Florian Karsten Studio work in between technology and design from their studio in Brno, Czech Republic. They create identity systems, typefaces, books, programmes and websites. We spoke to Florian to find out more about what they do and why they do it.
The Brand Identity: Hi Florian. For those that aren’t aware, can you tell us about what you do?
Florian Karsten: I run a small graphic studio in Brno, Czech Republic. We started back in 2014, focusing mainly on web design and graphic design. We’ve always aimed at art, culture and design clients so the projects stayed small and fun. Since then we’ve developed quite a broad set of skills, including type design, web development and creative programming. Currently, the most visible work is probably type design but creating websites is a big part of our identity. Completely custom mini-websites are sort of our speciality. Somewhat uniquely we also do programming for other studios (websites, image generation, automation).
TBI: Do you ever find it challenging to maintain a high standard of output in all of these fields?
FK: In general, I find it challenging to maintain a high standard even in a single field, so yes, it is very challenging. But every discipline helps to develop the other. What we learn from coding helps with designing and vice versa. Even though the outputs may seem diverse, we do not consider it that different. They are products of a much more comprehensive process.
“What we learn from coding helps with designing and vice versa.”
TBI: How did you get into type design?
FK: Designing typefaces came somehow from necessity very early on. Many of the projects we were working on had just too tight budgets. There was no chance we could afford to buy a webfont license for every single microsite we were making. And while we love Arial over time it becomes rather limiting. We started to develop our very own typeface which we could customise and use whenever we needed. That work became FK Grotesk, our first typeface.
TBI: How do you start designing a new typeface?
FK: The technical aspect has changed from when we were working on FK Grotesk, but the principle stays the same. Effectively every single typeface is done for specific requirements of a particular project. Often we only design a single cut or even a few letters. If we spot the potential for some further development, we take that as a foundation for the next release.
“I find it quite liberating to work with just a limited range of weights, styles, optical sizes, you name it.”
TBI: You recently released a new version of FK Grotesk. What made you look at the first version and think it should be updated?
FK: Well, I just realised that I was not very smart when I was developing the original typeface. Due to lack of experience and knowledge, I’ve made some very wrong decisions right in the beginning. In the end, it was much easier to start all over again. The whole production is now much cleaner and the source file is very easy to maintain and expand. The design didn’t change very much though.
TBI: What is your view on variable typefaces?
FK: It is a very mighty tool, but sometimes it tends to be a bit dangerous. I mean, I find it quite liberating to work with just a limited range of weights, styles, optical sizes, you name it. Usually, the designer makes the right decisions regarding weight progression and proportions, so for me, it is rather a tool for fine-tuning what is already pre-set. But being able to adjust all the parameters exactly as you need, that is amazing. But also a great responsibility for graphic designers.
TBI: Do you have a usual process for the ‘custom mini-websites’ in terms of design and build?
FK: I would say nothing special, but we know what to focus on. The big difference compared to print is the clash with technology. You can make practically anything imaginable on the web, but that doesn’t mean you should. It’s about finding something relatively easy to code (=cheap) while also being engaging and fitting the project. You are trying to surprise people. Some things are very hard to develop, even though they seem deceptively simple. Other things look impressive but might be a few lines of code because the browsers just support it. Deep knowledge of the browsers, programming and the whole web platform is crucial. We couldn’t do it without being also coders. I used to hear this idea that when you learn to code as a designer, you lose that fresh perspective and you can’t make anything new because you are burdened by the code. It’s nonsense. In reality, it’s exactly the opposite. To make new exciting things, you need to get deep and dirty in the medium.
“We never mention it's the dragon, but everybody knows IT IS THE DRAGON.”
TBI: Can you tell us more about your identity for Brno Art Week 2019?
FK: Brno Art Week is a fairly local event. Unlike Art Weeks in other cities, there aren’t many visitors besides Brno residents. So the main aim of the event is to get people who otherwise don’t go to galleries to visit at least a few times a year. The concept is incomprehensible if you are not local. The city of Brno has a dragon as its symbol. It came from 15th-century stories and let me spoil it… it was not a dragon but just a crocodile. Brno kept it, and the dragon is this super corny overused symbol in the city. Every decent institution avoids that symbol. So we thought ‘what a great idea, let’s use it’. We asked our illustrator friend Tereza Bierská (@terezabierska) to draw a crocodile (not a dragon) for us, and she made this amazing weird blob. What’s fun about it is that for casual visitors it’s an approachable Brno symbol and for the art crowd, it also works because it’s a subversion of that symbol. We never mention it’s the dragon, but everybody knows IT IS THE DRAGON. Also, we took it as a platform for the coming years. The crocodile mascot should transform over the years and play a significant role.
“To make new exciting things, you need to get deep and dirty in the medium.”
TBI: What do you have in the works at the moment?
FK: A few different things! In our ‘design department’, we are working on a book for the Faculty of Architecture. The ‘type-department’ is busy getting FK Raster Grotesk ready. And the ‘code department’ is working on a refresh of our website and font shop. Later we are planning to offer the solution to other type designers who wish to sell typefaces on their platform. It may sound like too many things, but we love having a variety of work. We used to have stretches of time when we were doing just websites for months, and we enjoy the current situation much more. Exciting times for us.