Moscow-based Sulliwan Studio took hold of our Instagram last October. We talked to guys about releasing animation daily, the end of the sans serif era in web design, and why they think the future of Cyrillic type is bright.
Dmitrii Sulliwan: Hi, my name is Dima, and I am an art director at Sulliwan studio.
Arsenii Garevskikh: My name is Arsenii Garevskikh, and I am a motion designer. I made animation for this project.
Can you briefly present your studio?
DS: We specialize in two things. Firstly, we develop simple and complex digital projects, websites, and apps. Secondly, we create graphic identities and branding solutions.
We’d like to discuss the way the fonts work on screen. Let’s kick off with your ways of choosing a font. What does grab your attention?
DS: It depends on the task we got. When it comes to web design with high information density, we choose reader-friendly fonts. We usually pick about two or three fonts, and it is our goal to take those which include many styles in order to smoothen the workflow. If we work on a promotional project, we look for charismatic fonts. Does the font match the core identity of the project? How does it look in sketches? These are things to analyze. And, overall, the most important thing is to see whether it fits the project’s style. In case a project has no graphic identity, we look for such a typeface that would transcend emotions and our ideas. When we talk branding, the first thing to take care of font’s style and mood: be that serious or funny, be that technicity or “human touch.” We start by thinking about our approach to style, about font fitting the brand idea.
Should we still distinguish between screen and print type?
DS: From our experience, we should not. For the last five or six years, we did not even consider this distinction. Inevitably, when we pick the typeface, knowing it will be featured in print, we run tests on large-scale canvas, we print posters. Yet, there is no big difference; today things tend to look okay both in print and on screen. There may be rare cases, though, when we are to consider the way the font works on low-res screens or a font with minimal decorum is required.
Architects.RF education platform
Do you consider hinting? Or, perhaps, this procedure is outdated?
DS: The use of it largely depends on the scale of the project, on the amount of details we work through. Sometimes, we take it into consideration, but we are not that bothered with hinting as years ago.
Yes, well, hinting is dirty work. We all are eager to live in times when it won’t be that necessary.
DS: Methinks, these times come soon.
Where do you guys dig for new typefaces?
DS: Well, our approach may not be the most “right” one, but we have a list of beloved foundries, and we check their works as soon as we start a new project. It is like visiting your favorite shop and buying the stuff you like. Usually, it goes like this, so we have a new project coming our way, and we need to pick a font. As we get briefed, I slowly figure out whom I should check out and which producer offers the font perfectly matching the project requirements. And then we just go there and purchase the font family.
You got favorites or, for that matter, default typefaces?
DS: Seemingly no. Otherwise, we’d be using the very same font for all the projects. Back in a day, we tended to use more sans type, because clients went for it and the projects fit the stylistics of the sans. But this tendency faded away. We justify our picks by the task itself, or we just go with the flow.
Is there a trend of bringing serif to screen?
DS: Generally, I think, yes. Perhaps, branding is still more about sans. There are examples of companies undergoing the identity reboot, swapping serifs for sans. It is an inertia of sorts. When we talk about websites, there is no abundance of sans type, for contemporary screens can present serifs in their fullness. Everybody looks for a precise balance of fonts or opts for pairing: long texts are typed in sans, headlines are in serif, and vice versa. So, yeah, we see the serifs on the rise. We tried to use them in our recent projects. So it is no longer about the sans only.
We also noted that web design is not that friendly to italic. Why is that so?
DS: True. I cannot comprehend why, though. What I can say for sure is that we do not have a guideline for not using italics. I guess it has to do with the lack of urgency and the actual necessity because of the many other means of highlighting information. Bold is usually the way to go, not cursives. Back in the day, low-res screens tended to screw the shapes even worse than it was with upright styles, so italics were a no-go. Now this issue is outdated, too.
Do you tend to work with OpenType features, like small caps?
DS: Yes, we try to use alternate glyphs. Small caps are the branding thing; usually, we go for it when the text we work with is complex and diverse, and the styles at hand are not enough to represent it correctly. We use the Glyphs panel more often, we keep on looking for alternate letterforms which would fit for branding; today’s glyph sets are a treasure trove. There are plenty of fun glyphs that give this right touch to projects.
Ligatures in the Pro version of Gauge Type Family
Did you try variable fonts?
