Nizar Kazan details the continuous development of WELTKERN® as a ‘Curator and Producer of Design’
WELTKERN® is a multi-faceted publisher, shop and type foundry founded and operated by Swiss designer Nizar Kazan and the team at his creative studio, NIZAR KAZAN + CO. Well aware that they are not the first to sell books, make objects or produce fonts, they are instead aiming to lead the way with how they present their curated selection of products; opting for a conscious approach to packaging materials, shipping methods and revenue share with contributors. We checked in with Nizar to learn more about the development of the platform, as well as what they have in mind for the future.
EM Hi Nizar, how are you doing?
NK Things are going well! Exciting stuff is shaping up, several projects, including the new NIZAR KAZAN + CO website, a beautiful WELTKERN® book bag and two publications. Also, the team is growing and will grow even more next year. In order to offer a nice working space for everyone, we are planning to move to a new spacious office/workshop next year (if we don't encounter any obstacles).
EM What influenced you to launch WELTKERN®?
NK WELTKERN® is the logical continuation of my (rudimentary) platforms on which I distributed my font (actual TWK Lausanne). From one thing to another, the growing success of this one has strongly contributed to this evolution. All my activities/structures (WKR® and NIZAR KAZAN + CO) exist primarily to offer my team and I a space of freedom and creation. With this much more ambitious form, the possibilities and challenges are important. Also, with a little hindsight, I realise that despite myself, if I wanted something, I had to do it myself.
WELTKERN® can be defined as ‘Curator and Producer of Design.’ It is a platform on which we can expand and experiment but above all try to reshuffle the cards, to rethink the rules. WELTKERN® is certainly not the first type foundry, shop, publisher or loyalty programme, but it may be the first platform to be all of these at once. One of our main goals is to value the important actors behind these products and to better distribute the revenue share of the objects, books and fonts we produce and publish. For example, the type designers who publish fonts with us receive a much better percentage of license sales than the average and we seek to highlight the designers, publishers, authors of the books/objects we distribute or produce.
Also, in order to offer an improved experience and not to devalue these beautiful cultural objects, we do not practice sales. However, we have decided to adopt another way to make these items more accessible. We prefer to offer a bonus for each purchase, in the form of points, that people can accumulate and use freely to get a discount on what they want, when they want. This practice has several advantages, the first one, obviously, is to create loyalty among those who buy their books, objects, fonts on WK®. It also guarantees the absence of frustrations, because you will never have the impression of having bought something at full price a few days before a sale. In the long term, other means will be put in place to obtain these W points without necessarily going through the purchase process. For example, by sharing with us the use made of our fonts for our (soon to come) ‘Font in use’ section.
Overall, we want to rethink and sometimes radically change the way we design and buy a book, the user experience, the service, the packaging, the (ecological, societal, cultural) impact, the distribution, the pricing, the valorisation of all the actors of the project, the quality of the object, its rarity.
For example, we ban the use of short-lived plastic and favour the use of recyclable/recycled materials. Also, every shipment that leaves our warehouse are 100% offset and are sometimes (if possible) packaged and protected by upcycled materials or boxes. Generally, we favour local production and printing as much as possible. We will remain attentive to what we can do to further reduce our impact in the future.
All this will be progressively achievable the more we control the links in the chain, limit intermediaries, unnecessary costs and waste.
We are learning and applying adjustments absolutely every day.
EM What have you found to be the challenges of running such a platform?
NK This is all new to us. We are learning and applying adjustments absolutely every day. To say, the creation of the website went like this: Concept = Easy, Production = Hell. WELTKERN® is a brand/platform divided into three main parts: publisher, shop and type foundry.
For the publisher part, it gives us a lot of possibilities to design and develop projects of books and objects. The platform will gradually offer this opportunity to many others designers.
The shop is a new and important challenge. We have to operate a rather complex logistic system, we try to improve it every day and to combine all the aspects as well as possible (speed, costs, ecological impact, etc).
The type foundry is the part we master the most. It is in fact a much more advanced evolution of the basic shop that I used in the past to distribute TWK Lausanne. Indeed, we had already implemented (since 2017) the essential parts of the foundry, namely the free trial (with the complete character set), the ‘all included’ S, M, L, XL pack and offering the use of our fonts to students.
EM You mentioned the production of the website was “hell.” Can you give us some more insight into what the process and timings were like?
NK From the first sketches of the ideas to the launch of the website, it took more than two years of work and development. Proportionally, the research and concept took only about a tenth of the total time invested. The concept part is laborious but it almost depends on us (my great team, Anthony Monnier in the lead, and I). Once the production phase started, we had to work with external developers. This part was by far the most difficult.
WK® is a complex online platform: there are physical products, digital products (fonts), many types of modular pages, a point system, a complex back-office and a logistics system to operate.
We did not use any template or other base. The site was designed on a blank base. It didn't make our task easier! Indeed, it automatically takes a lot more time to explain what we want to the developers, there are a lot of back and forth, possible errors or misunderstandings that occur.
