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Type Designers Q&A: Milieu Grotesque

  Milieu Grotesque, established in 2010 by Timo Gaessner and Alexander Colby, is a Zurich-based independent publisher and distributor of typefaces and related products. Milieu Grotesque’s collection of typefaces combine the rigor and precision of a seasoned type foundry with a particular edge that keep their typefaces looking timely and contemporary. One is struck by a feeling of familiarity […]



Milieu Grotesque, established in 2010 by Timo Gaessner and Alexander Colby, is a Zurich-based independent publisher and distributor of typefaces and related products.

Milieu Grotesque’s collection of typefaces combine the rigor and precision of a seasoned type foundry with a particular edge that keep their typefaces looking timely and contemporary. One is struck by a feeling of familiarity within their typefaces—typefaces which often nod to certain timeless greats. There are modern takes on IBM typewriter-inspired classics as well as slick reworkings of geometric grotesques of the previous century.

Below, Timo has responded to ten questions regarding his and Alexander’s practice as type designers. Timo, who made his start as a graphic designer, frames-out a healthy introspection (and even, at times, cautionary observation) of the discipline of graphic design and it’s interlaced relationship to type design.



Ryan Gerald Nelson (RGN): To start, a foundational question: How do graphic designers see typefaces differently than type designers?

Milieu Grotesque: Well, it’s always difficult making general statements on this regard, but maybe type designers tend to be more concerned about details like conceptual and historical references, formal aspects, execution, etc. While graphic designers tend to approach, select and judge a typeface by its looks and appearance.

RGN: Assuming that graphic designers define the majority of your customer base, you undoubtedly observe the field of graphic design. Are your observations more subconscious and undefined? Or do you take the time to survey the sub-genres of graphic design? How do your observations enter into the equation of how you conceive your typefaces?

Milieu Grotesque: As we are both graphic designers by trade, naturally, some of our experience gained over the last 15 years of practice is influential. It is part of our professional philosophy to approach a project based on research—so yes, we do observe and follow what’s happening (sometimes with concern).

But we’re not much interested in, nor do we survey any sub-genres. We are rather interested in, what we believe to be, substantial matters that contribute to a progressive development of how we conceive design and communication and that will pass the test of time. So we’ve strived to develop a library that is a modern, comprehensive selection of typefaces that contribute to these ideas and therefore hopefully remain somewhat relevant.

The basic ideas that drive our typefaces have many different sources, but so far it’s never been based on the calculation of an upcoming trend or genre. After all, we’ve never managed to develop and release a typeface in less than a time span of 3 years (sometimes even longer). That said, it’s quite unlikely to be able to foresee what’s supposed to be happening, especially in graphic design.



An assortment of projects showing Milieu Grotesque typefaces in use.


RGN: Do you guys cater the stylistic elements of your typefaces to appeal to a particular type of graphic designer? Or is that irrelevant?

Milieu Grotesque: Maybe due to our background as graphic designers, when developing a typeface, we often aim to implement a somewhat different, additional stylistic variation to offer and maybe aspire for a certain application and, to our understanding, an interesting usage. Naturally, we want to reach as many designers as possible, offering modern, well-executed typefaces that are suitable for as many applications as possible. Then, after all, choosing a typeface is the easiest part of the job.

RGN: Could you elaborate on one or two examples of specific ideas or conceptual underpinnings that have been embedded within your typefaces and how they derived?

Milieu Grotesque: With our most recognized typeface Maison Neue, the design referenced certain sans-serifs dating back to the early 20th century. Many of these early grotesk typefaces were created in the spirit of the parallel-happening architectural movement called “Neue Sachlichkeit,” implementing a simple, reduced formality (ornament is crime!) based on constructed principles (grids). To us, this roughly executed principle, including all of its oddities, has a particular flavor that a “modern,” optically well-balanced grotesk is missing. However, the new version (Maison Neue) is based on the same principles yet executed in a less dogmatic way.



Specimens of the upcoming Maison Neue family—enhancements include two lighter weights, two heaver weights, and also a corresponding extended family. Release is scheduled for Fall 2016.


Lacrima is based upon the famous IBM Golfball typewriter called Light Italic. We have added additional weights and two interpretations to the original design, Serif and Senza, to conceive a comprehensive family with a variety of styles.



Lacrima family


Additionally, our typeface named Patron is based on the contradictory approaches and ideas of type designers Günther Gerhard Lange and Roger Excoffon. Günther Gerhard Lange, a war veteran and longtime art director of Berthold Type Foundry, was most famous for his historically-derived and strict approach. His work includes precise, consequent, and modern interpretations of today’s classics, such as: Akzidenz Grotesk, Garamond, and Bodoni (to name just a few). Roger Excoffon on the other hand, a former adman and French bon vivant, was known for his more expressive body of work. Most notably is his typeface Antique Olive which is defined by a number of unique formal ideas and attributes that are still considered outstanding today.



Promotional image for Patron


RGN: It certainly seems as though a commonality amongst most type foundries operating today is that most have one or more inspired-grotesques in their offerings. Have you taken notice to this as well? Either way, do you believe that it’s obligatory or a part of some unspoken tradition for any serious type foundry to create and offer their own take on a classic grotesque? More specifically, given their appeal, do you think the creation of these sorts of typefaces (such as Brezel Grotesk in your case) are driven by a competitive spirit amongst new type foundries?

Milieu Grotesque: Yes, of course, we have noticed this. But, we believe the large amount of the clean, minimalistic grotesks that have been released lately have their roots in commercial interests. Comparable to the recent hype around SUV models for the car industry, there is an ongoing demand for neo-grotesks due to reasons one can only assume. Some early adaptations have been successful, and their success has been recognized and has encouraged others to try to achieve the same. So yes, there is a certainly a competitive spirit. And no, we don’t think it is obligatory to offer a grotesk as a modern foundry.

RGN: Past year’s within the field of type design have seemingly given rise to many typefaces which are imbued with a certain degree of, shall we say, willful awkwardness. One might see the bends, flourishes, and forms of these typefaces as strange and unnecessary. Or one might see these sorts of details as vital and responsive to the proclivities of graphic designers. Are these sorts of “willfully awkward” typefaces something that you recognize? Support? Practice? Oppose?

Milieu Grotesque: It’s surely positive that type design has become more popular amongst young designers lately and that there is the will to test its limits—after all, it’s a rather slow developing discipline. Most of those willfully-awkward-designed letterforms are not meant to work as a versatile typeface and may therefore be simply (expressively designed) letters (and not a typeface), per definition, which is much easier to achieve than the sorts of well-executed and versatile systems that we understand as typefaces. We pay little attention to this trending style as we believe it will pass and vanish, like many others have before them.



Coperto specimen


RGN: There does seem to be an uptick in the number and popularity of, for the lack of a better term, “pop-up” type foundries. Maybe this can be attributed to the easy accessibility of font-making software? Or perhaps this can be attributed to the rise of entrepreneurial graphic designers who have not only a cursory knowledge of how to make a font, but also the desire to design every known aspect of a given project for the sake of achieving the idea of a “bespoke” creation?

Milieu Grotesque: Indeed, we are astonished and curious about the vast amount of foundries that have been popping up lately. It seems as if type design has taken over what, a few years back, self-publishing used to be. It became fashionable amongst graphic designers then and we can see the same happening for type design now.

Sure, one aspect is that font editors aren’t as complex and abstract as they used to be, which makes the tools more accessible. Also, type design has gained more interest amongst students, hence schools and universities are reacting and offering more on that subject.

Yet, apparently, there is a certain understanding and respect regarding copyrights that is missing. To our experience, developing a typeface from scratch takes at least 2000 hours—which is more than a year of straight working time. So it leaves us wondering, how is it possible for a small-scale foundry, founded by one or a maximum of two persons (presumably in there mid 20’s and having just finished their studies), to enter the market with several families?

RGN: Spinning off of the last question: do you see that the existence of this type of individual (this sort of entrepreneurial graphic designer) who is successfully and simultaneously able to act as both graphic designer and type designer within a single project is a becoming more of a rarity? Or a new, pervasive reality?

Milieu Grotesque: To our understanding, entrepreneurship is an important part of running a contemporary design studio. We believe that design, as the service-orientated practice that we have known since the rise of modernism, might vanish due the digital revolution (just as typesetting and lithography have gone before). Consequently, future (graphic) designers will have no other choice than to develop entrepreneurial skills and set up there own multi-disciplinary businesses, whether it will be a type foundry or something completely different.



Recently released Chapeau family



A letter written by Johnny Cash, addressed to former U.S. president Gerald Ford. The letter is typeset in IBM Doric, a typeface which was a reference point for Milieu Grotesque’s typeface, Chapeau.


RGN: In almost all creative disciplines, it seems as though almost everything is a derivative of something (or a multitude of things) from the past. Some disciplines embrace the inescapable reality of the influence of their predecessors by directly sampling their work (i.e., sampling beats or lyrics in hip-hop, or with filmmakers, like Quentin Tarantino, who have developed a style for themselves that relies on referencing and nodding to filmmakers of past eras). All that said, it seems difficult, especially within the discipline of typography, to not be referential of the history of type design. In your view, does reference material seem tied to the discipline of type design and it’s creations? If not, where do you believe innovative and new forms stem from within type design?

Milieu Grotesque: We consider the term “revolution” as the greatest myth of today’s (graphic design) postmodernism. What revolution has fundamentally changed graphic design since the early/mid-20th century and still holds up today? We believe in evolution rather than in revolution, and believe that slow and naturally-developing progression has a more sustainable impact. After all, even as a type designer, it’s simply impossible to reinvent the (latin) alphabet. So yes, we are very much tied to design history and the only innovation possible is in technical context. Due to digital evolution, we are now able to draw and develop typefaces that perform with more precision and complexity than ever before.

We think most of the innovation happening lately is due to the understanding of typefaces as being larger systems. Not in terms of weights, but more in terms of style and their variations as a means of creating a family/system that is suitable for any application there is. Those “Super Families” are based on a formal scheme/structure and embody large variations that include different contrasts, serifs, and sans-serifs, proportional and mono-spaced, engraved, shadow, stencil, etc.




RGN: On the Milieu Grotesque website, in addition to the typefaces that are for sale, you offer an assortment of promotional products for sale. Some are expected (such as type specimens and posters) and some are not so expected (beanies, necklaces, etc). How did you arrive at the decision to offer this mix of products? And has it changed how you are perceived by your peers and customers?