DS: We are keen to observe how designers develop and, what’s better, create those fonts (Yura, kudos!). That is a visual delight, just seeing the way those things acquire shape. We have this one project where such a font might fit. And this will be the first time we use those font.
Arsenii, and what is your take on variable fonts? Did you try to do anything with them?
AG: I am afraid I did not. Motion design utilizes fonts differently. It plays a particular role, but the font is more of a background thing, which has got to fit in a broader context. It is mostly so because one reads less in motion design. The process is more about the image as a whole, all of them jumpy, moving things.
Do you guys have situations like, when you got a design to enliven, and you see the font and like “God, no, please, not this one? What are we to do with it?”
AG: I cannot recall a situation like that. Rarely a font resists being animated. All fonts tend to behave more or less the same when in motion.
Variable fonts can morph from one shape to another without any special effects. Our guess is when this technology lands in motion design, there’d be a revolution.
AG: The demand for motion design would dry down, I think so (Laughs). Yeah, it would surely broaden the set of tools. Procedural motion design, sort of…
Let’s discuss Instagram, where you had those sketches on everyday life…
DS: Yes, I can explain the choices that led to such a concept. When we got invited to curate your Gram, we checked the backstory and all those guest posts. Everyone was up for putting fonts in action, presenting graphics and posters. We decided to put a spin on motion because we do understand that every year we have more animation. One just cannot unsee it, the future of the web lies in animation. So we decided to split the month into three parts. First is all about the motion, second is about 3D, third is about posters or so. Later, though, as we started working with Arsenii, we decided that motion just nails it, and we are to keep working with it. We also realized that showing posters or rigid pictures is not our gimmick. More fun lies in working with the stories on how people use the Internet today, like, the down-to-earth, everyday stories: what we do on the web, how it pisses us off sometimes, how it robs our time, etc. So we decided this will be the topic for the month. The curve sometimes took us in some unexpected directions, but that is the thing about experiments. You gotta embrace the experience in its fullness, and that is what we did.
There is a tremendous and complex intellectual understructure behind the stories. How did you guys come up with those? How was it even possible to pull it off daily?
DS: I’d say that it was not easy-peasy at all, and this project literally paralyzed a part of the team. We tried to write scripts for the whole month, but we are not pros at scriptwriting, so you can see how we gained more experience with each and every day. But that was a great refreshing experience, which pushed us outside the comfort zone of everyday tasks. We did things we are not accustomed to, which was the very task of shaking us up a bit. All the designers who work for the web joined their forces, and the producer tried to oversee the team and keep us on schedule, and Arsenii had to liven up all our ideas, which were sometimes very much off. We came up with stories together. There was a spreadsheet with a schedule, and if someone had ideas worth not just a single day, they just wrote it down. There were very elaborate ideas; there were sketches that got written down in a minute. We argued. A lot. The good thing is, we simplified work from the very start by choosing the black-and-white color scheme, which is very much in line with the identity of the studio. Three days before making a motion, we outlined a detailed script for the scene. There were pre-written scenarios for the first half of a month, but later the emergency mode went on when script and motion were made within a day. The last one and a half or two weeks were the time when we posted things on Gram minutes after we finished the motion design. The tempo was wild.
Can you name the whole team?
DS: Sure. Lyubim Koltakov, Lead Designer. Roma Sazonov, Designer. Diana Golovchanskaya, Producer. Dima Sulliwan, Art Director (and occasionally, Designer). Arsenii Garevskikh, Motion Designer..
How did you transfer from script to motion graphics?
DS: Arsenii got files in Figma, for all the designers now work with it. We outlined scripts in the Excel spreadsheet, linked some visual references, sent it off to designers who provided a five-to-six frame storyboard, and described every frame, like, what happens and when. They wrote down all the timings and easings. Arsenii got the files, sent them to After Effects, and was sending us back the intermediate versions. We looked through, we made alterations like “here it got to go faster, here you should slow things a bit.” Sometimes we changed the whole style because we saw that things we imagined in static looked different when moving.
How good is Figma for working with typography?
DS: We have been using it for about three years. At the very start, Figma was not aimed at managing complex typography. There were many issues with the ways type looked, the baseline was wobbly, there was no alternates. Step by step, they enhanced it, and now it is very comfortable. Guys at Figma understand that the web goes together with type, and you got to have multifaceted fonts for the contemporary web. So every new update brings some attractive features for typography.
Are there enough font tools in After Effects?
