TYPE: HEAVYWEIGHT

What makes for a great font? What to look for in one? And do we even need new types? The duo behind Heavyweight, the renowned Prague-based type design service, answer these and other questions to the letter, offering a unique and well-founded perspective into the field of typography even for the uninitiated.
heavyweight

How are the trends in typography changing right now, and how does Heavyweight Studio respond to them? (in terms of chrome aesthetics and unreadable, liquid typographies)

This is a question we often ask ourselves and it is almost safe to say that it is not entirely clear what is currently 100% “up to date”, probably because of the overload of inspirational material on the internet. However, it is still possible to at least make a general guess as to what has been at least a recurring trend in, for example, the last five years, when things haven’t evolved much in terms of aesthetics. After all, it is also due to the illusion of social networks, which suggest some trends, but it almost seems that everything is going in endlessly repeating circles. Ten years ago, it was much easier to navigate this, because we had a guideline in the curated web, or the ManyStuff blog. By the way, we tried to remember that name for a good 10 minutes and we’re feeling about 60 now 🙂

Trends are now basically set by Instagram algorithms, which is overflowing with mock-ups with strong and large typography that will amaze any viewer who marvels at the application of a random word on, say, an airplane wing or a billboard in Times Square. Of course, these incredibly realistic looking uses will amaze you just as much as a huge painting in a gallery, which is stunning perhaps only because it is huge, but really offers nothing more. It’s like a clickbait headline that creates emotion but is completely empty in content. 

The truth is that nowadays text presentation often adapts too much to a square format and a logo placed in the middle, which, when animated and flashing, guarantees success. However, not to be too sarcastic, one cannot generalise in this way and much that is beautiful is created in this spirit, even if it gets lost in the mass. It is impossible to know the true quality without context just on the basis of a few eye-catching pictures behind which a lot can be hidden.

How can a “layperson” tell if a font is good? Are there any characteristics or basic signs to look out for?

This is a good topic, especially in the context of the present. Frankly, we’d like to say that there are, and that it’s hard to know who to consider a layperson, but we can’t say for sure, because we have our doubts. Because the field of Type Design is very accessible today, there are a myriad of fonts that are being created and presented on social media that look more or less convincing. A font can be presented in many different ways, but with a certain amount of graphic design knowledge and creativity in word choice, you can create the beautiful illusion of a font that works well. I’m saying “works” deliberately, as it is often the case that when using someone else’s text in a different place, taste and context, it tends to become obvious that the font actually doesn’t work that well and actually doesn’t even look that good either. An interesting question might also be what is still relevant in evaluating the quality of a font, and what is not. A well-designed font, in terms of artwork, is a highly subjective matter. Someone can quite easily create awful graphic design even with a well-drawn font and vice versa. It’s no secret that there have been countless amazing designs using Arial or Times New Roman.

Saying whether there exists anything “tangible” that a font enthusiast should notice is impossible to say as it is neither about the cleanliness of a curve nor the perfect letter “g”. From the moment we talk about human taste, everyone has their own standards. In type design, of course, there are rules, and even though it’s quite easy to step outside them, there are features that cannot be changed. After all, it depends on the typeface in question. Whether it is an experimental headline or a font for a book typeface that is supposed to be calm. The important thing is to focus on one’s own reason for wanting to use the font and try it in that context. To be guided only by the creator’s presentation is not something we would recommend.

Can we compare the Czech/Slovak typographical scenes with the European or global ones? Are there ateliers in Europe like there are at UMPRUM that focus only on typography?

Despite the fact that, due to the influence of the internet, normally authentic local approaches to font design are relatively blurred, as can still be seen, one can still generally recognize where a font has come from. Due to the strong Czech tradition in type design, we hear that Czech fonts are often easily recognisable, as well as, for example, French, Dutch, Swiss or American ones. All these styles are based on very strong influences and traditions of their respective environments.

As far as schools are concerned, UMPRUM could, for a long time, boast of its uniqueness in the teaching of typography, even if that’s not exactly true. There are schools like this around Europe and the United States, but I think this field can be studied for five years, only at UMPRUM. The other schools have special Master programs. We would mention, for example, Écal in Switzerland, where we have recently had the opportunity to give a workshop and lecture. The programme at Rietveld Academy in Holland, Werkplaats in Arnhem, Cooper Union in NYC, etc.



Your fonts are used globally; which element is crucial for you? What is your secret to success? (in terms of the maturity of the fonts, their presentation, trendiness)

Success is harder to measure today. For us, success primarily means that we can look at ourselves in the mirror and that we keep our dignity. We don’t like to measure success on the number of social media followers, even though it’s clear to us that that’s how success is measured these days, and that it is how people choose their fonts. It works as a kind of measure of credibility. So if we can label ourselves as successful, maybe it is, we would hope, because they feel authentic. Maybe it is also for the timelessness, although that’s obviously a questionable and subjective impression. Every day we think about how to strategize and how to make a living in this manner, and if we wanted to make a lot of money fast, obviously we wouldn’t be doing it the way we do it now. And we’re back to our dignity. The actual presentation of the fonts goes through real applications on real photographs, which is very time-consuming and therefore economically impractical. We’re just trying to present our taste as much as possible and we hope that we can share it with people who approach us on that basis.

How do you see the future of your field in regards to technological and aesthetic processing and its following use? (AR, custom texts, logotypes). Do we still need new fonts? Or could humanity keep using the existing ones?

That’s hard to answer. I remember thirty years ago people said books wouldn’t even exist today. The developments in type design are obviously technological and if we were to speak concretely, it is definitely worth mentioning Variable fonts, which can be even animated. A great advantage of type designers is that they can not only design fonts, but also logotypes, letterings, and having a custom-designed logotype is becoming more and more popular.

Whether we need new fonts is a recurring question. It is understandable, but it is the same as with new chairs or anything else. Fonts too adapt to current needs, globalization, technological progress and so on. So the answer is yes, we need new fonts!

ABOUT / Heavyweight is the symbolic name for common creative efforts in typeface design established in Prague in 2013. The founding members are Filip Matejicek and Jan Horcik. The name refers to the typographical description of a voluminous font style, its heavy weight. Primarily, however, it express the emphasis put on simplicity, precision of detail, and tasteful design, which can be used variably across graphic design applications. Its contemporary approach to typeface design goes hand in hand with respect for the discipline and its history. Delight in experiment is rooted in a knowledge of rules of typography. Authenticity is an integral prerequisite of the creative strategy, with their signature style being dosed such that the result is original, but still variable in use. In its brief life, Heavyweight has produced fonts that are used globally by institutions such as The New York Times, Walker Art Center, Whitney Museum etc., but also small independent publishing houses and start-ups.

Heavyweight fonts are designed and technically crafted to be available for a comprehensive range of uses in print and on websites, in digital applications, broadcasting, etc.

https://heavyweight-type.com/

CREDITS

Artworks / Filip Matejicek and Jan Horcik aka Heavyweight @heavyweight_type

Interview / Markéta Kosinová

Translation / Tomáš Kovařík

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