Milieu Grotesque: Besides our professional practices, we have a large interest in DIY and what has lately come to be known as “Maker Culture.” Many of the “not so expected” products you have mentioned have there roots in this interest and turned out to be a fun addition to the (sometime too serious) business of distributing typefaces.

Though, we initially conceived the product section to be the print-publishing part and a space where we could distribute specimens plus various (external) writings as a theoretical extension to the rather practical aspects of graphic and type design.

But we soon let go of this rather restrictive concept and went on to understand this section as a more experimental part for related products and ideas. We have come to realize that this is a great opportunity to interact and start a dialog with other designers whom we might not have met and talked to otherwise.



Patron specimen posters, designed by Sulki & Min


So we started to reach out to individuals and studios whose work we find interesting and we asked them to contribute to this section. It’s an approach that has turned out to be an enriching and influential part to our personal development and professional understanding. Since launching this section, we have gratefully collaborated with many interesting people, including Maiko Gubler (Berlin), Sulki & Min (Seoul), and Bunch (London) to mention a few, and we have a future project with photographer Tobias Faisst (Berlin) which we are very much looking forward to.

RGN: Many thanks for your time, Timo!




—See more of Milieu Grotesque’s work on their website, Facebook, or Twitter. (Image credit: digital rendering at top of post made by visual artist Maiko Gubler)

Never Not Learning (Summer-specific)—Part 1: Intro and Identities

Still of Mark Harmon, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Fabiana Udenio, Dean Cameron, Kelly Jo Minter, Gary Riley, and Shawnee Smith in Summer School (1987).   –––––– Never Not Learning (Summer-specific) is a series of 4 blog posts (to be published here, on The Gradient) reflecting on the (not-so) recent wave of self-initiated graphic design workshops which have been […]


Still of Mark Harmon, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Fabiana Udenio, Dean Cameron, Kelly Jo Minter, Gary Riley, and Shawnee Smith in Summer School (1987).



Never Not Learning (Summer-specific) is a series of 4 blog posts (to be published here, on The Gradient) reflecting on the (not-so) recent wave of self-initiated graphic design workshops which have been self-characterized as Summer Schools. This and the blog posts to come feature extended conversations between the organizers of:

A Escola Livre (BR)
Asterisk Summer School (EE)
Escola Aberta (BR)
Maybe a School, Maybe a Park (CA)
Parallel School (which belongs to no one!)
Registration School (UK)
Van Eyck Summer Design Academy: Digital Campfire Series (NL)
The Ventriloquist Summerschool (NO)

(For those curious about the list and the selection of participants: it is, quite literally/limitedly, derived from a breadcrumb trail of friendships and encounters made over the past five years).

We raise topics such as deinstitutionalization, continuing education, student debt, the joy of being together, long-distance relationships, regional conditions and forum-making. These topics (among many others) were on the table for discussion, and often at the same time.

A Escola Livre (Brasil)



(Organized by Guilherme Falcão and Tereza Bettinardi)

A Escola Livre (Free School) is named that way because we wanted things to be clear from the start. Our proposal–working with cycles of a month, month and half, mixing subjects, not having a fixed venue, having interviews instead of classes or lectures–might be interpreted as too experimental and weird, almost more as a “project” than an actual school. So we wanted the name to express both things: it IS a school–because it is about learning, the exchange of knowledge and creating a community–and it is a place where anything can happen (or at least everything can be at least discussed and considered).


Asterisk Summer School (Estonia)

Photo by Andree Paat

Photo by Andree Paat

(Organized by Elisabeth Klement and Laura Pappa)

Asterisk Summer School takes its name from the Asterisk portable bookshop, which was a pop-up bookshop format we were previously running in Estonia. It’s hard for us to decipher now where exactly the name Asterisk originates from as we were young design students when deciding on our moniker and it seems to have stuck ever since. We don’t really read into its meaning so much because, for us, it’s more of a marker that shares a connection with the bookshop events.


Escola Aberta (Brasil)

Photo by Radim Peško

Photo by Radim Peško

(Organized by Nina Paim, Clara Meliande and Tania Grillo)

Escola Aberta is Portuguese for “Open School.” The title is always followed by a colon and a verb (“Escola Aberta is:____________”) as a direct and open question on “what makes a school?” as well as an attempt to spark a conversation and question the necessary conditions for learning to happen. We wanted to investigate these questions on different levels: what is the physical structure of the school?, who makes the school?, how are participants selected?, how can they interact?, what are the modes of learning?, what drives the the activities?, etc. The program was drafted by a group of 40 participants from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, who individually responded to the question “what makes a school?” We started by listing the different environments where knowledge could be produced and exchanged. Each participant then became responsible for initiating one activity in the framework of these environments/set-ups. Some examples were: a pop-up library, a design court, a radio station, a bar, a therapeutic booth, a talk show, a cinema, a silent scriptorium and a typographic safari. Finally, a group of 60 participants from Brazil were selected based on an open application which consisted of answering three fundamental questions: Who are you? What do you want to learn? and What can you teach?


Maybe a School, Maybe a Park (Canada)

Photo by Richmond Lam

Photo by Richmond Lam

(Organized by Sean Yendrys)

Maybe a School, Maybe a Park grew out of initial uncertainty towards how we wanted to frame ourselves and the week-long experience. There were admittedly a number of different names (perhaps far too many) being thrown around in the process leading up to our launch, but none felt right. They either felt like they claimed to be too much or nothing at all. We did not like framing ourselves specifically as a school and the weight that might be attached with the expectations of it. After all, it’s summer time and in many ways this is less a school and more an excuse for many people to simply come together over common interests and have a good time, while also perhaps creating some school-like camaraderie in the process of making great/bad/weird/cool/fun things. In the end, embracing and acknowledging a kind of indecision and uncertainty that exists between the more academic settings of a school and the free-for-all attitude of a park felt quite nice. Also, the space we’re using is an old parking garage turned gallery and bookshop, so perhaps the word Park plays into this too.


Parallel School



(that, although not belonging to anyone, was represented here by Till Wittwer and Robert Preusse)

Parallel School formulates the idea of an imaginary structure, a place to engage and discuss in parallel to the existing universities and academies. It arises from a sense of dissatisfaction with some of the conventional institutions, their approaches towards teaching, and the personal need and interest in a mutual exchange with like-minded people. One of the forms in which this exchange takes on is the Parallel School Workshop, usually lasting 4–5 days. The self-organized education model can be performed by almost anyone—its only requirement is that all participants contribute in the form of a lecture, intervention, or workshop to the Parallel School.


Registration School (UK)



(Organized by Callum Copley)

The name of our School (Registration School) is in part derived from the idea of “Registration,” in relation to printing. However, within printing it refers to the alignment of layers of ink, but in our context it relates to the coming together of peoples and ideas in a single place and the sharing of knowledge and creativity that comes with this act. The word “Registration” also has a second reference to that of a “School Register” of the names of students taken at the start of a class.


Van Eyck Summer Academy: Digital Campfire Series (Netherlands)

design by


(Organized by the Design Displacement Group)

Our Summer School was named “Digital Campfire,” a reference to the way we communicate in our current day and age. In 2015, the internet is fast becoming the campfire of modern times, the place where we gather: our hectic lives are freeze-framed around it. There, we circle with friends, share and tell stories, exchange, and inform. This is where our new ideas arise, and where the old and the new meet—in a conditional game between the digital and the archaic.


The Ventriloquist Summerschool (Norway)

TVSS Public Programme 2015: Jan-Robert Henriksen presenting one of his characters.

TVSS Public Programme 2015: Jan-Robert Henriksen presenting one of his characters.

(Organized by João Doria and Kristina Ketola Bore)

The Ventriloquist Summerschool began to take shape after a continued discussion between the 2 of us about the role of voice in design practices. We established that ventriloquism would be an apt metaphor given that there’s an alternation between gaining, losing, and recovering a personal perspective in the creative process and while performing creativity as well. The choice for a summer school format was an experiment in jumping into what we recognized as an ongoing conversation and figuring out whether it would make sense to our local audience.


A genuine thanks to all the organizers mentioned above and, additionally, to Roosje Klap, Paul Bailey, and Gilles de Brock for all the prompt responses and shared material.

The next posts will address issues such as economy, regionalities and globalities, audiences, motivations, and more.


Raw Material: An Interview with Google Design

The SPAN Reader, a book released by Google Design in conjunction with its SPAN conferences in New York and London, is an eclectic collection of design thinking that investigates a variety of contemporary issues, such as the ethics of interface design, the implications of smart homes regarding privacy, the nature of time in digital space, the WYSIWYG paradigm, handmade computing, the haptic joy […]


Dust jacket for Google Design’s SPAN Reader (2015)

The SPAN Reader, a book released by Google Design in conjunction with its SPAN conferences in New York and London, is an eclectic collection of design thinking that investigates a variety of contemporary issues, such as the ethics of interface design, the implications of smart homes regarding privacy, the nature of time in digital space, the WYSIWYG paradigm, handmade computing, the haptic joy of contemporary stonecutting, and even the architectural implications of burglary. The book features original writing as well as several reprints, and many of the authors featured are unexpected (at least to me)—it is one thing to read Keller Easterling’s critique of intangible architecture and power structures in its original context of the theoretical contemporary art journal e-Flux, and quite another to read it within the pages of a Google publication.

As a glimpse into the thinking behind Google Design, the SPAN Reader seemed a good place to start when trying to understand the culture and philosophies at work in the office. This post begins with a short interview with Rob Giampietro and Amber Bravo, creative lead and editor of Google Design NY, respectively, discussing the editorial mission of Google Design, the ever-evolving metaphor of “material,” and the process of creating the book.  Finally, Rob and Amber respond to a number of excerpts from the book (a reading of the reader?), offering us a chance to understand why these issues are important, and how they fit into the larger framework of Google Design. Many of the individual texts are available to read in full online, so please do click through.



Emmet Byrne: What is Google Design?

Rob Giampietro/Amber Bravo: Google Design is a cooperative effort led by a group of designers, writers, and developers at Google. We work across teams to create tools, resources, events, and publications that support and further design and technology both inside and outside of Google.

EB: One theme that resonates in the SPAN Reader is the idea of integrating digital design thinking with traditional modes of physical design thinking. Is this something Google Design takes to heart?

