Last year, ESH GRUPPA designers Philip Tretyakov, Valery Kozhanov, and Stefan Lashko took charge of our Instagram account and posted pics dedicated to typefaces from the collection of type.today. Ilya Ruderman spoke with them to find out more about the creative process.
Ilya Ruderman: You spent all November updating our Instagram account, and today I’d like to speak with you about this experience and how you felt about it. Could you tell us how you went about it and how the roles were distributed?
Philip Tretyakov: First, we’d like to thank you for this marvelous opportunity. We had a fantastic time.
Valery Kozhanov: There are standard best practices of project management, so we tried to come up a structure first. It was clear that we weren’t going to draw random pictures because it’s a weird objective. So we developed a system of categories and topics that we could organize the pictures around.
PT: The concept of themed categories with regular updates was supposed to make our task easier. And so it did.
VK: We even scheduled category updates for specific days of the week.
PT: Naturally, the schedule was not rigid. Nevertheless, the system of categories, however vague it could seem, remained in place.
IR: Let’s give with a few examples. As readers and followers, we can definitely pinpoint the category that helped promote your webpage – the story about Risography. The second category included pretend advertisements like “Shuby. Rasprodazha” (“Fur coats. Sale”).
VK: Yes, that’s Russian-style design.
PT: That was for fun. You always want to see how your fonts work in real life, and this was an attempt of applying them to reality.
VK: Speaking of this category, we had an internal discussion about typefaces (we take a lot of time to talk things through before doing anything, which is not always a good idea).
Stefan Lashko: I beg to differ.
VK: We used a lot of typefaces, and they were all top-notch – they were great. However, a cool typeface sometimes compensates for a mediocre design solution. So we came up with this category, “Fur Coats. Sale,” specifically to bring attention to this issue. That is, we were not trying to create an appealing image; we took what was out there and rendered it in a decent typeface. Just to check the effect.
PT: Yes. It was an experiment, and it yielded some unexpected results.
SL: People reacted to them in strange way: most thought they were looking at actual advertisements. However, something made them scroll back and click on the pics. What startled them was the eye-catching combination of mundane content and a good font: at first sight, it looks like yet another ad, but something is off – and you take a closer look.
VK: A few followers even told us they had nearly unsubscribed at that point. Some of them actually did. However, the experiment was still worth it.
PT: What we’re after is a public reaction. It doesn’t matter if it’s positive or negative. In any case, it means that what we do affects people somehow.
SL: What we especially value is not the number of likes; it’s very cool to see someone leave a comment. Our nice-looking pics and weird pics were commented on, and it made us really happy.
IR: You’ve mentioned you like to talk things through. What did you discuss the most often? The quality of the draft, of the image, or the conceptual aspect?
PT: In the very beginning, we came up with all the categories and the general outline. You can open our Dropbox and see the names of the folders where we stored the images.
SL: “Monday,” “Tuesday,” “Wednesday…” By the way, initially, we had a division between the Russian-speaking and the English-speaking audiences. But this line became a bit blurry after a while.
PT: We tried to use Cyrillic fonts for all Russia-oriented posts and to engage meanings that would probably be lost on foreigners.
SL: For instance, the advertisements are a purely Russian story, and we posted them on Mondays. Tuesdays and Thursdays were for Risography and print in general.
VK: We got together, scanned and printed images, laid them one over another and scanned the result. Further on, we cropped the image to create our pic of the day. It was an important stage because we thought it best to reproduce fonts on a tangible medium – not just in their digital form. To show a “font in use.” The designs we posted were not real; no one had ever used them, but we felt like printing them. In addition, we had a Risograph at hand.
PT: To some extent, this category was our only opportunity within this project to create something tangible. We could print our design and see how it looked. There was another idea we thought would be fun: we were going to run a Zen-style category dedicated to full stops from various fonts. Eventually, it came down to just one post, if I’m not mistaken. The idea didn’t seem to work as a category. Most likely, it wasn’t scalable; it was better off as a one-time thing.
