Collaborative work has been in the very heart of Fontfabric ever since its creation back in 2008. For the last 12 years we’ve built an influential core community of international creatives — renowned experienced type designers and extremely talented graduates alike. Joining artistic and marketing forces has allowed us to bring the potential of purposeful typefaces (Squad, Panton, Gilam to name a few) to the forefront and to this day we remain on a constant lookout for the next typographic gem.

“In the concurrence of our points of view is where good design is born.”

Plamen Motev, Type Director of Fontfabric Type Foundry

Got a typographic project in mind? Drop us a line at contact@fontfabric.com to discuss collaboration opportunities.

A very recent and, might we add, special partnership with Polish type and graphic designer Kaja Słojewska once again proved the power of collaborative work. Sharing qualities such as perseverance, patience and attention to detail are essential to all new projects we, at Fontfabric, decide to undertake and it came as no surprise that a solid connection was established right away.

After four years of shaping and molding, Kaja’s graduation project — Alkes — is now debuting as a published multi-script type family under the attentive type direction of Plamen Motev, Type Director of Fontfabric. It’s been only 30 days since its official release and Alkes continues to climb the charts steadily, having recently earned its first (of many) achievements — #1 in Hot New Fonts and Top 20 in Best-selling typefaces of 2020.

From a graduation project

Having met Kaja only digitally through a good amount of emails and well-spent video conference calls, we couldn’t help but look beyond the pixels and ask her to join us for a quick chat about Alkes – from the first sketches to the official publication date.

Born and raised in Poland, Kaja wasn’t exposed to as much cultural diversity in her youth, as she would’ve hoped for. Her education in Graphic Design in Warsaw was the beginning of her professional development and a personal journey to building up the courage to become recognized for her abilities.

Naturally, Kaja’s creative energy focused on typography, which led her to determinedly decide to undertake yet another adventure in the UK for her Master of Type Design (MATD) at the University of Reading, where she studied under Gerry Leonidas, Fiona Ross and visiting lecturers Gerard Unger, Fred Smeijers, Laurence Penney and Victor Gaultney to name a few. Later, upon finishing her Masters, she was handpicked by Nadine Chahine as one of the female designers she would mentor for 2 years, which Kaja describes as a “priceless experience”.

Naturally, Kaja’s dedication and drive to learn about the heritage of scripts took her to a turning point in her professional development. Alkes started taking shape during a year-long Type Design course at the University of Reading and although she can’t pinpoint the exact moment it all started, she vividly recalls the first time she felt quite satisfied:

“I remember drawing a set of Basic Latin glyphs before a Christmas break and, for the first time, their shapes brought up a feeling of contentment (and relief).”

And as any craft out there, it isn’t the final piece that turns out to be of the biggest value, but our own personal growth while we continue to try and master the skill. Designing Alkes helped Kaja reevaluate her feeling of self-worth, reshaped her confidence and provided clarity on what she’s capable of. Alkes played the role of a steppingstone in Kaja’s professional growth as a self-critical type designer, who’s greatest assets to this day are patience and emotional intelligence.

Now that Alkes is officially published, Kaja’s feeling proud and shares that while celebrating, there’s also a slight sense of loss. “Taking care” of Alkes for many years and finally releasing it is, in a way, bittersweet. With the sweetness prevailing.

Interview with Kaja Słojewska

1. The name Alkes leaves us with a feeling of something otherworldly. What’s the story behind it?

I was always fascinated with outer space — this unmeasurable entity we all exist in. Immediately after starting the design process I looked for a name related to the cosmos, explored many star constellations in search of something inspiring. Then I came across Alkes, a star in the constellation of Crater, which resembles the shape of a cup. The name sounded very strong and reliable, exactly what I wanted for the family.

2. Let’s look beyond the book cover. Crafting a typeface is a laborious process – how much time did you spend in research, what did you come across that stuck from beginning to end?