RG/AB: Digital design has benefitted tremendously from what’s come before it—print design’s focus on highly controlled and comprehensively specified modular systems, environmental design’s capability to compress, augment, and orient space, product design’s focus on the user and the affordances of a material, motion design’s ability to make information come to life in time, and so on. That said, today’s technology is really challenging the parameters between the traditional disciplines of design. When the interface becomes three dimensional, as is the case with VR, you need to completely reframe your thinking. Material Design mixes media in its framing as well—it thinks about how to make interfaces more immediately graspable, by playing with the dimensionality of light and shadow and thinking about how objects and surfaces like paper behave in the physical world. So we’re certainly interested in all kinds of design and what we can learn from them in our work and the field of digital designer more broadly. We also do a lot of non-mediated things like conferences and events, and in those cases we’ve had to think about how Material Design translates to other contexts—how it works in print, or how it works in space. Lance Wyman spoke at SPAN in New York about the design of urban iconography. As a team tasked with streamlining and evolving the company’s graphic language, we find ourselves often collaborating with teams on all levels of design, down to the tiniest details, like helping to refine product icons. So we really look up to and stand on the shoulders of Lance and others’ work in this field. If we do our jobs well, it’s a symbiotic approach, design and technology co-evolving, and highly attuned to the nuances of a user’s context in all cases.


Example of a Material Design product icon

EB: When did “Material” come to represent something virtual instead of physical?

RG/AB: Google originated the name “Material Design” for the design system and always intended for it to be a broad, open-source initiative for the design community. We continue to lead and push the system forward, both visually and conceptually, so that it’s best-in-class and up-to-date, and we also rely on the community to push it forward and adapt it for their own uses to really bring it to life. Last year, we even established our first-ever Material Design Award, to acknowledge all the great examples of material design being produced by third-party product teams.

Example of Google Material Design “thickness”


In terms of the “virtualization” of material that you ask about, Material Design is a system for thinking about our digital surfaces that uses the traditional tenets of graphic design to suit this new context most appropriately. So, for example, with mobile devices, once you remove the mouse or other pointing device, then you are actually interacting with a surface, and the affordances of that surface—its materiality—become critical. So while it is virtualized, it’s also being touched. It’s still mediated, but less so. And that closer proximity to the interface offers a new set of opportunities. The floating action button (FAB) in Material Design rises up subtlely to meet your finger when you tap it. The number of layers in Material Design cannot exceed the device’s actual depth and fade into illusory space. It’s probably important to note that almost all GUIs have been metaphorically-driven. The desktop metaphor was one of the first, but following that were spatial metaphors (GeoCities, Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator), and more heavy-handed physical metaphors like bookshelves, dashboards, etc. These metaphors often build a bridge to make a technology more familiar to new users, but, as these users become more accustomed to the technology, this metaphorical layer can be lightened and the technology can become a bit more true to itself. A last word on metaphors: it’s been interesting in the last few years to see the directionality of these metaphors reverse, so that instead of digital technology receiving metaphors from the analog world, it’s actually starting to provide them. In the last few months we’ve been interested to hear phrasing like “paintings as social networks,” “buildings as operating systems,” and so on.


Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 11.30.04 AM

Google Design articles page


EB: How do areas like Material Design and marketing intersect with Google Design’s editorial and educational mission?

RG/AB: Material Design is an open-source product and we treat it as such with regular updates and improvements that we share widely. On our team, designers and engineers work very closely together to build, and, perhaps even more crucially, maintain the system and services we develop. That’s a hallmark of our work at Google Design—the fact that we’re lead by design and engineering in equal measure. We’ve created a unique platform for sharing our work and the work of other design teams across Google, but it’s always geared toward the perspective of a team of people who are excited to polish and push the boundaries of design and engineering. We mentioned our mission earlier: to support designers and developers both internally and externally to Google. So part of our editorial and educational imperative is to share Google’s process and thinking with the design world around important topics like design tools or identity systems, and, just as significantly, we want to listen, learn, and respond to what the design world is talking and thinking about and bring the best of those ideas back into the company to power it and make all of our work better. Google is a technology organization, but, increasingly, and especially with the formation of Google Design, it understands itself to be a cultural organization as well.

EB: What is a normal day like for the two of you?

AB: I head up our editorial efforts at Google Design. It’s really important for our team to connect with the community in a meaningful way, through a variety of channels. So I help make those connections via social comms, and editing and producing stories that support the design community both inside and outside of Google. Stories, of course, can take many forms—for example, we relaunched our site for last year’s I/O with a documentary video series that explored the making of Material Design—so storyboarding, script writing, and pitching in on art direction all fall within my general purview depending on the given project. I work closely with the designers and engineers both on and outside our team to help them frame and write their stories. This can sometimes mean parsing pretty technical language, or figuring out the most exciting lens or angle for a given project. And of course, I get to work on amazing, special projects like the SPAN conference and reader, and even dabble a bit in speech writing and technical UX writing for products. My title at Google is “Content Strategist.” Coming from a more traditional journalism background, this felt a bit foreign to me at first, but I’ve come to appreciate its techy charm and the fact that it underscores my special knack for being a generalist! is still quite young, so it’s been exciting to see it grow and evolve every quarter into something a bit more robust and editorially engaging.

RG: Within Google my role is Design Manager, and I am also the site lead for the Material Design studio in New York. This means I get to lead a small studio that’s part of a much bigger effort, meet regularly with designers and engineers to develop projects, structure priorities, provide direction and mentorship, and evaluate impact and success. So it’s a people-focused job, both for the people in the office to make sure they’re creatively challenged, and for finding the most talented people to join our team in New York. I am also one of several creative leads who assume responsibility for inter-office projects—like the SPAN Conferences and Google Design efforts in my case. On a day-to-day basis I meet with groups across the company and outside of Google to provide feedback and direction, share our design efforts, and learn from new projects and research. Much of my work with Google Design has to do with capturing and showcasing some of the most innovative thinking happening around design at Google and also fostering connections between what we’re doing and what we see in the wider design sphere.




Span Reader (2015)

EB: Why make a book? 

RG/AB: We wanted to go above and beyond the standard swag bag people are accustomed to getting at conferences, and produce something that people would appreciate and hopefully hang onto for a long time. At SPAN, we were able to bring together such an exciting array of talent, we wanted to somehow extend the moment of the conference and let people take those conversations home with them. We also thought the intellects of our speakers merited deeper engagement and they deserved some extended promotion and support from us, which we developed the Reader to provide.

One of our early interests in planning for example was privacy and access and how design could get involved and help to lead the discussions there. When we learned Geoff Manaugh was working on a new book on burglary in the city and that he was willing to share an early excerpt of this book with us for the reader, we were thrilled—this is exactly the kind of thing we were hoping for. Same thing with Amber’s interview with Nick Benson, a third-generation stonemason—we hoped this would shift the conversations we’d been having around materiality to a much different timescale. In addition to all this, it’s fair to say that conferences come and go, but books hang around. Much of why we’re able to learn from the earlier work of IBM and others is because the documents of these projects are still available to us. Olivetti supported a journal on city planning, a literary magazine, and an art gallery. Publishing, as much as convening, is part of building culture, and Google recognizes that it has a responsibility here. Everyone at Google has been thrilled at the reception of the SPAN Reader, we’ve shown we can do projects like this, and hopefully we’ve paved the way for more of them.

EB: How did the project come together?

RG/AB: The whole Google Design team worked together to source speakers for SPAN, and Rob selected and invited these speakers to the conference and worked with them to develop their talks. Once they were involved, Amber worked to assemble shortlists of essays we wanted to consider for the reader, and Amber and Rob worked together to assemble and balance the collection. There were many others on our team who were involved as well, along with crucial input of our book designer Chad Kloepfer [former senior designer at the Walker Art Center], who did a six-month “residency” at Google on our team to help bring this and other projects to life. You can read more about the design of the book here.



Span Reader (2015)


EB: The content in this book is quite diverse. On what axes did you plan this diversity? 

RG/AB: SPAN’s subtitle is “Conversations about design and technology, sponsored by Google.” This was critical to our approach. With the Olivetti publishing we just mentioned, there was a diversity of points of view and the context was one of scientific research and development. This is also where Google is at its best. We have the scale and ability to explore multiple directions in a given area of focus, and it’s that diversity of talent and perspectives that enables the company to yield the best and most innovative experiences for our users. With SPAN, we reached out to a lot of people to discuss their ideas and work—some of these conversations were preliminary and others continued to develop. The ideas represented in the reader belong to people who really opened our minds or informed our thinking about how we practice design. In a sense we made this reader to orient and focus ourselves as well as our audience. This first reader had a somewhat historical focus with the inclusion of Davide Fornari, John Harwood, and others—subsequent readers may shift conversations into other fields, or more into the present day. Please check out video of all of our session recordings in New York City and London.



The following excerpts are from the Span Reader (2015). Rob and Amber were asked to respond to each quote in regard to their work at Google Design.

Page 12
Luna Maurer, from the Conditional Design Manifesto 
“The process is the product.” (read the full manifesto)

RG/AB: Luna (of Studio Moniker in Amsterdam) was one of the first calls we made when organizing SPAN. There is something playful, irreverent, and human about her work while being highly programmatic and process-driven. We responded to it and it was gratifying to see a room full of developers and engineers jump to their feet after her keynote at SPAN London. Code review is a huge part of building products at Google, and Moniker’s process of arriving at a design through a rationalized and systematic processes seems to speak directly to the way in which engineers are equally concerned with the elegance of the string as they are the final outcome. This quote is characteristic of Luna and Moniker’s her work—absolutely rigorous, but arriving at a conclusion that is nonetheless unexpected.


Page 25
Paul Ford, speaking to a graduating class of interaction designers, about the implications of the products they will create 
“The things that you build in the next decade are going to cost people, likely millions of people, maybe a billion people depending on the networks where you hitch your respective wagons, they are going to cost a lot of people a lot of time. Trillions of heartbeats spent in interaction.” (Read the full address.)

RG/AB: Paul’s breakthrough essay “What Is Code?” Came out in Bloomberg Businessweek while we were planning SPAN and we remembered reading this earlier talk of his and wanted to include it because Paul is as smart and savvy a tech writer as there is, but he always writes with great feeling and heart. Because Google operates at a staggering scale—we have several products operating at more than a billion users—we wanted to remind ourselves of the responsibility we have in making this work. The Eameses talk about design as “the best for the most for the least.” We aspire to something very similar at Google. Every bit that has to be downloaded on costly rural internet in low-income communities, every notification that takes a user out of what they’re doing or away from someone else—designers make the decisions that yield these outcomes and carry these responsibilities. That’s how we read what Paul is saying here.


