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Facultative Works: “We decided to do everything at once”

In January Facultative Works were in charge of our Instagram. Now they are back to tell, how a two-persons studio can work on music, websites, furniture and transgenic roots at the same time

Jul 13, 2021

Hi! Could you please introduce yourselves?

Alexey: Hi! We’re Alexey and Olga from Facultative Works studio. When people look at our work they usually assume that we’re a big collective or that we art-direct a bunch of people to make it all, but it’s actually just the two of us doing everything.

Olga: Just the two of us, although of course we’re not the people responsible for building, printing and other production tasks. But everything that concerns the visual side, for example, 3D or architecture, is done by the two of us.

You’re definitely a very multidisciplinary studio with a wide range of activities, right?

Alexey: Yes, for most of my life it seemed like I needed to choose one path, but the issue for both us is that we like everything. In the end, we decided not to choose, but to do everything at once.

Olga: But we’ve never made full-fledged typefaces like CSTM Fonts, but we make bespoke typography for logotypes and we create illustration, 3D, architecture, furniture…

Alexey: Interiors, object design…


1 Artwork for Naadia’s single “The Knight”


2 P.Y.E Optics interior (Rubinsteina Street, Saint Petersburg)


3 Collaboration with Backyard Ceramics


303 Coffee Point identity


33 Мultifunctional transforming organizer


Olga: Websites…

Alexey: Music…

Olga: Genetic engineering…

Really?

Olga: I did a master’s course in cell biology, though my first degree was in art history. I also work in a laboratory at a botanical garden that specialises in the genetic engineering of plants. So I spend 50% of my time on design and 50% on biology.

Do you create new plants?

Olga: No, because new plants cannot actually be created yet — everything always needs to be based on some original DNA. We do basic research — we modify the root DNA so that we understand how different genes are expressed there. Transgenic roots start to glow at a certain wavelength — but you can’t see it with the naked eye.

Have there been cases where this knowledge has come in handy for you in design?

Olga: I’d say that this background allows me to look at things from different angles and to be less limited. After studying biology, it seems that everything is possible and will ultimately work out. And so, for example, we made all the pictures for type.today’s Instagram on the theme of the future of biology.

Are you able to apply your design skills to biology in some way?

Olga: They can be used in microscopy, because they play a big role. They make it easier to master all sorts of programs — in bioinformatics, for example — not from a visual point of view, but from a technical one. Plus I sometimes draw illustrations for actual scientific articles.

What got you into design?

Olga: I’ve always liked drawing and inventing things. But I ended up doing art history because I couldn’t choose where to do an art major in St. Petersburg. I studied for four years…. it was very interesting, but I ended up studying design by myself. The Internet works wonders, because you can learn practically everything on it. I still watch a lot of lectures and read various articles.

Alexey:: Actually neither of us has an education in graphic design. We are self-taught in this sense.

Olga: That’s why we really get behind all types of tutorials and live-streaming, which, for example, Timur Zima and dragoy do: it’s a really useful way to deliver information.

What’s your background, Alexey?

Alexey: I studied architecture at the University of Technology and Design for six years. I still do interior design occasionally — about once a year.

Is it as part of Facultative Works?

Alexey: Yes, because usually we work with projects where we do everything in combination: graphic design, packaging, interiors and furniture.

How long has Facultative Works been in operation?

Olga: Five years. We initially thought that it would be a side project for creating things that we were passionate about, and it wouldn’t be commercial. In the end that’s all we do now, and we make money out of it.

Alexey: We thought that it would be something for friends, for free. In the end it did mostly turn out that way — we are mostly collaborating with friends — but this project has snowballed into something that occupies all our time.

Olga: We complement each other well. Since Alex has an architectural background, he’s very articulate, rational, and organized. I don’t have those skills: I’m often guided more by artistic analysis and not by function and form, but by concept.

Alexey: We also consult with each other all the time, which is very useful.