While I was working on the design of Alkes, I was also researching for my dissertation. The process took roughly a year. In my research, I decided to take a closer look at how designers approach crafting a multi script typeface family, from manuscript, through metal type, phototypesetting, all the way to the modern approach to digital type design. At the time, I was deliberating over how to approach family expansion for Alkes and what role variation would play in making a harmonised family. An important lesson for me was that respecting the tradition of the script is key — learn about the differences between scripts, recognise them and honor their origins.

3. When did it become apparent Alkes has the potential to reach the status of a published type family? What stages did it undergo to reach its final form?

Even though I completed the Masters course with a distinction, I didn’t believe Alkes would become a published typeface. Only after talking to the Fontfabric team, I started thinking it might actually happen for real!

After graduation I continued working on Alkes, applying the knowledge I gained along the way. The biggest improvements came from working with Plamen Motev, Type Director of Fontfabric. With Plamen’s feedback I worked on refreshing the look for Alkes. After being satisfied with the basic character set, I started the long process of extending the family’s weights and language support (like including localised Cyrillic for example). 

I was so happy to receive exemplary feedback on the Cyrillic from the Fontfabric team and learn about the nuances of Cyrillic type design while crafting Alkes. After the design was completed, it was time for the less exciting stages — kerning and final touches. By the end, I had heaps of fun designing the visuals for the online specimen. After countless hours of dedication, it’s great to finally see the typeface in use.

4. How did the idea of collaboration come to be? Do the people you partner with have to be your type, or was it more coincidental, like a one-in-every-300-years comet passing by?

I would say both!

One reason for collaboration is geographical constraints. After graduating I moved to Vancouver and decided to start my own type design business. There are few type design studios here, so I focused on offering my services remotely. I’ve invested time into researching eligible type foundries — the ones I chose valued high quality of work or aesthetics that speak to me as a designer. The intent was to offer my skills and learn from the best! 

One of my emails was addressed to Fontfabric and here we are — I guess Alkes turned out to a common interest of ours. I always knew that working with an experienced team was an important choice at the beginning of the career and I’m glad Fontfabric and I could collaborate — I received lots of time and support in the process.

5. Was there a moment when you felt you’re at your wits end? Tell us more about the challenges you faced while working on Alkes.

While initially working on Alkes at the University, the biggest challenge was applying the constant stream of knowledge I was obtaining into the design process. It was a hard decision to finally settle on a certain look and feel for the typeface.

While working with Fontfabric, initially, I was questioning if my skill matched the foundry’s  level, but after being guided by Plamen with such respect, these worries went away quickly.

Technically, I found the Black weight in Greek script the hardest to design. Considering Greek has its own weight axis and a more calligraphic structure, it took a while to get the proportions and weight distribution right. Now I understand why so few designers tackle it!

6. Let’s take you back in time. It’s 3 months before publishing. Is Alkes everything you imagined it to be at that point?

In terms of the size of the family, I think it’s even more! Upon reflection, I couldn’t have imagined making it this far in regard to all the glyphs and styles. Also, as every designer knows, we tend to strive for perfection in what we do. There’s always something left to change and improve.

When I look back at the initial drafts of Alkes from four years ago I tend to feel embarrassed, but I have to respect the progress I’ve achieved. I could keep working on Alkes for years but sometimes it’s better to take a step back. I’m very happy about where it is now.

7. A typeface’s journey does not end with its publishing, though. What are your plans for the development of Alkes?

For now, I’m focusing on different typefaces. I’ve spent the last couple of months working on sans families and projects which I can learn new things from. I think it’s important to distance yourself and reflect on a completed project before coming back to it.

Even though Alkes is extensive in its current state, I’d love to expand it more in the future. I began working on display cuts of Alkes during the Masters, so maybe that would be a good style to revisit and invest time into. Alternatively, focusing on script support is my main interest, so covering additional languages could be the way to go.

Got a typographic project in mind? Drop us a line at contact@fontfabric.com to discuss collaboration opportunities.

To a published multi-script type family

Starting a new chapter

For our type director Plamen Motev it was at first glance that he recognized the potential of Alkes — constructed following classical principles, proportions and moderate contrast, the softness of the letter forms contributed greatly to its friendly character and added to the overall contemporary vibe of this otherwise Humanist serif typeface. The preciseness shone through the typeface’s solid structure and after months of meticulous preparation, Alkes was finally taking its place in the spotlight.