Span Reader (2015)

Page 50
Michael Rock, on the WYSIWYG design paradigm 

“In this new condition, the moment of finishing is not a fact of the medium but the will of the typographer: the work wavers in a transitory state and is only done when the designer commits. The writing may be finished but the type always temporary. This unification of the sentence and the display collapses form and content into something close to the same thing where every work is a work-in-progress.” (Read the full article.)

RG/AB: Michael and 2×4 were involved in helping us to plan SPAN, and they also shaped the interior architecture of the event. He is one of our best thinkers on design, and we loved the way his essay dramatized the flowing, variable, and technologically evolving aspects of typography then and now. His notes were a sketch for what we wanted to do with SPAN as a whole: Read technology as a continuous, rather than a sudden, process.


Page 55
John Harwood on IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design

EB: One of the texts you featured in the book was an excerpt from The Interface: IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design, 1945–1976, by John Harwood, which describes a two decade long period of design innovation that brought together IBM’s in-house design team, celebrity designers such as Charles Eames, Paul Rand, George Nelson, Marcel Breuer, and Eero Saarinen, with IBM’s researchers, scientists, and engineers. What about this experiment in corporate design innovation, and others like it, excites you? How do they inform what you are doing at Google Design? (Watch John Harwood’s SPAN talk.)

RG/AB: This year saw an explosion of new projects around the Eameses in particular, with a retrospective organized by Catherine Ince that included a replica of the multi-screen IBM film at the Barbican in London, and an exhibition organized by Stephen Edidin at the New York Historical Society about the “Silicon City” that opened with a different replica of IBM World’s Fair Pavilion, and also included sections on “9 Evenings: Theater and Engineering” and other significant cultural moments around technology. In all of this, perhaps there are three lessons that we want to remember and develop in our own work. First, the IBM effort was generous in spirit and attempted to make what could have been a remote or monolithic effort more accessible to all. Second, it was a critical conversation at a critical moment that happened successfully at scale. And third, despite being aimed at hundreds of thousands of people, the end product was not watered-down or middling—if anything, it was challenging and even avant-garde. Many of the designers who contributed to the projects at IBM considered it to be the best work they ever did. This is exactly what all of us at Google aspire to as well.


Page 66
Davide Fornari, on Arte programmata. Arte cinetica. Opere moltiplicate. Opera aparta. 

“The idea that an artwork may include algorithmic behaviors and is completed by the action and interaction of the audience became a reality thanks to the early experimentation of these artistic groups and their collaboration with forward-thinking patrons.” (Visit the Reprogrammed Art website.)

RG/AB: Davide and Rob had met last year in Italy while both were doing research on Olivetti, and we reconnected with him when our team sponsored the AGI Open Conference in Bern, Switzerland. John Harwood observes in The Interface that IBM’s insight to build a culture around “business machines,” starting with the redesign of their showroom on 5th Avenue, really came through Olivetti’s groundbreaking work. With SPAN’s presence in Europe and the U.S., we thought it was interesting to offer both sides of this corporate history, and Davide’s scholarship was an essential way to do it. In terms of contemporary connections with the art world, our team works with the Google Cultural Institute on a number of projects; their 89Plus initiative (curated by Simon Castets and Hans Ulrich Obrist), Paris Lab residency, and numerous museum partnerships, are a few examples of Google supporting the art world in an official way.


Span Reader (2015)

Page 88
Nick Benson, on evidence of the human hand in contemporary forms of stonecutting
“But that particular memorial, in all of its linear and postmodern purity, has a flavor of humanity that’s difficult to define. In the carving and the design of that inscription, there’s a reflection of that. My effort in designing a character is to have just a little bit of human spark. It’s a very contemporary form, but there’s just a teeny bit of humanity in there. It’s very subtle—almost subconscious—but you see it.” (Read the full interview.)

RG/AB: Nick’s interview has a lot to offer contemporary designers—particularly UX designers who are accustomed to being able to update and iterate ad infinitum. There’s a moment in his interview , where he describes how when he looks at an ancient Roman carving he acutely understands how it was made and can deeply empathize with a stonecarver who lived two millennia prior. That haptic knowledge is something that’s accrued and refined over time. It requires the body and a honed sensitivity. It is something that is incredibly important to keep in mind with an industry as young as ours, but as intimately connected to our daily lives and habits as the written (or chiselled) word. At Google we say, “focus on the user and the rest will follow.” In terms of design, this requires an acute awareness or consideration for how a user is experiencing the entire flow. When we design something as seemingly trivial as a button or switch, how that component sits within the larger ecosystem of the product language you’re building actually becomes integral to the entire experience. It’s not just a single message or action we’re designing. Nick’s assessment that it’s the hand of the designer that humanizes what could otherwise be considered a cold, or rational formal exercise, gets at that importance of honing conscientiousness and nuance in your craft and connecting with the human at the other end of the exchange.


Span Reader (2015)

Page 100
Taeyoon Choi, on reclaiming our digital autonomy through DIY computer production 
“When our lives are affected by the algorithms and programs, what is the act of resistance and dissent that can preserve our independence from becoming agents of machines?” (Visit Taeyoon Choi’s website.)

RG/AB: Taeyoon’s work inspired us immediately. We knew about his School for Poetic Computation in New York, a place of great curiosity and experimentation. The name itself brings C.P. Snow’s “two cultures” into dialogue—art and science, or, in the case of SPAN, design and technology. While we were working on SPAN, Taeyoon led a workshop at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn called the Handmade Computer, and we had to marvel at the simplicity of sharing the messy work of computer-making with a group of semi-technical students and artists who genuinely wanted to examine and find new connection with the technology they use everyday. We invited Taeyoon to reprise the workshop at SPAN New York, where it was one of our most popular sessions, and for the reader he contributed one of his marvellous hand-illustrated stories. For Taeyoon, the lesson—and perhaps the resistance he speaks of in his quote—comes from placing the computer back into human hands and in the decidedly unpredictable spark that comes from that unstructured programming. Taeyoon’s work is a lesson to us all to leave space in our systems for discovery and delight.


Page 115
Keller Easterling, on systems design and “know how” 

“While architects and urbanists typically design object forms with shape and outline or master plans, sometimes more powerful than designing a thing is developing an interplay between things—active forms that serve as a platform for shaping a stream of objects or a population effect.” (Read the full article.)

RG/AB: Much of the core team working on SPAN was familiar with Keller’s deep, probing work with the effects of technological infrastructure on the urban environment, and these moments where technology enters and changes the scene was something we thought SPAN should address with Keller as our guide. As we got deeper into several of her essays, it was a pleasure to find prose that was evocative and suggestive of the ways that technology has reshaped how we assess our present-day existence. That it becomes harder to know how to shape a building without an awareness of the software that runs it, or the data that shapes it, or the flows of activity that surround it, or the hardware it houses. This tangle of issues, she suggests, dissolves a firm sense of knowing that something should be shaped in a specific way into a different kind of accrued knowledge, knowing how. At SPAN New York she explained that “You can know how to kiss.” In her essay, she credits her interest in know how to Gilbert Ryle, a British philosopher who coined the now-widespread phrase “the ghost in the machine,” though the machine in his meaning was our own bodies, not our devices. On a more practical level, as designers working hand in hand with engineers, we could not agree more with Keller’s assessment. So much of our formal expression is borne on platforms where products are interacting and influencing a stream of interdependent experiences. In including this essay in the reader, we wanted to celebrate her work and point to these fundamental concepts as well.


Page 134
Justin McGuirk, on the smart home 

“As the primary interface of the “internet of things,” the smart home is effectively the tendrils of the network rising out of the ground and into every one of our household appliances to allow mass data collection and digital surveillance.” (Read the full article.)

RG/AB: Justin’s essay, and his subsequent talk at SPAN London, captured beautifully the complex web of issues at play in questions of privacy and security. We both want our devices to do more and must constantly adjust and check that desire other political and social aspects of our humanity. His talk at SPAN highlighted how different cultures have answered questions of urban privacy in different ways—some requiring more, some less—and like SPAN more broadly we find this complex and nuanced result to be the most truthful. We included the essay to remind designers, especially digital and product designers working in this space, of their responsibility to both delight and guide users. We also included it because Justin’s essay, along with other scholarship on this issue, helps to make what can be an invisible shift of having sensors and data in our domestic spaces more visible. At SPAN, Rob invoked a lesson from Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn as an earlier parallel. Brand says one of the problems with using vinyl siding on houses instead of wooden siding is that vinyl hides rot and other structural flaws beneath the surface. Wood, in Brand’s eyes, is the better material because it doesn’t shield this process. Instead, wood is easy to patch and it alerts a homeowner when repairs needed. In so doing, it makes the home’s real-time structural integrity more visible.


Span Reader (2015)

Page 156
Geoff Manaugh, on illegal uses of space revealing new dimensions
“The FBI’s unsettling discovery of a hidden topological dimension tucked away somehow inside the surface of the city is a stunning moment—the relation that, on a different plane, point A might illicitly be connected to point B, and that, in a sense, it is the burglar’s role to make this link real, to operationalize urban topology. The burglar, in this context, is a kind of three-dimensional actor amid the two-dimensional surfaces and objects of the city, finding ways out, through, between and around what you and I would otherwise take at face value as walls, floors, ceilings, or even simply doors.” (Read the full article.)

RG/AB: We’ve known Geoff and been fans of his writing on BLDG BLOG for years, and his new book A Burglar’s Guide to the City draws some really wonderful ideas out about urbanism, privacy, security, technology, and experience by looking how how the city is used by those who disobey its laws. He describes burglars as “actors” in the quote you’ve selected, but they’re “users” of the city just the same, and, perhaps more accurately, they’re “analogue hackers!” For SPAN, we saw such a natural affinity between Keller and Geoff’s work—their tendency to celebrate the margins of the built environment as having the most compelling narratives, or the greatest potential for innovation (“use and misuse”). Disruption is such an overused phrase these days in tech, but Geoff’s plea for designers to find the “design briefs hidden in everyday life” is really empowering designers (and thinkers, artists alike) to be agents of change, not just interpreters. ■



Span Reader (2015)

Most of the content in the SPAN Reader (text and video) can be accessed via Google Design’s website or their Medium page.

