Brandfont typeface on was difficult in itself. She is Ukranian-born but moved to Russia to study graphic design ten years ago. However, by default, Anna currently lives in New York. “I came to here in May 2016 for ten days, during public holidays in Russia. On my way back Russian border control told me I cannot enter Russia for the next two years, because I had made some sort of mistake. They bought me a ticket and sent me back to New York.” 

This ‘mistake’ turned out to be an error by Russian immigration rather than the designer, who is still in New York, living out of a suitcase meant for a short holiday. Detached from the homes and cities she has known all her life, Anna is nonetheless thriving in New York, working remotely and jumping at new experiences. Yet, the designer still longs for the atmosphere of Moscow, using the Fontsmith typeface FS Dillon to depict the insane reality of the city she considered home but has been shut out of.

“Moscow is bold. It’s always busy, always bright,” says Anna. She relates this characteristic to all elements of the city’s structure: the architecture, the restaurants and the people. Therefore Fontsmith’s typeface FS Dillon, a sans-serif font, is a perfect fit to display the strength in tone of a Moscow native. “I decided I wanted to do a really typographic poster, which would reflect both Moscow’s architecture and traffic,” Anna explains. The designer decided upon FS Dillon due to it’s linear structural elements that mirror not only the city’s architecture, but attitude too. “This typeface was the straightest of the Fontsmith fonts, it is bold, just as Moscow is.”

This word “bold" is the way Anna frequently describes her home. “Everything is bold, the buildings, Russian people in particular, they are really direct, ‘I don’t like you or I like you’, instantly. This font is a lot closer to the Russian direction and dialect, their honest and straightforward personality.” Using the typeface in alternate point sizes the designer has built a shapely and sharp vision of Moscow’s identity using FS Dillon, by using “the font smaller in areas, actually quite tiny, to make it even more straight, layered and strong.” Anna’s mixing and multiplying of the typeface additionally reflects the hectic daily lifestyle of Moscow inhabitants, she says. “I started to think what really is Moscow for me, how it looks when you are living there, it’s just full of everything. People, everything is so busy, there is always traffic, all the restaurants, cafes and the metro is consistently packed. It’s crazy.”

For the poster’s layout design, Anna gathered inspiration from Russian architecture, but not the stereotypical examples. Anna draws influence from the housing estates on the outskirts of the city, “what feels like the end of the world of Moscow,” as Anna describes. These buildings are vast and uniform, part of "a big idea, a simple apartment for everyone,” the designer explains. Originally built to house the fluctuating population of Moscow, the buildings are mammoth, with a jarring structure giving them an intimidating quality. Anna transfers the architecture’s daunting characteristics by manipulating the shape of an M letterform, turning it onto to its side to represent the architecture of rural Moscow. As a result, your eyes dart around the consistently changing structure, again a reflection of Moscow’s attitude. “You can never be sure in Russia, you can have a good job, but the next minute the Ruble costs nothing, you go to bed rich but you wake up poor. It’s out of your hands. But that’s why I’ve always been curious about Moscow, you never know what is going to happen tomorrow.” 

The designer’s colour palette is a direct representation of Russia’s representative colours, red and blue. “They are the most Russian colours, and in Moscow they are everywhere,” she explains. Inspired by Russia’s flag, Anna believes the two primary colours when paired “are stronger together”. “Say if one was paired with a white, it wouldn’t work so well, but red and blue together, they clash. It feels almost as if the colour is moving even though it is still.” 

Although Anna’s rejection of entering Russia has been confirmed as a mistake by border control, the designer remains unsure of where she will end up residing. Despite adapting to life in New York, she continues to miss the vast open spaces, the food, and somewhat manic existence that living in Moscow provides, as reflected in her poster. After all, Moscow is where she grew up. “I came to Russia from Ukraine when I was 19 or 20 with the intention that I wanted to do graphic design, but I built a life there. I met amazing people, teachers, and even how I look now, it’s really all because of Moscow.”

Brandfont by London-based type foundry Fontsmith is a comprehensive service allowing brands to create tailored typefaces. Typography provides an opportunity for brands to communicate their style and ethos through design. Brandfont exemplifies this character, allowing you to create an exclusively licensed typeface with your own font name, multiple formats across media, and includes a one-off fee with no annual or additional charges. For further information on how Brandfont can make your brand stronger or more engaging, click here.

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy (she/her) is the senior editor at Insights, a research-driven department with It's Nice That. Get in contact with her for potential Insights collaborations or to discuss Insights' fortnightly column, POV. Lucy has been a part of the team at It's Nice That since 2016, first joining as a staff writer after graduating from Chelsea College of Art with a degree in Graphic Design Communication.


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