The collaborative process was guided by a carefully organized timeline with predetermined building blocks to transform Alkes from a graduation project into a full-blown multi script type family. The overall workflow experienced no setbacks, as any good brief, both type direction and type design started on the same page — after clarifying proportions, rhythm, weights, overall aesthetics and character.

And even though we, as type designers, share a very common urge to perfect our products and can spend years on additional improvements, we’ve learnt that there comes a time to set the date and release the typeface into the world, only to keep revisiting it regularly in the future.

The character inside

The versatile nature of Alkes as a type family makes it widely applicable, while adding a hint of playfulness to hold your attention with certain features. The eye-catching appearance of this serif is no coincidence, as underneath the moderate contrast, lie impeccable mathematical solutions. The main purpose of the typeface is to harmonize between the Latin, Greek and Cyrillic scripts and in order to avoid any inconsistency throughout the type family, Alkes satisfies with an evenly looking distribution of black and white across all three scripts.

Overcoming challenges

A typeface supporting many scripts is a tangible advantage for any designer working on various projects, but what makes Alkes an indispensable asset is its rich set of styles. The common lack of weight range and legibility issues when typeset in smaller sizes in the serif typefaces is solved with the help of open counters, a large x-height and more uniform stroke widths in the overall structure of Alkes to avoid any possible crowding of letters. Of course, the family would not be complete without true italic allographs of all letters for maximum reading comfort.

No need to read between the lines

In a current world of big and bold typefaces racing to grab your attention for a brief moment, Alkes is developed to solely serve the reader, thus having a much longer lifespan thanks to its inclusiveness. Its design is focused on longer texts and clear hierarchy, giving any layout designer the freedom to experiment with the type palette as they wish.

Although the type family does not include a dedicated display style, the Black and Thin weights work wonderfully for the bigger sizes. The attractive details, calligraphic structure and asymmetrical serifs turn Alkes into a desirable candidate for headlines — an unexpected trait which serif families often lack due to the absence of extreme weights.

For designs that go down in history

Alkes is intentionally designed to thrive in books and editorial design, hence making the family perfect for editorial designers, graphic designers and publishers who aim for a clear structure, hierarchy and coherent non-Latin scripts for both print and on-screen environments. 

Given the rich variety of typefaces already present in Fontfabric’s portfolio, Alkes makes no exception when it comes to the final numbers: 3 scripts (Extended Latin, Greek and Extended Cyrillic), an extensive glyph set of over 1200 characters in 14 styles, support for over 200 languages, a rich variety of both numeral styles – tabular, old style, superior and inferior, plus fractions, and OpenType features such as common and discretionary ligatures, proper small caps, localized forms, case sensitive forms, ordinals and many more. Undeniably, a memorable design tool that grants full flexibility to approach typographic hierarchy in a multitude of ways.

Got a typographic project in mind? Drop us a line at contact@fontfabric.com to discuss collaboration opportunities.

One more question before we part

In a few months you enter a bookstore (or rather go online to pick a new book) – you unfold it and see that Alkes is the typeface of choice. What’s your reaction?

Kaja: It would make me extremely happy and I look forward to that moment as it will be a first for me. I’m also aware I could be critical of how someone typesets with Alkes, but I have no control over this. I’m certain I’ll be humbled by anyone who uses Alkes, and I can’t wait to see how others will present it at its best.

Plamen: I’ll be delighted and will purchase the book on the spot. Later, I will take time to examine every page and text line and familiarize myself with how the layout designer worked with the typeface. I would love to see to what degree their thought and work process corresponds to my own expectations and envisionment. If the result is impressive, the layout designer will be getting a congratulatory email from me.

Explore Alkes in MyFonts or see the Behance presentation for more details

Credits:

Type Direction: Plamen Motev
Type Designers: Kaja Słojewska, Plamen Motev
Font production: Plamen Motev, Nikolay Petroussenko
Presentation: Kaja Słojewska, Ventsislav Djokov, Matey Devedzhiev

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