Type Designers Q&A: Or Type

Or Type is an Icelandic type foundry established in 2013 by Guðmundur Úlfarsson & Mads Freund Brunse.   Postcard showcasing Landnáma, 2015 (Photography: Moos-Tang).   This past summer, a number of us here in the Design Department first encountered Or Type’s website (developed by Owen Hoskins). In addition to the fresh selection of typefaces, we […]

Or Type is an Icelandic type foundry established in 2013 by Guðmundur Úlfarsson & Mads Freund Brunse.


Postcard showcasing Landnáma, 2015 (Photography: Moos-Tang).


This past summer, a number of us here in the Design Department first encountered Or Type’s website (developed by Owen Hoskins). In addition to the fresh selection of typefaces, we were impressed by the interactivity of Or Type’s live, editable font testing fields that cleverly retain the words and characters typed-in by previous (or current) visitors to the website. As a cheeky disclaimer on the website pronounces: “ON AIR—Everything you type is recorded and instantaneously sent out on the wire.”

Other type foundries certainly make use of this type of live/editable font testing feature in varying degrees, but certain subtle moments set the experience of interacting with Or Type’s website a part from others. For example: Try typing in your favorite 4-letter curse word in one of the font testing fields and hit your Enter/Return key, or hit the Rewind icon in the bottom-right corner of the page to witness a sort of sped-up recording which plays in reverse while displaying the characters and words that visitors have typed-in, or click the Or Type logo in the bottom-left corner on the page to reveal so-called poems of the strung-together words that have been typed-in by visitors. This collection of tested words was even used by Or Type to auto-generate several volumes of books (doubling as Or Type’s printed type specimens) that are available through Lulu.

Guðmundur and Mads have created a bold and diverse collection of typefaces that have been making some notable appearances in the past year: from being used on the cover of international photography magazine, Foam, to the cover of the London-based music magazine The Wire, to the typographic identity for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

Below, the Reykjavík and London-based designers have responded to twelve questions regarding their practice as type designers.


Postcard showcasing Separat, 2015


Ryan Gerald Nelson (RGN): Do you have an ultimate goal in terms of where you hope to see one of your typefaces in use someday? (Being used by a major car brand? By a sports team? In a film title? Other?)

Or Type: We’ve always wanted to make a typeface for football (guess it’s soccer for you) jerseys and last year that dream came true! We made it to the back of the Icelandic national team jerseys. They then went on to make into the finals of the Euro 2016. In actuality, that project was a bit of a mess though. In the end, they had mixed up weights and styles and it all looked kind of odd. So we’re hoping to be able to fix it before the next Euros, but we haven’t heard from them yet, which is worrying.


An overview photo of the Or Type launch exhibition of in Gallery Þoka, Reykjavík, 2013.


RGN: When it comes to creating a typeface, it seems that there are now more alternatives to the traditional font-making program of choice: FontLab. If you use FontLab, what convinces you to stay with FontLab? If not, what is your font-making program of choice?

Or Type: Our program of choice is Glyphs by Georg Seifert. To be honest, FontLab kind of ran out of time. It was getting really outdated and Glyphs just stepped in and convinced us to come on board. I think that even was the reason why Georg started making Glyphs: he just got sick of the old FontLab. Since then, FontLab has made a major update and is looking quite slick to be honest, but we’re really happy with working in Glyphs now.

RGN: Which character do you find the most difficult to draw/create? Give us an analogy to help us understand what drawing this character is like.

Or Type: It’s difficult not to answer “S/s” to this question. It can get extremely frustrating, but then again, of course really satisfying to finish the S/s.


The current selection of Or Type S/s’s.


RGN: Have you ever discovered one of your typefaces being used in a really unexpected place or project?

Or Type: We noticed that a cruise ship company recently bought one of our typefaces. Seeing our typeface on a cruise ship would certainly be unexpected.

RGN: Did you both formally study type design? Or are you guys self-taught?

Or Type: We had some courses when we were at school, but we haven’t gone to study type design specifically.

RGN: Your guys’ homepage is quite unique in that it displays a number of font testing areas that record the words and characters that are typed-in by previous visitors of the site. These words and characters are retained and displayed until a new visitor comes along and replaces what’s displayed. That said, what’s the most bizarre thing that you guys have seen typed-in and left behind by a visitor?

Or Type: We see a lot of things—all kinds of things really. We get love and hate letters through there, intern requests, and all kinds of stuff. The other day we noticed that someone wrote “Will you marry me?”, but we’ve yet to hear if that was a real proposal or not.


A screenshot from of the possible marriage proposal.



A screenshot from showing someone commenting on Or Type’s kerning.


RGN: Of your offerings, which typeface is your most popular amongst your customers? And do you have any theory as to why this is your most popular typeface?

Or Type: Since we launched our new website last year, or best-sellers seem to be Landnáma and Separat. These are also the typefaces which seem to be around and which we stumble upon most frequently.


Landnáma used by GUNMAD for the book Competing Temporalities by Lloyd Corporation, London, 2013.


RGN: Of all the times you’ve seen your typeface in use, has there ever been an instance in which you’ve been appalled by how the designer used your typeface?

Or Type: I guess we have a very specific way of using our typefaces, so often when you see people working in a different way it can be strange to see your own typefaces in that context. Having said that, sometimes it feels as though we designed the projects that make use of our typefaces, probably because of the nuanced characteristics of our letters. So never really appalled, no, not yet.


Unreleased typeface, Las Vegas, used by Elana Schelnker for the “Time Travel” issue of Conveyor Magazine, New York, 2015.


RGN: In your opinion, are there too many typefaces in existence? Or not enough? Are those questions relevant to you as you begin creating a typeface?

Or Type: You could say that, but the same goes for everything: too many records, too many cars, etc. At least we’re not polluting the earth by making more. Having said that, it’s relevant for us to design a typeface that doesn’t already exist. This is an important part of our practise—to create something fresh and original.


Unreleased typeface, Lemmen Antiqua, used with Rather in the latest “Talent” issue of FOAM magazine. Designed by Vandejong, Amsterdam.


RGN: When you describe your work/profession to family and friends who are not acquainted with typography and type design, what do you say?

Or Type: Simply, that we draw letters and sell them.


Or Type exhibition at Geysir during DesignMarch 2015, Reykjavík.


RGN: Matthew Carter rocks an iconic ponytail—what are your feelings on this subject? And do either of you aspire to sport an iconic look of your own?

Or Type: I think we both wanna rock the ponytail when we turn 78. Guðmundur already has long hair, so he could sport that look at anytime.


Or Type portrait from DesignMarch 2015, Reykjavík.


Rather used by GUNMAD for a book by Merete Vyff Slyngborg, Copenhagen, 2013.


RGN: What’s more of a consideration for you when designing a typeface: screen or print? Or are these contexts irrelevant?

Or Type: It’s been mostly print up until recently, but making fonts ready for both web and screen is definitely a part of the next step of development for Or Type. Given the speed at which these technologies are developing, we’ve never consciously been too geeky about making our fonts for a certain resolution—it will soon all be HD screens anyway.

RGN: Many thanks for your time, Guðmundur and Mads!


Or Type exhibition at Unit Gallery, London, in conjunction with the re-release of the Or Type website, 2015.


—See more of Or Type’s work on their website, Facebook, or Tumblr.

2015: The Year According to Michael Oswell

Berlin, December 2015 To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, artist Adam Pendleton to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: […]



Berlin, December 2015

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, artist Adam Pendleton to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year According to                                   .

Michael Oswell is a British–born designer based in the Schengen Zone. He is interested in operating in unconventional contexts, regarding design as a kind of terraforming; mediating between fact, fiction and rumour. He has made songs about graphic designers. Teaching, exhibitions, accolades, etc. More words. Client list. Call today.

Firstly an apologetic preface: this is less a catalogue rarefied selections from a tastemaker at the top of their game so much as a collection of personal synaptic touch-points that marked 2015 as a difficult, disturbing, joyful year. The first months were spent freaking out over mysterious health problems that culminated in an emergency cholecystectomy. Two weeks later, a tentative move to Berlin—a thoroughly revitalising experience later dulled by the theft of my backpack containing items that consitute ‘home’ to a nomad. My laptop, my phone(s), my passport. A second psychological scare, resolved through a rich tapestry of friendship, colleagues, collaboration.

As such, a number of the following selections didn’t materialise this year; they just happened through circumstance to play a role in it. I didn’t read as much this year as I should have; I went to fewer art openings and film screenings; and my experience of new music came from frequenting (admittedly rather good) techno clubs. I have been a Bad Graphicdesigner: I have failed in my task to actively take in the world and infuse it into my life’s work. I’ve used culture this year as a comforting eiderdown, my filter bubble is in full effect. With apologies, here are my things of 2015.



Torus XXIII, by Vril

In the Hall on the evening of January 1st, I heard the distinctive 110bpm clicking; the continually descending, guitar-like riff signalling that 2014 was in the process of being sucked down and remodelled. The clicking continued onto the train back, onto my bike through the streets in the rain, into waiting rooms of varying medical specificity.




Keller Easterling, Extrastatecraft. Published by Verso. Designed by Michael Oswell.

Extrastatecraft, by Keller Easterling

Two confessions. Firstly, this book was published in late 2014, and secondly, I designed its jacket (art directed as always by Verso’s Andy Pressman). One of the dictates of book cover design is that you should always read the book before you design the cover – a dictate established by someone with no concept of contemporary publishing production timelines. I didn’t have a chance to read the book until this year, so in it goes.




MOUNTGROVE / Everything I know about Technocapitalism, I learned at Berghain

Ashkan Sepahvand is a writer who amongst other things runs the Technosexual reading circle here in Berlin; in its extended and informal incarnations it’s resulted in some stimulating conversations of varying degrees of coherence about contemporary selfhood, collectivity, sex, technology and the future of the species. Everything I Know About Technocapitalism…, a performative lecture, falls under the umbrella of Mountgrove – the sprawling, delirious science-fictional imaginary of a well-known techno club, home to the intermorphs and other demiurgic concepts. It was first performed at the ICA in May; I managed to see a later performance at Spektrum in Berlin. Delirious, super ambivalent, and ultimately accurate. Our happiness is a horizon, and a platform.