Moreover, the project was so complex and depended on so many factors that sticking to a schedule was almost impossible. We were giving a lot of time in our week to the development of this project but sometimes daily emergencies (and the COVID crisis) were taking priority. Automatically, this made the work rhythm jerkier and it always took a while to get back into the swing of things. There was also the financial factor that could sometimes delay things.
The website is regularly updated and provided with improvements and new features. They can be consulted on our ‘Updates’ page. This way of working allowed us to launch the website as soon as possible and to receive feedback from users. On this valuable basis, we work hard to correct and enhance what is reported.
In the long run, the products designed and produced by WELTKERN® will be in the majority.
EM How do you decide which products to have in the shop?
NK In the first phase, we had to make choices among the possibilities we had. We tried to offer, from the beginning, a diverse and wide assortment. We select the publications according to several criteria: our favourites, the suggestions we receive, the releases of the publishing houses whose releases we generally like and their sales potential of course.
Now, we have access to a very large catalogue of publications and we can already offer all the latest releases from many amazing publishing houses. In the medium term, this ‘opulence’ will be reflected in our Shop. A new feature that will allow users to see at a glance the state of stocks, will allow us to enlarge our assortment in a consistent way thanks to backorder (+1000 references in total should be available from the beginning of 2022). This functionality will go live in the V.1.2.1 update planned for the end of November.
EM As well as products from other designers and publishers, you have a small selection of WELTKERN® products such as pencils and the upcoming book bag that you mentioned earlier. What is your vision for WELTKERN®’s line of products?
NK In the long run, the products designed and produced by WELTKERN® will be in the majority. But it was important for us to evolve the brand into a diverse and broad ecosystem. At first, we will design, publish and distribute beautiful WK® books and publications. In parallel, we will occasionally release various carefully designed objects (bags, merch, stationery).
In the even longer term, we could offer a wider range of design objects that are designed and produced with the greatest care and that are as relevant as possible.
One aspect we will work on the most is that each publication, product or object will have to meet our requirements and principles.
For example, we really want to value the people involved, to produce locally and reach a super high quality. Our ecological impact is also taken into account, we refuse to use short life plastic. We pack and will pack our products in recyclable cardboard boxes or our publications in recycled paper sleeves to protect them. We allow ourselves to use plastic materials when they are intended to be an integral part of the object or publication. For instance, our upcoming quarterly publication RSH DNA DEV™ will be shipped and protected in a plastic sleeve that will be an intrinsic part of the publication, so it is not intended to be thrown away.
As for the more logistical part, in this area also we will remain attentive to what we can do to further reduce our impact.
EM How do you manage it all alongside your creative studio?
NK NK+CO is the hub of all our activities and will be even more so in the future. We spend only a fraction of our time with external customers to provide them with the best, without concessions. We spend most of our time putting our knowledge directly to work for our internal projects. This is often the best way to demonstrate the breadth of what we can do and gain the attention of clients in specific fields.
I am fortunate to be surrounded by dedicated and talented people who work hard with me to make sure that everything works in symbiosis. On a personal level, my work should, in the medium term, really come down to the role of Creative Director. I will be able to feed visions/concepts on many projects on which talented people can bring them to reality. Today we are a small structure (six-seven people and several external partners) where everyone gives a lot of effort and energy. In the future, we want to expand our team with multidisciplinary skills. Thus, we will be able to realise many projects that are currently in the drawers and address all the creative challenges that will be entrusted to us by clients.
EM How did you connect with Nolan Paparelli and bring Everett as the first external typeface for TYPE.WELTKERN?
NK We had never met before we started talking about him joining the team. I think we had a mutual admiration for each other's work through Instagram at first. It turned out that on top of that, we shared a lot of the same views and the same mindset. We both grew up in the same area in Switzerland and have progressed in our graphic and typographic practice partly outside the traditional environment/system. The discussion was very rich and lasted almost a year. It was very constructive and we ended up concluding a collaboration agreement for the near and far future.
I am personally thrilled to have the very talented Nolan as part of the team!
EM What would you like the future direction of the type foundry to look like?
NK Many other fonts, currently in development, will be available in the coming months/years (such as TWK Kloten and TWK Ghost) and we hope to have new talented type designers joining the team.
In addition, we also offer custom type design services. Recently we completed the design of TWK VICE (Lausanne's little sister) developed by NIZAR KAZAN + CO for TWK® for the VICE Media Group. This kind of project is always unique, the exchanges with our clients and their teams are very enriching. Otherwise, we are currently working (Nolan Paparelli mainly) on custom styles of the Everett for Kyndryl (IBM). Not to mention many other projects, sometimes less ambitious but all equally exciting!
Also, every day we are refining the platform, giving it its final form (if only it exists!). In the near future, new features that have been planned for a long time, for example, a ‘Font in use’ section and improvements based on feedback received will be implemented. We would also like to create a stronger link between the font and its use. For example, you will find on the platform both the TWK Everett and goodies, publications and objects using it.
Anyway, we still have work to do, we are very motivated and we continue to work hard! To be continued.