Olga: And it’s also handy that if a brief comes in, but Alex doesn’t have time, I do it. With another brief it might be the opposite. We also do some things completely together: we share the files with each other and finish each other’s work.

Do you ever clash about anything?

Olga: Very rarely. There has never been a direct conflict. There are occasionally small inconsistencies in style, but we always find a compromise.

Is each of you in charge of particular areas?

Olga: Alex is in charge of music, plus all the architecture is his. I did a course to retrain in architecture, but I somehow didn’t get into it that much. But I love plants, and everything about them is mine.

Alexey: In terms of work, we put everything in the portfolio at Facultative Works. In recent years we don’t take on things we don’t like and don’t want to share. We are now in a situation where we are very careful in choosing what to take on, because, after all, our time is very limited. As I am creating an interior at the moment, I am not taking on anything at the same time.

Can you tell us about your projects? Shall we start with P.Y.E Optics?

Alexey: Yes, it’s a chain of eyewear shopsoptician’s stores in St. Petersburg and Moscow. About once a year we create an interior for them. One of them even made it into Wallpaper’s guide to St Petersburg. We’ve done five shops, including one in Moscow, at Khlebozavod and Artplay, and there is another in progress. There is a lot of work involved: we update their identity every year and do all sorts of additional things. The guys trust us completely, and we really like them — we produce great things together. I have tried to work on interiors with others. But every time I come to the conclusion that I would rather do one project a year with P.Y.E. than spread myself thin.


004 P.Y.E Optics Identity 2018


04 P.Y.E Optics Identity 2020


4 P.Y.E Optics Christmas present 2020


Olga: They’re dream clients, actually.

Alexey: It’s a brand which was founded ten years ago by a couple — a boy and a girl, Kolya and Manya — our peers. They are very friendly guys. They did everything themselves, from scratch, without any investment. At first they just had a VKontakte (translator’s note: The Russian version of Facebook) group, then they rented a small flat as a showroom and grew — in small steps — into a company with lots of employees.

Olga: Essentially, they’re like a modern optical shop that you actually want to visit. It’s as chilled as if you are visiting your friends. They also pick their employees like family, so they look for years. They have very friendly teams, and the employees don’t tend to leave, they work for ten years at a time.

Did you cross paths with them somewhere in the middle of their journey?

Alexey: Yeah, but it’s a long story: I met them ten years ago and did a few little things for them. Then came the time to do a proper rebranding and rework everything. That’s actually why everyone around here thinks that P.Y.E. appeared recently. Now in St. Petersburg they’ve taken a big step — their first store with an actual optometrist. Before that you had to get a prescription from an outside institution. And in Moscow, we are also building a new store with an optometrist.

Olga: No. They’re handled by a guy who used to be a shop assistant. He has been working for a long time and he has studied people’s faces so well that now he has also begun to work on the frame design.

Alexey: He’s studied the software and comes up with all the collections.

Olga: He knows how different materials behave, and how they age. A total specialist.

Alexey: It’s a very subtle specialization. We don’t take on that responsibility.

Olga: We look at his sketches, for example, and sometimes it seems to me that there are very strange shapes, which will look bad on faces. But when the samples come in, it’s clear that he got it just right. And what seemed right to us wouldn’t work.

Alexey: We are responsible for things like the placement of the logo, plus the combination of materials and colours…

Olga: In general, we do associated branding. We should also mention that there is a brand director — Yulia Kim — who has really great taste and good sensitivity to the topic. Without her, this range of eyewear would not be the same at all. This is a girl who was also originally a saleswoman.

Alexey: Yes, she plays a big role there.

Tell us about your other favourite projects.

Olga: Sure! For example, the guys from Flowgardenz, Kostya and Vova, are making a documentary about houseplants. Alex has been inventing all sorts of constructions for it.

Alexey: We’ve been building the sets at Gorky Film Studios for a few months. The film will be released when we manage to finish shooting the last part.