Sans Soleil, by Chris Marker




The Nausea of Uploading, by Jaakko Pallasvuo

Commanding attention in exchange for network kudos doesn’t feel like a sustainable form of life. The mainline kick of getting retweeted has dulled. Public discourse got soured by layer upon layer of second-guessing and assumption of bad faith. This year, the backchannels were more rich, more vital. But I don’t want to Quit Social Media To Focus On Real Life. I want to lurk—as Jaakko says, deleting twitter is just the “having a buzzworthy twitter.”




David Wojnarowicz, Untitled (Buffalo), 1988–89

Untitled (Buffalo), by David Wojnarowicz

At some point in the summer, I made Untitled (Buffalo) the wallpaper for both my computer and my phone. It must surely have something to say about 2015. The image came back to me after seeing it used on YouTube as the background for a Delia Derbyshire radio composition, in which different voices recall dreams of falling. The combination did a certain something to the image, which is so rooted in a certain epoch of AIDS activism. All these different ways for buffalo to fall.




Reduce 2, by Vainqueur

A single notch-filtered FM chord, breathing, in, out, in, out; a jittering high-pass-filtered stab of noise for a hihat; a round, enveloping kick – this track, which came out in 1996, unfurled itself at approximately 3:30am on October 12, in the process becoming a new affective cipher I’ve yet to fully dekode.



KIC 8462852

Probably not a Dyson swarm. But not definitively not-A-Dyson-Swarm until definitively proven not to not be not-a-Dyson-swarm.




Black Transparency: The Right to Know in the Age of Mass Surveillance (2015), by Metahaven

Black Transparency, by Metahaven

The bare possessions of a non-person living in a non-place.
A laptop.
A backpack.
A night with friends.
An on-and-off relationship.
A temporary job.
A trove of secrets.

We have a non-plan.
All we do is show that we still exist.

A delicious neapolitan ice-cream of a book.




David Cameron Fucked A Dead Pig

The British media’s reaction to Jeremy Corbyn showed what a deeply fucked up establishment it really is, but its treatment of this delicious pink faberge egg of a story really sealed the deal. I had the great pleasure of reading defences of Cameron that amounted to the underclasses are simply jealous that they don’t get to FUCK DEAD PIGS and who *hasn’t* fucked a dead pig in their youth?. Hilarious but irrelevant. None of us will ever look at Dave the same way ever again. He will forever be David Cameron, Who Fucked A Dead Pig. This whole affair was an oasis of pure and unblemished joy, a real highlight.

11. IMF: It Gets Better (Pinkwashing Version)

12. Saying “No” to Nomadism (#NeauxMoNomadisme)
13. The Continued Evolution of ASMR Videos (#Rule34b)
14. Hay guise its meh (#NeverGiveUpOnYourDreams___________LikeEvenIfYouReallyWantToJustDzohnt)
15. Goodbye, by Bottoms
16. Enya Revival (#LetTheOrinicoFlow)
17. Progress Bar (#WhatWouldOstgutDo)
18. Pierre Bernard
19. ISIS Dildo Flag (#SexToysAsLanguage)
20. London’s continued decline and war on nightlife
21. Bono’s on-stage tribute to Paris (#NousSommesTousParis)
22. PrEP
23. 9/11 Building 7, by Martin Noakes (#OpenFireCantMeltSteelItsNotHotEnough)
24. Unedited Footage of a Bear
25. The concept of Yanis Varoufakis
26. Trance (#ItWillAlwaysBeWithYou)

2015: The Year According to Na Kim

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Michael Oswell to filmmaker Tala Hadid, artist Adam Pendleton to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year According […]


Na Kim. Photo: LESS

Na Kim. Photo: LESS

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Michael Oswell to filmmaker Tala Hadid, artist Adam Pendleton to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year According to                                   .

After receiving her MFA in 2008 from the Werkplaats Typografie (Arnhem, NL), Na Kim launched her own Seoul-based studio. Most recently, Kim has been an artist-in-residence at Doosan Gallery in New York since July 2015 (and concluding in December 2015).


SET, exhibition view

SET in New York

Since this past July, I’ve been staying in New York for a six-month artist residency program at Doosan Gallery. During this stay, I created a solo exhibition in addition to publishing an artist book—both of which are titled SET.

SET, exhibition view

SET, the solo exhibition of Na Kim—one of the DOOSAN Artist Awards 2013 recipients—was on exhibit from October 8th–November 5th, 2015 at Doosan Gallery in New York. With a background in graphic design, Na Kim creates expansive work that freely traverses the boundary between fine art and design. By doing away with pre-existing rules and symbolic meanings, Kim studies the essential elements in form, rearranging it based on its geometric standards. In SET, Kim’s work from the past 10 years will be exhibited in one space, and a namesake catalogue will be shown as part of the exhibition. Regardless of production year, medium, commission, etc, the catalogue comprises of design and other works that are reordered according to the visual elements found in each work. The production and editing of this catalogue is a collaborative effort with graphic designer Joris Kritis. As it is the first time Kim has handed over the designer role to another person, she intends to redefine the notion of the artist and the designer’s role. Along those lines, the wall and floor space of the exhibition will be divided in a similar proportion as the catalogue’s design, then the works in the catalogue will be made into wall drawing, serving as the set for a performance that will coincide with the visual aspects of Kim’s work. In this way, Kim’s work brings out the intrinsic distinctions between fine art and design, tearing down the boundaries of process and form. And by expanding into the realm of installation and performance, the artist shows the possibilities of a cohesive and unified body of work. It is these reconstituted and restructured heterogeneous elements that point towards and reveal new meaning and potential.


SET, Publication by Roma




Je suis Kiri

The whole world was shocked by the shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Paris endured additional terror attacks in the latter part of this year, but the Charlie Hebdo attack was the starting point of the debates on many aspects against terrorism in Europe. I became aware of Hara-Kiri—a former body of Charlie Hebdo which had been more progressive and daring than now—as a result of this tragedy. RIP the brave, Stupid and Vicious. Look at those covers!


The French journal Hara-Kiri was a satirical journal published once per month. The journal contains many insults, plenty of black humor, abominations, vile pictures, and really harsh writing. The main featured themes were adult content, violence, body horror, as well as political provocations. See more amazing covers.



selfie stick

Tourists use a selfie stick outside The Louvre in Paris, which is expected to follow Versailles and ban the selfie stick from inside the building.


This new invention has undoubtedly become a must-have amongst tourists and social networking types. Now, the selfie stick has become a nuisance and potential liability. Read more about why galleries and museums and banning selfie sticks.



MMM Corners mmm

A few years ago I saw a concept image for the MMM Corners museum and immediately thought that I have never seen such an aggressive and stupid work of architecture before. And now, unfortunately, it’s real.

Read more about the museum on Designboom or from the evil architect, Zaha Hadid.





Karl Nawrot, Selection from LIG Art Hall poster series

Karl Nawrot & Mind Walk

One of my favorite graphic designers, Karl Nawrot won the first prize at the Chaumont International Poster and Graphic Design Festival in 2015. His LIG Art Hall poster series was a great example of how a graphic designer can create an autonomous approach for translating and giving form to the content of contemporary culture. Recently, Karl is having an solo exhibition at Bel Ordinaire, Pau.


Karl Nawrot, Selection from LIG Art Hall poster series



Karl Nawrot, Selection from LIG Art Hall poster series



Unlimited Edition

Fairs, Art and Books

“Why has there been such a boom in art book fairs?”—Supporting Yannick’s point, there were 2 events in Seoul in the past year. One is Goods, the (sort of) alternative art fair and the other is Unlimited Edition, the art book fair already in its 7th year. This kind of culture, comparably, has a short history, but both of these art/book fairs were a great success in attracting visitors. Additionally, young artists and designers are finding their own way to exhibit and sell their art works or products. Read more about Goods.




After 30 years

I have to admit that I was a fan of Michael J. Fox. Not only did the Back to the Future trilogy celebrate the 30th anniversary of its beginning this year, but the moment in the future that Marty McFly travels to—October 21, 2015—was also celebrated. I miss these adorable guys—Dr. Brown and Marty, from my childhood.




Na Kim, Identity for Art Sonje Center, 2015

Identity for ASJC

I designed a new visual identity for Art Sonje Center in Seoul, which they began applying to their website and materials this year.

Na Kim, Identity for Art Sonje Center, 2015


Na Kim, Identity for Art Sonje Center, 2015




Na Kim, avatar

Want to transform yourself?

It’s easy and fun. My Idol is an amazing new app for making avatar. A great way to kill time, but in certain moments quite scary.




Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster at Centre Pompidou, Paris

The best exhibition in 2015.



2015: The Year According to Hassan Rahim

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, artist Adam Pendleton to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year According […]



To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, artist Adam Pendleton to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year According to                                   .

Hassan Rahim is an artist, art director, and publisher. He has worked with a variety of culture producers including Ghostly International, Jay-Z, Suited Magazine, THVM, Wet, Marilyn Manson, MMOTHS, and more. He is co-founder of publishing platform Shabazz Projects, and has shown his personal work in Amsterdam, Milan, Miami, and Los Angeles.



Surging Seas

“In 100 years, this is going to be beach front property!” This map from Climate Central illustrates how the ocean’s water will overflow in best and worst case global warming scenarios. Additionally new reports suggest the sea level rise has slowed the earth’s rotation by 1.7 milliseconds.


Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 10.03.02 PM

Björk Live at City Center, NY

Tickets were $$$ but we had to make it happen. First time seeing Björk live. I wasn’t even familiar with the new album, which initially concerned me but turns out it barely mattered, her great performance paired with the general soundscape felt like I knew every song. Arca was low-key the star of the show with his outfit though.


Floating Points, Elaenia

Album of the year, hands down. Floating Points has been on my radar for a long time, and I don’t think anyone expected a jazz album from him. Oh, and he’s studying for his PHD in “The Neuroscience of Pain.” You know, on the side.

© The Vinyl Factory, 2015 best LP vinyl record releases, Photography Michael Wilkin



Damaris Goddrie

2015 showed the rise of many great models of color in the fashion world. I keep up with the industry pretty closely, especially as my girlfriend (Jessica Willis) is a stylist. In particular we both were dead in love with Damaris on sight—she has such a classic look.



What Are Thooooose?!



“The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence”

An eye opening piece on the exponential growth of human technology. Long read. My favorite vocabulary takeaway was the term “DPU,” or “Die Process Unit” — the amount of years a person would have to travel into the future to “literally die of shock” at how advanced and incomprehensible the world is to him.