AG: Frankly, there is just a pretty basic one. Anyhow, you can convert the texts into curves, which then get animated, so you can do the same things with text just as with any other curve-based layer. So there are plenty of opportunities because the text is now rendered as a vector graphic element.
Were there times when you had items that did not fit into After Effects?
AG: The fundamental question always was: should I convert things into curves? After Effects is messy with integrating fonts, especially when you import those from the original file… Guys do all the work in Figma, but what I receive is .indd or .psd files, because After Effects is on a quite restrictive diet. Therefore, if you do not convert items into vector graphics, you have to recreate the text in After Effects, because it does not read texts imported from Illustrator. That is a big issue. So you do the conversion. Next thing you know: all the additional effects, triggered by unique animation presets, are not there. So I never opted for these default presets. It is fun to mess with fonts on my own: cutting into pieces, singling out the letters, entangling it with expressions, animating the curves. There were no things like that in this project, though. Most fonts were non-variable, so you had no chance to convert it into the moving images.
Can you name a few favorite works for type.today?
AG: I had fun constructing the parody on Space Invaders with all those letters flying and the player shooting them down. This work was about obedience and precision, I had to make the story look like a reference. I watched the original video of the arcade from 1978. I froze frames, I tried to catch this movement, unique to this primitive old console.
DS: I really liked the story of letters being baked in an oven. A lovely one with the calculator, where the guy is continuously distracted by the calls. One with the browser tab and the train. Subscription to updates in a Stranger Things fashion, the story just clicked with me. The way we worked with the Halloween thing, too. As the month came to an end, we realized we have serif fonts, and we decided that serifs beg to get this heavy metal treatment.
How did you choose the fonts? How did you connect the script with the collection?
DS: We made it simple and just followed the order. So there are 30 typefaces within the collection, and there are 31 days in October. So we decided to pick one new typeface everyday. Sometimes, inevitably, we shifted the order. Like, when we had this oven idea we immediately landed on working with Druk, it just felt right.
Were there times when you had to juggle fonts, applying one after another, because it did not fit the story?
DS: No, it was fine. We knew that the story goes together with the typeface. It had to be harmonic. There were other issues. Like, does the story highlight the glyph or the font in the right way? We debated the way S looks in the story… Our main goal was to promote the typeface, show its possibilities, and tell its story from an unusual point of view. But there was no drama in making a choice: type.today has a great catalogue, and every font can be put to use, so we were alright.
Did you pick any favorites while you worked?
DS: I expanded my knowledge base on serif typefaces because we mostly use sans. Now I have a set of typefaces which we would definitely try to use in upcoming projects. One client already agreed to have Lava in their project. Even when you like a typeface while browsing it on the type foundry’s website, there is no way for you to put it to action and have this visceral experience, which you guys gave us. And that is a great experience.
Why is there a lack of stories with Cyrillic text?
DS: We used it only when needed. Like, we had a story about abbreviations in the city navigation. So, you see this sign which directs you to a university, and the word sounds weird, it is like “GBO UFzHTS Z’HZHKM,” as if somebody crashed the fist onto the keyboard. And then, on the very same sign, you have this petite, clear and concise writing in English, which says “State School of Arts.” So there were times and places for showcasing Cyrillic. We often work with the script, and we are immensely happy that there are plenty of cool contemporary typefaces which help us not to be ashamed of Cyrillic.
Our favorite question: what is typography today?
DS: It reflects the culture and the environment in which it is used. Russia now entered an exciting period. Typography was neglected for a long time: recall the ads, the shopping windows, the way font-related things were designed. Now there is more attention given both to the message itself and the medium, the way it is designed, the fonts used. I am happy to state that Latin influenza of “Let’s do everything in English” has passed, and now there are Cyrillic fonts that you want to use. The choice is there, and there is a lot of quality work, and you can do beautiful things. So when there is a demand for UI sans type both from clients and designers, there are companies with an offer, those who create quality sans serifs outside the Microsoft package. If the demand for serif type comes, new serifs appear, forget the Times New Roman.
So can we say that typography today is a vast market full of great offers for an existing demand?
DS: Rings true. It used to be a catastrophe, especially when clients brought logos that made you work with Cyrillic, and the only option was to order a custom lettering or even a custom fonts. No need for this sweatshop style anymore: there is plenty of type; there is a diverse market that was not there years ago.