Olga: There is a very competent team there. I am responsible for graphic design: titles, different illustrations. It’s been a unique experience — very interesting.

Alexey: Then there’s Qobra Coffee, which is also a project for our good friends…

Olga: We just bartered with them — they shout us coffee in exchange for the work. It’s a convenient system, because we drink coffee all the time.

Alexey: In this case too, the guys gave us total freedom and said: «Do whatever you like.» We did exactly what we wanted to do, and this project took off. It’s probably the most popular of our graphic design projects.


5 Qobra Coffee identity


Olga: Another interesting thing we worked on was the exhibition «Christ in Prison,» which showed religious sculptures from the 17th century — wooden Jesus-figures that had been collected all over Russia and brought to the Manege Exhibition Hall in winter 2019. We feel that the graphics we came up with turned out very edgy and a little bit death metal, but the religious people associated with the exhibition took it all literally, and saw an ordinary church font — they approved wholeheartedly.

Alexey: It was actually such an intervention: it turned out that churchgoing folk thought it was all A-OK, and those who perceived it as having a contemporary vibe also came along. Our architect friends, Anya Druzhinina and Anton Gorlanov, were in charge of the design of the exhibition itself. They were the ones who invited us to take part.


55 56 Christ in the Dungeon Exhibition»


Olga: When we made the sketches, we thought we were going to be fired. But Semyon Mikhailovsky, who was commissioner of the Russian pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale and the curator of this exhibition, said: “Cool! That’s the one. We’ll take it.” We also made a crown of thorns like that, but we had to tweak it because it looked like a choker. We made it more neutral. Ah, and then we also had a funny project in Belarus…

Alexey: We sometimes collaborate with the Studio 11 architectural firm there. In the interior for Vizor — a videogame developer — we managed to make an intersection of type and real-world 3D: a bas-relief of letters in the entrance area.

Olga: We made the first sketch in the expectation that we would probably be turned down, but the clients said, ’Wow! Cool!’ and went with it.

How do you work with typefaces? Do you create logos by yourself without any background?

Olga: For us, typography is the most complicated thing in graphic design — it’s right up there in terms of difficulty. You have to know the rules really well, plus you need to have a very good eye. It’s difficult when you’re not doing it all the time: the eye can’t see the subtleties.

Alexey: If you make typefaces, you really have to do just that.

Olga: It’s very hard work. I can’t honestly say that I’m a great type expert. If I need a logo it takes me ages to create it: I can draw five letters for about a month. I was working on Qobra Coffee for a couple of weeks — from morning till night. It seems to me that nowadays you can put everything into the typeface, and you don’t need any accompanying illustrations. At Qobra, the guys just said “We need to have a cobra”, but otherwise it would be possible to get by with one typeface.

Which studios are you into?

Olga: I follow a lot of type foundries: Nikolas Type, Blaze Type, Dinamo Typefaces, Jacob Jan Wise, HelloMe, Pangram Pangram. But lately I’ve been getting into custom fonts made specifically for a logo. Earlier it might have seemed that Helvetica was enough, but now I think that I need more expression in a typeface.

Alexey: We want it to be fun, turned up to the maximum.

Olga: By the way, we really like your project tomorrow.type.today curated by Timur Zima. This is an awesome endeavor!

How do you come up with a typographic image?

Olga: Apart from typography, I look at fashion a lot , because fashion trends change very quickly, and they can help you to understand general trends in culture. Conventionally speaking, pointy-toed shoes can also be brought into type, no matter how ridiculous it sounds. Let’s say, in the last Prada show there is no longer as much aggressiveness as there used to be. When you look, you can see that everything has some color, exaggerated forms, cells…

Alexey: There is aggressiveness: sharp things, metal, a black background…

Olga: We can’t guarantee it, but there is a general trend.



You work with both form and typography. What comes from what — the graphic language from material language or vice versa? What is first?