Tesseract scene from Interstellar2014


on stage during the BRIT Awards 2015 at The O2 Arena on February 25, 2015 in London, England.

Kanye West, “All Day” (Live At The 2015 Brit Awards)

The song wasn’t huge, but this was the most powerful TV performance in years. Clearly racially charged and totally unexpected. The looks on the crowd’s faces.



Martine Syms, Vertical Elevated Oblique

Walker readers may know her name very well by now, but if not, watch for it. Martine had an amazing debut solo show at Bridgette Donahue this year, the works of which were primarily inspired by a riff on a popular joke, “Everybody wanna be a black woman but nobody wanna be a black woman.”



The Lonely Death of George Bell

A riveting article by the New York Times, chronicling the process of investigating the life of a rather unknown hoarder who quietly passed away in his filthy Queens apartment. The journalist follows the city on their full journey, from tracking down his family/friends, to allocating his estate, and eventually burial. “Sometimes, along the way, a life’s secrets are revealed.”



West to East

On a personal note, 2015 will always be important to me as the year I moved to New York. My girlfriend Jessica and I left Los Angeles, clearly against the flow of most artist migration, to experience a new pace of life. So far, living in New York has given me perspective I couldn’t attain in California. But mostly, imagine growing up with movies like Home Alone but never having snow on Christmas!

Thomas Demand, Gangway, 2001

2015: The Year According to Åbäke

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, artist Adam Pendleton to artist and publisher Hassam Rahim—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year […]



official portrait, Aurélien Mole 2012

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, artist Adam Pendleton to artist and publisher Hassam Rahim—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year According to                                   .

Åbäke is a transdisciplinary design studio based in London, working in the fields of graphic design, fashion, art, publishing, film, cuisine, music, furniture, dance, architecture, etc. “[Åbäke] means ‘something in between’, ‘a hulky rusty car which still functions but is not pretty’, ‘something clumsy’, ‘very large thing’, ‘monstrosity’, rather negative definitions but they somehow loosely describe what we do.” *



No news

A strange year regarding what news comes into one’s life. I gradually stopped buying newspapers or RSS-feeding myself with media which felt either focused on the negative or simply lying to us. Of course, Fox News is still a must to understand how low we have come. The only place I’d get a glimpse of what was happening was at airports. Even there, television screens are mute, which leaves some place to imagination. It’s just a ride, as Bill Hicks said once.



21 October 2015, the day Marty McFly arrived now

I was in the audience at a talk on that day. The speaker was wearing too many layers for the over heated conference room and kept taking clothes off and on while speaking of what has now left my memory. Retrospectively I understand he was wearing the Marty McFly outfit or equivalent, celebrating it for himself.



31 December 2015

I fell asleep early and dreamt of the Olympics and the US presidential election. I know who won yet cannot remember.


Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 6.02.02 PM

25 February 2015

My friend Yair Barelli and I are locked in a house for a week with ten students. We all agree to not discuss what happened with people outside.


Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 10.18.22 PM

11 July 2015

A year ago (take or leave a few days) On Kawara died. He’s still present, that’s cool.


Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 10.47.25 PM

13 March 2015

A baby was born in Sweden. In exactly 17 years time, few people know she will win the football World Cup for Nigeria, abolishing racism. Wow.



25 October 2015

Lotte Keller made a beef stew. Her children happily judged it the absolute best dish ever in the history of cooking. They even ate the salad without dressing.



3 January 2015

Stefano Carcetti, a student from Rome, didn’t use Internet or buy anything for the whole 24 hours.



25 November 2015

Julia Simon, a waitress in Brussels, buys a box of chocolate. She realises how bizarre it is they should be shaped as mussels and shrimps. She spends the next week asking people what they think of it.

Type Designers Q&A: Heavyweight

Heavyweight, a Prague-based type foundry, was established by Filip Matejicek and Jan Horcik in 2014. Filip and Jan were kind enough to set aside some of their time to respond to ten questions regarding their practice as type designers. They elaborate on their entry points into type design, observing their typefaces in use out in the world, their […]

Heavyweight, a Prague-based type foundry, was established by Filip Matejicek and Jan Horcik in 2014.

Filip and Jan were kind enough to set aside some of their time to respond to ten questions regarding their practice as type designers. They elaborate on their entry points into type design, observing their typefaces in use out in the world, their aspirations as a type foundry, reacting to and evolving alongside the field of graphic design, and more.



Endless Illusion Records (CZ), Ideomatic (FR); Graphic design by Filip Matejicek and Jan Horcik; Font by Heavyweight: Pano (coming soon)

Ryan Gerald Nelson (RGN): In looking back at your younger days, are you aware of the moment or period of time at which you first became interested in letterforms and how they were made?

Heavyweight (Jan): I came across typography and typefaces as such for the first time while painting graffiti in the first year of high school. Back then, I was highly interested in hip-hop culture, a part of which is graffiti, yet this culture intertwines with several fields which are often associated with authentic visual expression. It was only during my studies of Typography at a college in Prague when I experienced the need for basing my graphic design works on a distinctive typeface, considering that I was quite unimpressed by the generally available typefaces at that time.

Heavyweight (Filip): I remember the moment when one of my friends shared with me a catalogue of graphic design creations (unfortunately, I do not recall the title of the book). It happened during my first year of high school. While flipping through the book, we reached a chapter solely about typography. There was this pure use of typography and beautiful layout, of beautiful books, large details of shapes, etc. This chapter, for me, was completely different from any other graphic design which the book offered. I fell in love with those forms. Right at that moment, I naively desired to develop a coherent set of characters and use them in my own works. Yet it was impossible, since I was unable to create it at that time. That is, in my opinion, the moment when I became interested in typography in a rather complex way.


Heavyweight type specimen

RGN: Which character do you find the most difficult to draw/create? Give us an analogy to help us understand what drawing this character is like.

Heavyweight: This is quite a challenging question, considering the amount of letters and characters that an entire typeface demands. However, if we look at it from a general perspective and ignore the coherent characteristics and feelings of the letters in relation to the entire alphabet, then the most difficult letters are those which stand-out on viewing the entire alphabet as a whole. We presume that you will not be surprised when we mention the characters of “s”, “g”, and similar characters. However, in order not to sound so superficial, also such relatively overlooked characters of “,” or “~” cause a lot of trouble while being created. All of these examples are not that difficult to draw by themselves without any connection to other letters. Yet, when it comes to gracefully fitting these characters into the nature of the alphabet and even support it, then they become very important and difficult.


Heavyweight type specimens; Font in use: Left

Heavyweight type specimens; Font in use: Left

RGN: What’s your process for naming your typefaces?

Heavyweight: When choosing names for typefaces, we attach importance to the reason of their creation. In our case, a lot of typefaces were created for a specific occasion, even though they were not drawn to be strictly customized. When inventing names for typefaces, we also consider the practicalities of promoting the typefaces and their inclusion into specimens and similar promotional materials. For us, the name should simply support the feeling that the typeface awakens.


Heavyweight type specimen; Font in use: Left

RGN: Do you have an ultimate goal in terms of where you hope to see one of your typefaces in use someday? (Being used by a major car brand? By a sports team? In a film title? Other?)

Heavyweight: This is an interesting question which we honestly haven’t entirely considered yet. Perhaps because none of our typefaces have made it to that level yet. A better idea of what is and what isn’t possible will be realized when we launch our website (which should happen soon). However, we would be lying if we said that we don’t envision our typefaces being generously used, for example, within the cultural sphere, or in certain international art galleries, or as part of a graphic identity for a city’s transportation system, or a large sign on a huge cargo ship, and more. We also like to imagine, for example, a typeface of ours being applied to a space shuttle which heads for the universe as part of a space agency’s visual identity.


Heavyweight type specimens; Font in use: Gletscher

Heavyweight type specimens; Font in use: Gletscher

RGN: Have you ever discovered one of your typefaces being used in a really unexpected place or project?

Heavyweight: In some cases, it is quite difficult to trace all applications of our typefaces. Yet it is true that the power of the internet is obvious and there is a lot of information coming our way through the graphic design community.

As the time goes by and while growing up with and observing the field of graphic design, we’ve become more naturally inclined to create typefaces which are less characteristic and more universal, yet still with the Heavyweight authenticity. The only exception that we can recall is the Topol typeface which was our first jointly-produced typeface, and while celebrating its creation we offered it for free download for one week. As a result of this benevolent move, we received paradoxically strange, often even surprisingly negative responses from people who didn’t belong to the graphic design community at all. This was an unintended, yet very interesting and valuable insight into the perspective of other people and their reaction to “different” typefaces.


Heavyweight type specimen—silkscreened poster (594mm x 841mm); Font in use: Topol;

Heavyweight type specimen—silkscreened poster (594mm x 841mm); Font in use: Topol;


Heavyweight type specimen; Font in use: Topol Narrow Sans

RGN: Of your offerings, which typeface is your most popular amongst your customers? And do you have any theory as to why this is your most popular typeface?

Heavyweight: At the moment, we offer four typefaces and the most popular of them all is Danzza. We always find it interesting to ask ourselves the question of why it is that this typeface is so popular as well as questioning how to make other typefaces that can be equally as popular. When Danzza was being created, our thought was that this typeface should be drawn as a grotesque that was more geometric, all the while capturing the current tone of graphic design. But we also followed our own taste while creating Danzza.

The truth is that all of our typefaces have been based on the model and approach we used to create Danzza. Thus, if Danzza had less stylistic character, it would probably not be so popular. In the end, we feel that an ideal typeface should contain only as much (or as little) stylistic character as to not feel stale, but to also be created in such a way as to reflect the leanings of contemporary graphic design.


Heavyweight type specimen; Font in use: Danzza

RGN: Of all the times you’ve seen your typeface in use, has there ever been an instance in which you’ve been appalled by how the designer used your typeface?

Heavyweight: We haven’t really been dismayed by anything we’ve seen yet. However, we were surprised regarding certain uses of our typeface, Topol, which reached a lot of people over the internet and who used the typeface in many different ways.

Honestly, we would like to see our typefaces used in a manner which we are not used to. This is related to your earlier question, since seeing a typeface in use, from a different perspective, also helps to uncover the typeface’s hidden potential. On the other hand, it’s also interesting to see the slightly erroneous or odd uses of the typeface that emerge when the typeface is used by a “lay person”. We have, of course, seen typefaces being used by lay people, yet not in an odd situation that’s worth mentioning.