VK: This story could have become a category if we had kept the rest of our structure better organized.
SL: Yes, we wanted to post a large image of a full stop from each typeface on Wednesdays. Simple circles and ovals.
PT: But then we thought that would be too nerdy.
PT: Another success – at least the way we see it – is the use of multiple-image Instagram posts with a countdown. There are no words involved, but it’s self-explanatory. At the same time, it is meant to be interactive.
SL: It’s about figures, not letters. Figures are a whole other story.
PT: We really enjoyed working with long words because we ventured out into the territory of an educational project, not just an Instagram account with nice pics.
S. L.: Long words have a literary value to them, and while the typeface doesn’t seem to make a difference, its characteristics actually emphasize the meaning of the word. I think we did it with a serif once.
V. K.: Twice, and we went with Lava both times.
S. L.: I don’t think we discussed particular typefaces to be used for a category; it was a matter of personal choice.
P. T.: Yes, and it went rather smoothly, in fact. You work on an image and come up with an idea of a suitable typeface in the process. For images of a certain kind – long words, for instance – the Lava serif was perfect. For another category – say, the one with a spaceship launch – Druk was a better choice.
I. R.: So, now that you’ve taken a closer look at the typefaces from our collection, could you share your impressions about the collection in general? You could mention a few typefaces you liked best or, on the contrary, those that were challenging to work with. What can you say about the typefaces?
P. T.: It’s a complex question. On the one hand, yes, I had a feeling that working with display fonts was our primary objective. That is, we were always trying to come up with a “killer” image because Instagram posts are supposed to be powerful and eye-catching. In this respect, I’d like to mention Xprmntl – a perfect out-of-the-box typeface that can do anything you need.
S. L.: It was fascinating to explore its potential. However, other typefaces were interesting as well.
P. T.: I’m really fond of Karloff, another typeface with two reverse-contrast styles.
S. L.: Three, even. There’s also Karloff Neutral.
P. T.: I like Karloff very much in general – it looks great.
I. R.: Which typeface was the most challenging to work with? For instance, once you applied it to a design, you could see that it wasn’t working.
S. L.: I can’t recall anything of the sort. Every image was a different story. Each typeface has an individuality.
P. T.: In fact, we worked in the following way: first, you come up with a topic and select a number of suitable typefaces. Naturally, those that don’t work with the topic are cast aside. We were not trying to come up with images to showcase specific typefaces. On the contrary, we started off with an idea and then selected a suitable typeface – like in real life.
V. K.: As we started working on an image, it soon became apparent what kind of a typeface we needed. So we selected a few, and eventually settled on one of them. It was never about going over the entire list of typefaces and choosing the ones that were easier to work with. It’s just that a typeface sometimes has the wrong personality. As for composition and plasticity, elements of the image are positioned and aligned at subsequent stages anyway.
V. K.: I enjoyed working with Druk because of the variable width of its letterforms: you can explore various ways of assembling it and combining different styles. It was fun to work with.
I. R.: What about serifs?
S. L.: Kazimir is unparalleled in that category.
P. T.: Our love for this typeface goes way back.
V. K.: I’ve got something to say about the collection in general. I used a lot of typefaces in this project, and Kazimir was one of my favorites. Well, I also used Pilar once, as a super display face. Unfortunately, I’m yet to find opportunities of using other typefaces, like Graphik. Something is always missing. However, if I need a display font, it’s easy to find. In my view, many typefaces have a very distinct personality, so they can’t serve as universal tools. If the typeface matches your artistic objective, it works fine. Graphik is a bit different: you can’t tweak it without changing its personality.
I. R.: I see what you mean. Most typefaces in our collection are very expressive; they aren’t all-purpose. However, it is peculiar that you would say it about Graphik. Anyway, it’s your experience, and I won’t comment on it in any way apart from expressing my respect.