Alexey: We actually don’t have any clear-cut systems in this respect. We just go with it however it happens.

Olga: There is a sense of the general flow, from which you pull something out, whether it is a letter or a chair. Sometimes you might lie awake before you go to sleep and think: “I have the feeling of a curtain with modern embroidery on it.” I mean, like those lace curtains on the windows that used to be everywhere — but not with some classic pattern, but, like, some cars. That’s such a mix of old and new. You can make a font out of it, or you can make an object out of it.

What are the advantages of combining many disciplines? Or does this actually result in weaknesses?

Alexey: I think personally I have the ability to dive into one thing, to focus on a specific task and do it well. So I don’t feel like I’m spread too thinly — I just switch focus. I often do something flat at first — the focus is completely on that — and then I switch to 3D. In this respect, the advantage is that my horizons widen: my perception doesn’t actually suffer — it becomes more multifaceted. I don’t see any minuses.

Olga: Maybe our perception does actually suffer. Everything often changes too quickly. I’ve realised on more than one occasion in the last year or two that I just don’t have time to explore everything that interests me.

Alexey: Sure, I mean from a career point of view it’s more advantageous to do one thing, because it’s easier for people to perceive you that way. People understand that this person does posters, they do it professionally and you can approach them purely for that. Perhaps it’s harder to know what to approach us with: what exactly do we do? How many of us are there? Are we just an art director or do we do everything with our own hands? In this respect we mislead people and ourselves. Nevertheless, we still aim to try something new all the time. We’ve only recently started doing 3D graphics, like we did last month on type.today. We love the challenge of upping our game.

That’s a good way to segue into a conversation about our Instagram. Tell us first about the concept of your month.

Olga: We looked at what others were doing, and we really liked it when there was some kind of through-story. Dima Rodionov did a really cool month about plastic, and we were like: “What a cool theme! Too bad he’s already taken it.” We then chose biology because we think the topic is useful, plus I can talk about biology endlessly. Life, DNA, biotechnology — it’s all amazing stuff! It’s an inexhaustible source of fascination.

Alexey: Plus this topic gives a lot of freedom in terms of visualization — you can draw things that don’t exist yet.

Olga: And we thought it would be interesting to use type as a supplement…

Alexey: When any product or equipment is released there is always some text, font, additional information on it. We wanted to use typefaces as an accompanying tool.

What typefaces did you like?

Olga: We could have used Druk endlessly — in every post, to be honest.

Alexey: Normalidad and Cera are also very nice.

Olga: I also liked Sauber Script, but it’s so cartoonish, you never use it that often. I also liked the serif Tesseract.

You managed to somehow incorporate Lurk B and Sauber Script into a biological theme — that’s quite unexpected!

Alexey: We tried to use all the fonts as much as we could, but we still came back to these ones.

Olga: At the end, when we got tired of it we started repeating ourselves a bit, because these posts take so long to make: we sat up till 7 a.m. making pictures and writing texts.

What are your favorite pictures?

Alexey: I like how the gene cannon, the energy drink with nootropics, and the organ container turned out, but they got very few likes for some reason. We’re also super into the first post.

Olga: Yes, the biology book. And the soap that washes tattoos off the surface of the skin. In general, we did our utmost on all of them. We didn’t make compromises or cop out on anything. We honestly like every picture.

Alexey: We knew we wanted to do work in 3D for these posts. We realized that our macbooks wouldn’t be able to handle that kind of rendering, so at the end of December we had time to build a PC. We hadn’t used Windows in over a decade, had never assembled a PC in our lives and had no idea what to do or how. But if we hadn’t had that big, black, noisy unit, we couldn’t have pulled it all off.

How did you come up with the posts? Did the idea come first and then the typeface was matched to it?