RGN: What’s the impetus behind the making of your typefaces? Being commissioned by client? Attempting to fill a void in the world of available typefaces? A custom creation for a project that you’re a graphic designer for? A combination of? None of the above?

Heavyweight: In fact, all of the above is true. Sometimes, we create a logotype which then evolves into an entire typeface. Sometimes it is an entire project which is so important that it’s worth it to create a special typeface. And sometimes we are also approached directly for the creation of a specific typeface. However, should we talk about the future, we’re most inclined to create typefaces that further complement our selection of current typefaces. We would really not like to find ourselves simply offering standard grotesques or headline typefaces, nor oldstyle serif typefaces, for example.


Heavyweight type specimen; Font in use: Joe182; Photo: Michaela Čejková

Heavyweight type specimen; Font in use: Joe182; Photo: Michaela Čejková

RGN: What’s more of a consideration for you when designing a typeface: screen or print? Or are these contexts irrelevant?

Heavyweight: Prior to any drawing of a typeface itself, we do not think about the way that the typeface is going to work in print or on the screen. More importantly, we consider a range of things: the manner of the typeface’s functioning within a text in general, the feelings that the typeface awakens, how modern the typeface should be or how much of a link to history the typeface should include, as well as similar topics.

Considerations of screen or print applications are mostly of secondary importance, yet the client may, at times, give us an assignment which will limit the typeface only for use on a website, for example. In that moment, we clearly approach the task differently. We do not consider the influence of technology and the quality of display, but rather the form of the media as such. After all, these two different manners of application can be combined successfully.


Heavyweight type specimen; Font in use: Left

RGN: When you describe your work/profession to family and friends who are not acquainted with typography and type design, what do you say?

Heavyweight: This is a very good issue which is discussed in our circles of friends who do this for living, or who are fans of this field. When a person becomes engaged in a specific field in any way, that person then sees the given field as more significant than other relative fields and practitioners, and this also applies to typography.

Although typography is an important field, it clearly does not save mankind, and therefore we try to keep its significance only amongst the circles of those who are interested. On many occasions, we’ve found ourselves interested in a distant field of practice/profession, and then, naturally, we’ve asked ourselves whether our field is interesting to other people after all.

Yet, there is still the prevailing question of how it is possible to make a living from doing this considering that typography was discovered a long time ago and, relatively speaking, cannot be moved much further anymore. When we talk about typefaces which maintain a contemporary appeal and which are still both usable and readable, then yes, it is possible.

In the end, we are honored to be involved in the expansive field of graphic design, yet, when asked by someone outside of this field about what it is we do, we often simply reply that we engage in graphic design with a focus on letters for a living.

RGN: Many thanks for your time, Heavyweight!


Heavyweight Type Services—Filip Matejicek & Jan Horcik

—See more of Heavyweight’s type design on their website or on Facebook.



Refugees Welcome: A Storefront Sticker Campaign by Veda Partalo and Burlesque

How can someone know that they’re welcome in a new place? What can we do to tell them they are? In response to the current refugee crisis and harsh anti-refugee sentiments harbored and broadcasted by some Americans, Veda Partalo collaborated with Mike Davis and Wes Winship of Burlesque of North America to create a set of window stickers which will enable local businesses to […]

How can someone know that they’re welcome in a new place? What can we do to tell them they are? In response to the current refugee crisis and harsh anti-refugee sentiments harbored and broadcasted by some Americans, Veda Partalo collaborated with Mike Davis and Wes Winship of Burlesque of North America to create a set of window stickers which will enable local businesses to create visibly welcoming environments for recent refugees. I spoke with Partalo and Davis about the process of creating these stickers, from initial ideas to design and distribution.

First, could tell me a little bit about yourselves—who you are, what you do?

Veda Partalo: I’m a refugee, a woman, and a terribly loyal person—loyal to family, friends, and to my sense of right and wrong. By day I am an advertising strategist in corporate America. I’m also an activist, a filmmaker, and a dog owner.

veda portrait 3

Veda Partalo

Mike Davis: I’m one of the owners of Burlesque of North America, a creative studio focusing on graphic arts and high quality screen printing. We do a lot of screen printed concert posters and art prints, and we also publish art prints for a pretty big variety of artists from all over the world.

20151205_haleyryan_untitled shoot_IMG_9920

Mike Davis in the screen-printing studio at BRLSQ

Where did the idea for this project come from? How did you get the ball rolling?

Partalo: This Thanksgiving marked the 19th anniversary of my arrival to America. I came here with my mother and sister as a Bosnian refugee. Every year, in remembrance of our own arrival, we donate goods and money to the Immigration Center. This year, with the influx of refugees coming into Minnesota, I posted a call for extra donations on Facebook trying to get my friends to help as well. While most of the reactions were positive, I received hate mail. Really nasty stuff. And I remembered those first few years in Minnesota, and how harsh people could be.

It was in that moment that I realized something very essential: my family’s ability to integrate into American society had everything to do with how we were received upon our arrival. The more we felt welcome, the more we were able to contribute, the more we felt at home.

Because of this, I wanted the newest refugees in America to have a great sense of welcome. While there is a lot of vitriol online and in the media, I wanted to create a physical manifestation of the feeling of welcome in their day to day lives—I wanted to create safe zones within our community. Places refugees could feel accepted in. That’s when I reached out to Wes and Mike to create a welcome sign.

Wes, Mike, and I have worked together before. We shared a studio back in the Life Sucks Die magazine days, probably 15 years ago now. I love their work, and I love them as people. When I called Wes and said, “I’m tired of this anti-refugee BS. Can you help me make people feel welcome?” It only took a few minutes for us to agree to make a “Refugees Welcome” sign for businesses and homes. We both felt that it was important that the gesture was physical, not just digital. We wanted something that created a space of comfort and safety and appreciation for the newcomers.

Five minutes after our talk, Wes got a hold of Mike, and within a day Mike had a design in mind. Mike nailed it pretty much on the first try. Because Mike is seriously that good.

A sticker at Glam Doll Donuts, one of the first businesses to participate in the project

A sticker at Glam Doll Donuts, one of the first businesses to participate in the project.

Davis: Over the last couple of years, Wes and I have been wanting to get into more socially conscious or socially aware projects, something that would allow us to use our design and screen-printing skills to make something beyond concert posters or advertisements. We just wanted to do something that would have a bigger message in the grand scheme of humanity. There’s a lot of crazy things happening in the world right now, and we talk about it a lot. Even if we may not do any actual design work to work towards fixing it, we’ll at least discuss it as we’re working on other stuff, so we’re both very aware of what’s happening in the world, and also right here in our own community in the Twin Cities.

We’ve always been wanting to get into more projects like this, but we can get overwhelmed by all of our day-to-day projects, so it can be hard for us to step back and say, “Alright. We’re going to do this.” So I think it really took Veda lighting fire under us, to be like, “Hey, I’m basically hiring you guys to work on this with me. How can we make it happen, and what do we need to do to get this out?”

It’s hard to tell just walking up and down the street and looking at someone: Do they know that I’m from a different country? Do they care? Are they threatened? Are they scared? So it’s nice to be able to just walk up to somewhere and to see an actual symbol or a sign that says, point blank, “Hey, you’re welcome here. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from. You’re human, come on in.”

20151205_haleyryan_untitled shoot_IMG_9918-2 (2)

The stickers were screen-printed at BRLSQ’s studio in Minneapolis.

Can you tell me more about the process of designing the sticker?

Davis: I wanted to create an image which was very simple and would be recognized by anybody and everybody. I’ve always liked the really stripped-down design of symbols and logos such as the ones you see at the airport for restrooms, food, gift shop, arrivals—the really basic symbols that anyone across the world can immediately recognize and know what to do when they see it. Our symbol should be just as simple, but also clearly say, “Refugee families are welcome here.”

My wife Mali is also from a refugee family. They moved to Minneapolis in the late 1970s after escaping the Secret War in Laos. She’s an artist and designer, and I ran my ideas past her for input and approval, since I knew this was a logo her family might have been looking for when they first arrived. I wanted to imply both a family and travel, but wanted to keep details to a minimum. I chose to keep the genders vague to just suggest “two adults, two children,” and I included the suitcase and backpack to suggest they had recently arrived from a long trip. Mali told me that a suitcase and backpack would have been luxury items for many refugee families, but I still felt it was a universally recognized symbol of travel, so I ended up keeping it in. I made sure to leave out any other frills or ornaments with the exception of the tiny zipper pull on the backpack.

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The stickers come in two versions, for inside or outside of windows or shop doors.

What are your plans for distributing these, and getting people to display these in their windows?

Partalo: Our distribution method is simple: connecting with local friends who are business owners. And them reaching out to their friends. It’s purely grassroots and requires people to think about what sort of community they want to live in. What they want to stand for. Within minutes, we had an acupuncturist (Amy K Acupuncture), a donut shop (Glam Doll Donuts) and an ad agency (Mithun) raise their hands up and ask for the sticker. They were on board with what we wanted to say: refugees are welcome in our community.

Why stickers, and why shop windows? How does the form affect the message?

Davis: From the perspective of a business owner, quite simply, posters are huge. It can be a big, overwhelming statement. We just want something a little more subtle. You know when you walk into a shop and you see a small, little credit card sign on their window, like, “Hey, we accept Visa”? We just thought it would be a nice, small gesture that somebody can do without having to make a giant, big show out of it. Something subtle and simple and a little understated.

Partalo: There are a lot of words of encouragement online, and that’s great. Thing is, when you are completely new to a place, everything seems scary. The architecture is different, people speak a new language, the money doesn’t make any sense, you’re constantly lost on city transportation. Life is really hard the first few days, months, years. And you feel out of place and very alone. No one will stop a refugee on the street and say, “Hey there, welcome to America. I’m glad you’re here. How can I help you?” That just doesn’t happen.

But I wanted that feeling to occur, even if that conversation wasn’t going to. I wanted recent refugees to walk down the street and see a sign of welcome, a simple gesture that assured them that they would be treated with respect and care should they walk through the doors that carried our sign.

My goal is to make refugees feel welcome. It’s also to create a physical manifestation of that welcome, so we can become more comfortable saying it out loud.

Update: All stickers from the first print run have been distributed. To help pay for production costs on a second printing, consider buying a sticker set