S. L.: Some typefaces are fun to play with. Such as Xprmntl, Druk, and Karloff. It was fascinating to work with Amalta in a similar fashion… I spent a few hours toying with it. Even though I might not have come up with images, I certainly had a lot of fun. There were a number of typefaces like that. The same goes for Kazimir.
S. L.: I recall having a hard time with certain typefaces. Giorgio, was it?
V. K.: Giorgio… We just kicked it around. We used it for the karaoke video and for the hair ad, though it’s a serious typeface. It might have adapted to the context.
S. L.: I recall asking you to change the typeface or to come up with a few alternatives when we were working on the karaoke video. For some reason, Giorgio was the best option.
V. K.: It’s condensed enough and it’s neutral, so it was a perfect fit for the karaoke post.
P. T.: At the same time, it’s serious. When you see a confident, serious typeface in such a context, it works better. The joke is funnier this way.
P. T.: We wanted to show how you can use a typeface to tell a joke.
S. L.: There are beautiful typefaces like Austin.
P. T.: This word is taboo, by the way.
S. L.: Well, it’s truly beautiful – I can’t find a different word that would describe it more accurately.
P. T.: It deserves being displayed in a large size.
S. L.: Like a beautiful image.
I. R.: Can you give me your top three or five images, the most successful in your opinion? If we were to forget about the number of likes and comments, which works do you find the most satisfying? Where did you achieve exactly what you’d wanted?
V. K.: In the category of pretend ads, “Myod” (“Honey”) and “Volosy” (“Hair”) are our favorites.
P. T.: What about “Prodam Dom” (“House for Sale”)?
V. K.: It ranks second.
P. T.: I wanted to mention that category as well. What I like about it is how unbelievably trashy it is, so my favorite is “Volosy” – it’s just rock-bottom. Working on previous pics in this series, we were trying to make them look good, but with “Volosy,” we went for an authentic look. The same goes for “Obuv” (“Footwear”).
V. K.: When I opened Instagram, I thought for a second that it was an actual ad.
S. L.: Some of our followers thought so too.
I. R.: You probably won’t believe me, but after the post about footwear and sheepskin coats, I started receiving a barrage of questions: “We saw the word ‘sale.’ Are you finally going to launch a sale at type.today?” People kept asking me: “So what about the sale?”
S. L.: When I was working on the picture with a plastic bag, I wanted to write something about sales as well. But all I wrote was “Thank you for shopping.” That’s what they say in grocery stores. Why can’t font shops say “Thank you for shopping”?
V. K.: My personal favorite is probably the countdown with a space rocket.
P. T.: Mine must be “Myod Bashkirii” (“Bashkiria’s Honey”). There’s something authentic about it. We also received a lot of feedback from our acquaintances with regard to the long-word series. Apparently, it stood out against the context of typefaces.
V. K.: Do you mean you were criticized?
P. T.: On the contrary, we received a lot of praise for pushing the boundaries of the Instagram format.
I. R.: How did you feel about the experiment in general? Were you apprehensive at first? Are you happy it’s over? Do you feel tired?
V. K.: We were happy when it was over.
P. T.: …Like we’re happy when any other project is completed.
S. L.: We didn’t manage to accomplish everything we had wanted, and it’s a bit frustrating.
P. T.: It’s sad to say goodbye.
S. L.: You’re doing something, and then bam! – you’re not doing it anymore. It’s a certain result. It feels nice to look back on.
V. K.: It’s both a result and a process. You can track it, and it’s cool as well.
P. T.: The experience was more interesting than we had expected. What we got was an opportunity of direct visual communication with immediate feedback. You can’t avoid learning something through such an amazing experiment.
V. K.: Today, if one of our customers wants us to set up visual communication through Instagram, we will be prepared.
I. R.: Shall we repeat the experience next year?
S. L.: Yes, sure.
P. T.: Definitely.