Olga: Yes, because for us, first of all, what is important is what you convey with a typeface, not the typeface itself. Of course I respect the typeface very much, but what is important is what it is superimposed on. Usually it went like this: there’s a topic, for example, synthetic meat. How would it be grown? We think about how it could be presented. In this case I imagined this picture differently: as some incomprehensible cells on a petri dish. And Alex pictured it directly on a tray: “You could make it look like food on an airplane.” He looked further than I did — at a time when synthetic meat had become so popular that it could be chosen as free in-flight food. Then we were already able to match that to the font and write the text.

Alexey: It’s a very predictable, logical choice.

Olga: Or for “Metagenomics,” where we decided to combine incompatible things. We just wanted to have some fun and not look too serious. Because when we said serious things, we didn’t want to pretend to be experts. These bacteria seemed like funny candy, so we chose Sauber Script, which is quite organic because of the texture.

Tell us about the pictures that used Lurk.

Alexey: It’s such a bold font.

Olga: We liked it very much. It’s so trendy, contemporary and interesting. We wanted to put it in every picture too. But it was not allowed.

Alexey: We held back.

Olga: Because we thought: everybody uses it.

You used only one style from it — the more crazy one, Lurk B?

Olga: Yes. But everywhere we tried it, it was really cool. We like fonts like that. If you use them as extras, it turns out really well. That picture of the textbook went viral on blogs, and several people wrote to us, “Where can I order it?” People thought it was a real book.

Alexey: They also asked about the 5-HTP drink, too: “Where can I buy it?”

Can you tell us about Tesseract?

Olga: It’s a very balanced, beautiful typeface. It looks fashionable, but it’s also classic. It’s a perfect font for a biology textbook. You can see that it’s very “now”, but for serious teachers that’s not an issue.

And finally Spektra, which fits the EM32 microscope.

Olga: It has a twist: the n is nice, and the c.

Alexey: It’s not neutral. It says, «Look at me.» There’s such a vintage aesthetic to the vibe, like a TV store. It’s very suitable for that purpose.

Olga: But at the same time it’s also contemporary. We really liked the catalogue. We didn’t have a feeling that something was missing. For example, if you had some idea that you wanted a classic, smooth typeface, you could use Graphik. If you wanted something with beautiful serifs, then the same Tesseract. We had enough typefaces for any task.

And have you used type.today typefaces in your projects before?

Olga: We work with Mann, Ivanov & Ferber publishing house, we make their covers, and we used many of your typefaces for them, almost in every book. Graphik is my favorite typeface for covers.

What’s it like working with a big publishing house?

Olga: It can be difficult because we want to put crazy ideas on the covers, but not everyone will buy these types of books. When we make covers for the mass-market, we have to keep ourselves in check. There are a lot of restrictions, because you have to cater to the audience.

Alexey: We make it our mission to always offer something out of leftfield first, and then see whether they’ll reject it or not. And bit by bit, we’re able to do things that are cooler, and with less compromises.

Olga: On the other hand, we liked the old covers we made too. And it wasn’t that much of a compromise. It’s just that often some ideas are not accepted the first time. But experience definitely matters here.

Can you describe what characterizes the object design of our time?

Alexey: The focus is now shifting from form to materials. Materials are much more important than form, because you can invent forms endlessly, and you can no longer ignore the fact that it’s all unrecyclable or short-lived. The future of object design is in the search for and use of eco-friendly materials.

Olga: Rather, the future is more about technology. Technology is important, not form.

If we were to again produce things in perpetuity, how might this affect the typography that accompanies these objects?

Olga: That’s a good question. It’s as if the right answer would be that you’d have to use classic fonts: I mean like Graphik or Tesseract, which will never get old.

Alexey: The basic typefaces that are in the type.today collection are timeless, eternal and will never get old. You can use them in objects. On the other hand there’s the web, where you can bite the bullet and go for it, because it’s such a streaming thing that eventually goes away forever somewhere, and that’s it.


Facultative Works

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Mentioned fonts