Kostya Frolov: “I wanted to go offline — to see my designs not only on the screen”

This May posters with our fonts could be seen on the streets of Moscow — Kostya Frolov printed each of 30 pieces, designed for type.today’s Instagram. We asked Kostya about designing prints daily, how his witty wordings come to be, and if Graphik would become a new Helvetica.

August 15, 2019

Let’s start with you telling a bit about yourself.

I work at Shuka, brand and design bureau, doing branding. Graduated from British Higher School of Art & Design. Into good fonts. These are some basic facts.

How long ago have you joined Shuka?

I’m with them since November last year.

What is your focus area, when it comes to branding?

We’re doing mainly branding and visual identities, — creating logos, visual systems, all sorts of graphics. As a designer, I’m in charge of it all. Apart from my day job, I take on some freelance work — like, for example, those posters for type.today. Or even try something beyond the design field. Like, me and my friend, we have launched our own online radio. For this project, I also developed the visual identity.

Your own radio?

This is some kind of multi-genre radio with different sorts of music that we just like. We hope, it would be not just us, and we will infect someone else.

Do you have a general image of the world, while you’re working? Music, movies, anything else what you draw inspiration from?

Basically, I draw inspiration from pretty much everything. Often it comes from other graphic design, but injected with some new form that I come up with — be it nature, places I travelled to, films, or music.

Can you maybe name your favourite project — the one that defines you the most?

I really enjoyed designing posters for type.today. It was fun, fast and amusing, sometimes funny. And speaking of some my work projects, it would be a rebranding project for Flacon, a creative cluster in Moscow. Flacon merged with Khlebozavod, and we developed their common brand. I’ve put a lot of effort into it, and I happen to like the final result.

Who was your professor at BHSAD?

I took their Visual Communications course with Leonid Slavin. It is a program for experienced designers who seek to upgrade to an art director level. The course takes two years, and these two years were super-intensive. We were balancing our jobs with our studies, which eventually taught us resilience in stress conditions: when you have to come up with something, quickly — make a slideshow, stay awake all night, and show up with some visual identity material in the morning. We’ve been taught to build on client brief, and provide them a solution which would help their business — meaning, not only design images and logos, but do more comprehensive work, including research, strategy, marketing. Basically, we were given the skills, essential for an art director in charge of branding.

Now let’s talk about our Instagram and your posters. Are they really hanging somewhere across the city?

Yes, some are still hanging, others have been torn off. Some of them were hung at my place, some, at Shuka. I have put one of them up on the side of a building, the sixth floor, but it was soon gone with the wind. Some were put out near the place I live, Park Pobedy metro station. I don’t know whether or not they fit well — but I do like the result.

Do you have any experience in street art? Do you often display your stuff on the street?

No, I’ve had near zero street art experience — I used to paint on the walls as a teenager, but never put up a poster.

So, we are your first?

You are, yes.

And how have you come up with the idea to print the posters?

The bulk of today’s life moved online. I, personally, am online all the time, in front of my computer. At some point, I’ve had enough of that and wanted to go offline somehow — I wanted to see my designs not only on the screen, but also in print. In fact, I like offline media way better than online ones. Like, I hardly ever do web design — with me, it’s mostly been some kind of print stuff.

How did you organize your work process? Did you have any plans, like, doing one poster a day? Or have you had some ready beforehand?

I started to design posters two weeks or so in advance. I thought it would all be pretty fast. I designed 12 pieces, printed and posted them up. I planned to make the rest over the holidays in May, but suddenly I left the city, and eventually had to produce the second part of posters on the very same day they had to be displayed. I printed my stuff at Kopirka printing center, or in the office, using a small format printer, — and then put them up somewhere around.

Was it any different — making posters daily, or working with pre-readied materials?

It’s much greater responsibility, when you have to get something made today — that’s probably the only difference. That does put a little pressure on you. On the other hand, I like this rapidity of it: you come up with ideas, and put them into life, right away. You have no time to ponder on the quality, you don’t plunge into perfectionism.

Have you been following the feedback on Instagram?

I have, yeah. If I get it right, Instagram promotes the content, which has gotten a lot of likes right from the start, it is added to some kind of a top list, — and, as a result, it gets even more likes. I was following views and likes, but the numbers haven’t affected my next works anyhow. I just did what I could in terms of timing. What I could, and what I wanted to do.

Did the results meet your inner expectations — like, you thought this thing would be a success, and it really was?

No, there was almost nothing like that. Normally, if the idea is great — and if it is delivered clearly — people tend to like it. Actually, a design with a concept works better than a design without it.

Could you name your favourite works of this month?

I like the one about my carelessness, where I showed the way I usually work. I quite like the most-liked material, but I also like the one about the rain, which was liked the least. As soon as I finished it, it immediately started to rain. This image is all about the mood of the moment. And — the one with tsunami. It is just silly: the combination of a fine font and such a clumsy illustration. I like to combine the incompatible: as a result, you get something more interesting than just a beautiful picture.

How do you come up with them, actually?

It is always in different ways. Sometimes it is an idea found by accident. Basically, the main challenge was to come with a text for the posters. It was rather easy to create the image, but the text… Normally, when you are a designer, they provide you some brief and some text. At that point, I found some random phrases or words — or scrolled my Twitter account and took my own posts from there, for example the ones I had tweeted at five in the morning, suffering from insomnia. I remembered watching the rising sun reflect in the disco ball in my room and quickly designed a poster.

