Martin Vácha details the day-to-day practice of his independent type foundry Displaay
Displaay is a Prague-based independent type foundry and design studio that was founded in 2016 by Martin Vácha. His work includes both commercial and custom typefaces that take inspiration from classics such as Futura and Times. We spoke to Martin to find out more.
EM Hey Martin. How are you?
MV You wouldn’t believe me that in the winter I am still super happy.
EM How would you describe your approach when it comes to designing typefaces?
MV Usually, somebody brings me some assignment, where I have to find the resolution for some issue. I don’t sit in front of a white paper and try to figure out the new typeface, or look deeply into Pinterest and mix up a ‘new’ typeface, based on others works, haha, that’s not me. I need a reason and purpose behind what I create. I make typefaces which can serve in graphic design, complete the whole appearance, idea, mood or some other aim, which you can’t simply fulfil with other affordable and accessible typefaces.
I need a reason and purpose behind what I create.
MV Here is an example: the guys from Anymade Studio asked me if I could incorporate some pixel letters into one of my already-created typefaces because they wanted to use it for the Moog electronic music festival. But I didn’t want to just take one of my typefaces, integrate the pixels, and finish off the whole thing. I was thinking that it was a pretty nice project, so why shouldn’t I move this further? So first, I found the Moog wordmark and observed it to see if I could use something from it, and then I created a whole brand-new typeface inspired by its essence. Therefore, the ‘Roobert’ typeface fits really well with the pixel letters and to the whole festival identity.
Sometimes, I only got an explanation of the feelings we needed to achieve, so that’s how ‘Greed’ was designed. It was originally developed for the Polansky Gallery identity. We are now working together with Anymade Studio to bring the retail version out this February or March, so stay tuned.
For another example, I was designing the brand identity for some clients, and we weren’t satisfied with what was on the market and with the character of typefaces that we found, so I decided to create my own visions, so ‘Matter’, ‘Documan’ and other typefaces, were born. It was in the time when I was working in the Studio Najbrt.
Beyond all of this are tons of hours sitting in front of a computer, trying to set up curves and lines really well with a good overall character which even work for bigger and smaller sizes of texts. On top of this, I do lots of tests, going back and forth, forth and back, printing, observing, and again changing and still going in circles until I am either satisfied or tired.
EM How did you learn to draw type?
MV I studied graphic design in high school. Here we learnt with calligraphy pens, we re-drew ‘Trajan’, ‘Garamond’ and stuff like that. Also, we studied the evolution of Latin scripts. Then I continued with graphic design at a university in Prague called UMPRUM. In first grade, I started to learn with the ‘Font Lab V’ app because I was fascinated by the next door ‘typography’ studio and was amazed by the idea of having my own typeface in my designs. During my studies, I did a few internships in the typography studio and my MA final project was about five typefaces I designed. In that time I designed all of them in the ‘Glyphs’ app, which I still use now.
EM You mention on your site that your work has been inspired by iconic typefaces such as Futura, Johnston and Times. Do you think it’s important to consider what came before when creating something new?
MV For me what was already created is definitely important. I am sure you can always create something a little bit different, but for what reason? If you are sure you need Helvetica with just a different ‘f’ I would just consider to drawing and creating everything from the begging and ‘only’ with a small difference. And yes, for sure, small details make the thing great, so it depends what is the aim. Referring to iconic typefaces for me means that I know them very well because we study them at university, and I surely moved some things further and for someone could be little help to know what else has a similar mood.
EM Can you tell us what the day-to-day is like running a type foundry?
MV I share an office with other creative freelancers (studio-mates) which is great. At this moment I’m doing almost everything alone, I wish to find someone who wants to join me, helping me with our everyday type journey. I have some external collaborators outside my country helping me with the technical parts. A new thing is I also have two students, David and Tuan, who help me with miscellaneous stuff. I start the day doing emails in my office from 10 am. It’s very important to clarify everything to your clients. For custom projects, I discuss legal matters and working on licenses with my attorney Iva, as well as specifications and pricing (offers). It’s not a very creative part of the day, but I try to cheer myself up when doing this paperwork with my studio-mates with either some nerdy design discussions or ‘font’ jokes. Then, we go together for lunch, and after that, if there are no urgencies, I start the creative part; designing new stuff or custom typefaces, or working on upcoming retails. In such a lively studio, I am sometimes interrupted by my studio-mates, or I disturb them with some questions, such as which ‘t’ works better, or if the dot is not too big. Then; testing, doing presentations, printing, testing, and observing. Sometimes I may work on upcoming merchandise and specimens, or other things which represent the foundry, as well some social posts. I usually finish at 5 pm, so that I can be with my sons and wife, and on Friday I have home office with them.
Simplicity is the biggest strength; sometimes, having one option and one weight is enough.
EM What is your favourite example of one of your typefaces in use?
MV I really like the latest work for Impira, from DesignStudio, that you also featured. They used our ‘Matter’ and the typeface plays its role. It doesn’t bring too much attention to itself, so it allows the playful system of shapes, colours, and other assets, which can nicely live in their grids together with the statement and texts.
EM What is your view on variable fonts?
MV You can do a lot with them both in a good and bad way. Too many options can kill the whole thing. Once you give a thousand possibilities into the hands of not-so-good designers, you can get very poor results. Also, simplicity is the biggest strength; sometimes, having one option and one weight is enough. Or if you decide to create or use variable fonts with many options that they can include, it is great when you know how to use it to your advantage. I think it depends on the project and how you use this feature. Certainly, I am very glad we can now use variable fonts almost everywhere, so that the gate of creativity is open, even in this way.
EM Have you thought about creating one?
MV For sure, all the time. I’ve had many ideas in my head, it is just that everything is time demanding and I am missing a few colleagues to do everything that’s on my mind. In the last few days, I’ve been thinking about that a variable font needs to have big differences, so even designers can notice that something is changing, and therefore the interpolations between those differences make sense.
EM How do you choose the price of a typeface?
MV You mean the price of licenses, I guess. Just staring into the clouds and thinking about not being too cheap, that would be obtrusive, and I shouldn’t be too expensive, because I am not such a big star. So, I simply can not sell overrated products and services, and I think the middle way is the best for pricing. Or what do you think, should I be more expensive?
EM The ‘middle’ is good. It makes your typefaces accessible to everyone and still reflects the level of craft that goes into them. What area of typography would you like to explore that you haven’t so far?
MV I am looking forward to exploring more decorative, display typefaces, for exceptional usage. I feel that I worked mostly on some ideas I had for text typefaces. The thing is that decorative typefaces are funny, and working on them is more playful, but the risk is always if someone uses it in a bigger project, it could be closely connected with it and it could become unsaleable. So, I am thinking it’s probably better to work on them in custom projects. We will see how things go. We are just finishing ‘Ofform’ typeface which is the first from this kind of category.
EM What do you have in the works for 2020 so far?
MV Highly confidential stuff. I have signed tons of NDAs. So, we are working on some custom projects with my external collaborators or myself alone. But, I would like to focus more on the retail library, merchandise and printed specimens, and also on a new update of our website. As I mentioned, we are working with Anymade Studio to release ‘Greed’ typeface, especially on materials for launch such as the mini-site, merchandise, print specimen and so on. Those things sometimes take the same time as developing the whole typeface. Another thing is I have tons of betas and I am not sure how and when to finish them. One, ‘Azeret’ is almost ready, and I am thinking of putting a monospaced version on Google Fonts. If anyone wants to test our betas, they can just drop me an email.