You have used most of our catalogue. What is your working approach when it comes to type? Did you come up with a graphic idea and then looked for a font, or it worked other way around?

It depends. For instance, the poster with the phrase “a British Modern with the styling and sheen of New York in the 1970s”. I was inspired by the contours of Austin, and put some large-scale glyphs on top of that text. At times, I come up with an idea while in the subway, or when I go to bed, or when I’m at work. I write the idea down, and later, pick a font to go with it.

And what’s the story of the eye chart, made from C glyphs of Xprmntl 01?

I guess it was at night, I’ve been sitting and thinking, what else can I do with the glyphs, where to find the idea. I’ve been browsing through some images and saw a poster “Get your eyesight checked!”. And that was it.

What’s your general perception of type.today catalogue?

Basically, I enjoyed working with all the fonts. I’ve tried to make use of almost every typeface. Some of them haven’t worked well for the posters, but perhaps, would suit better in a text setting. Which doesn’t mean that they are no good at all — they might just not be suitable for poster design. I seeked to reveal some fun traits in any font, some particularities and peculiarities to be displayed in large, poster size. This was some sort of a challenge for me. Normally, I pick Helvetica, or design the lettering myself, while here I had to get the feel of each typeface and come up with some enjoyable stuff out of it. That’s why I liked all of your fonts, actually. I proved to myself I was able to apply any of them.

Have you had some favourite fonts before getting to know our catalogue? Do you have any default fonts, or you do always look for something new?

In fact, I’d already worked with some of your fonts! Although I always tended to have Helvetica, or something similar, as a default — it is neutral, which allows for great space for intellectual freedom. Or it would be some spiky serif, not too legible, but with some impressive contours. Everything started to change when I joined Shuka. Guys here, they are very much into fonts, way more than I used to be, so I had to learn a lot of new things. Basically, I looked through all decent Cyrillic fonts, and have kept them in mind since then.

As for the type I’m fond of, this would be some super-geometric sans serifs — Lÿno, Five Years Later, Universal Schrift, some of work by David Rudnick. It is still poorly represented in Russia, so at some point I started to design such fonts myself — which haven’t finished, simply because I had no time for it. Then again, I don’t have enough skills to produce a ready-made font — not just a one-off lettering work. Basically, I like sans serifs so literally geometric, that type designers would deem them ridiculous — no optical compensation, no contrast, no inktraps — just a pretty shape, probably with elements of Bulgarian Cyrillic. Everything done against the rules, yet, in large sizes the thing would look just great. Something like Sascha Lobe, a partner of Pentagram, produces — he created posters for Berlin’s Bauhaus-Archiv, which I admire.

rudnick Works by David Rudnick

lobe Posters for Bauhaus-Archiv, Sacha Lobe

Helvetica, while being a distinctly 70s, outright Swiss typeface, is still perceived neutral by many designers. Why is it so, what do you think?

The reason is, we all see a great deal of Helvetica, everywhere — in such conditions any sort of type becomes neutral, sooner or later. It is everywhere, and so it becomes nothing.

Is there any chance our Graphik could one day replace Helvetica?

I don’t think it is the right time for that. Helvetica had gained this huge popularity because of the graphic diversity, prevailing before that, — the world just needed Helvetica for somehow focusing itself, which is not very relevant today.

OK, let’s get back to type.today catalogue. Could you please name the fonts you’ve fallen in love with, or the ones you have already been loving for a long time?

I like Austin. An elegant serif typeface “with the styling and sheen of New York in the 1970s”, as they put it. I truly liked many of your serifs: Vesterbro, Kazimir Light, Parmigiano, Karloff Positive, Thema… Perhaps even better than the sans fonts.

Glad to hear that! We don’t get many people who prefer serif type.

Yes, but, that said, I don’t often use serif type at my day job. Although I absolutely love it. Normally I use what I need, while serif fonts are for my own pleasure.

So, this was a nice chance to work for your own pleasure.

Exactly, I have used pretty many serif fonts. For instance, I really like Parmigiano. It seemed vintage, at first sight, but it turned out to be very contemporary. We used it for Flacon, actually. There were two fonts, working in pair — the serif is Parmigiano Piccolo.

And the sans?

Favorit, by Dinamo. The design is all about contrast, although everything is set in Light styles. That makes the contrast quite subtle, but still visible.

Have there been a font that just hasn’t worked out for you, at all?

I guess, the thrill was quite gone with Druk, although I used it several times. Actually, I tried to ignore it all the time, since it seems to be everywhere right now — you can easily name it the font of the last summer. I was seeking to stand out of the crowd, but eventually I’ve used it for something — and ever more than once. Druk is a cool font, though, it’s just way too trendy.

“Shaken not stirred”*

Let’s tell our readers how you got on type.today. If I remember right, you contacted us first?

That’s right. I saw an interview with somebody — I guess it was dragoy. I read it and thought it would be fun to do something apart from my day job, something more liberal, and so I decided to contact you. Thank you for your trust, for inviting me to your Instagram. This was a great pleasure, and I’d love to do it again sometime. Poster design is always fun, fast, and cool, but I’d like to produce something different — in some other medium. If this time it was about stepping outside the Internet, I want to find a way out of something else next time.

Going beyond reason? Beyond the Universe? Or back to the Internet, perhaps?

(laughs) Yeah, at least beyond reason, right.

Mentioned fonts