Ilya Ruderman: The main thing in font selection is to know what result you want to achieve
How to choose a font for your project? Should it reflect the character of the brand? Why is it more complicated to select a high-quality Cyrillic font than a Latin one? We addressed these questions to font designer Ilya Ruderman. Ilya studied in Moscow, the Hague, and now lives and works in Barcelona. He has 20 years of experience, so we asked him to share it with us.
How would you introduce yourself to our readers?
Ilya Ruderman. Font designer, co-founder of the CSTM Fonts (Custom Fonts) font studio and the type.today font store.
Where does font creation begin?
There are different ways: sometimes the idea of a single letter comes to mind, sometimes you want to convey the impression of a text you’ve found, for example, in some historical sources. But the key when creating a font is the answers to the questions why you need another font, why it should look like that, what tasks this font will solve.
It’s much easier to create corporate fonts. There comes a customer with his requirements. He needs a tool with a particular image and design. In 90% of cases, we deal with art directors of companies. They are visuals who talk and think in terms of pictures. They can convey the images they want to receive through words, mood boards, or by showing similar fonts.
Do you have a favorite font?
I love all the fonts that we have developed and in which we participated over the last four years. Two other great fonts I really like are Trinité and Lexicon created by Dutch designer Bram de Does.
How did you come up with the idea to create your own type.today font store? Did you cooperate with MyFonts, Paratype, 1001freefonts, or other similar services?
In 2014, Yuriy Ostromentskiy, former art director of the magazine “Bolshoi Gorod” which was closed, and me, former art director of the agency “RIA-Novosti” that was liquidated, left unemployed. We got an opportunity to throw everything away and start working on fonts only.
We created the Custom Fonts studio. The first project was the font Kazimir which we released on MyFonts. In the first 50 days, it was being sold perfectly – the site is designed so that the font is highlighted as a new one within this period. But on the 51st day, everything was “turned off” . We realized that MyFonts wasn’t likely to be a proper platform for future sales, so we thought about our own store.
My American friend and partner Christian Schwartz for some of whose fonts I drew the Cyrillic version, said he would provide his fonts for sale in Russia. That was a great opportunity we couldn’t miss. It became clear that we need a font distributor store.
Upon having found the domain type.today, we recognized our concept embodied in these words: we were interested in popular up-to-date fonts. We wanted to bring it to the Russian market that lacked those up-to-date fonts in 2015. Later the store got a second display case called “tomorrow” intended for experimental, weird, super-bright fonts.
Type.today became an opportunity for us, on the one hand, to gather in one collection all the Cyrillic symbols that we drew for our Western colleagues and friends, and on the other hand, to introduce to the Russian market those Cyrillic symbols that designers will never find themselves because this is some small studio in Iceland or Switzerland.
The Cyrillic fonts market is quite specific. Some font groups, for instance, geometric fonts, are oversaturated. Some groups of fonts are empty. The understanding of the market has made us collectors of cool, modern, and fashionable ideas. Now we often act as motivators that offer Western designers to draw the Cyrillic versions for their fonts.
You often talk about the problems of Cyrillic fonts, that the most unsuccessful among them are Arial and Times New Roman. How can a beginner distinguish between a bad and a nice font? What tips would you give to those who choose fonts for a logo?
It’s pretty simple: each of us is an experienced reader who has seen many different fonts in his life and knows what he likes. Trust yourself. I’ve met millions of posts where ordinary readers wrote, “How irritated I am by this letter “k” and attached a fragment from the book.
If you stumble on something, if you let your glance dwell on a letter a couple of milliseconds longer, then there is something wrong with the font. For example, the famous glitch of Cyrillic Arial is that the letter “л” is almost identical to the letter “п”.
Please name the resources where one can be sure to get a quality Cyrillic font for his logo.
You can protect yourself by choosing fonts from independent and trusted manufacturers. You can get high-quality Cyrillic fonts from ParaType, type.today, Letterhead, Brownfox, and Contrast Foundry.
Unfortunately, all large collections are focused not on quality but quantity and stylistic diversity. There are three such big players on the market – Monotype that “absorbs” font developers, including MyFonts, Adobe Fonts, and Google Fonts.
For example, the MyFonts platform is a mishmash of high-quality and low-quality fonts. You need to have some experience to navigate there since 90% of fonts are those that should be used very carefully.
How to reflect the characteristics and values of the brand through the font? What should one rely on?
As a rule, brand values are conveyed through graphics, a part of which is font. The image of the graphics is based on style, colors, sharpness/softness, and so on.
Let me use our case for Yandex with Christian Schwartz as an example. The Yandex Sans font communicates with us on behalf of different products of the company: “Money”, “Eats”, “Lavka”, and others. When we started drawing this font, the value parameters were rather important to us. Yandex that had the charisma of a technology company wanted to become a company with a “human face”, with its personification.
We considered various hypotheses. We saw that there appears a character, but it’s too sharp, let’s make it softer. Such concepts are very clear to the visuals. Having in mind the image of the brand and the desired development direction, they can easily translate it through the font.
Yandex Sans on the “Mission” page
Is it reasonable to attribute certain psycho-emotional characteristics to fonts: e.g., with serifs – official, handwritten – creative?
This is a very rough approach; it’s the same as saying that the red color is blood. We know very well that it is not. Many brands use red and are not associated with blood: neither Coca-Cola, nor McDonald’s, nor M.Video, nor Alfabank.
The same is true for fonts. If you approach it at the level of the first association, you can probably use one word for each large font group. A handwritten font is a person. But a font can convey a whole range of feelings, historical and stylistic paradigms, phenomena or events.
How should one choose the appropriate font pair?
Base your choice on the task. There are two basic approaches. You can create harmony and choose fonts according to the interaction of styles, saturation, proportions, or something else that would exist in a single dance. The second paradigm is contrast. It is also about harmony, but it’s twisted in the other direction. In this case, conventionally, for the antique font you choose a grotesque one, and for the ultra-modern font – a classical one.
How to select a font pair in a context depends on the context itself. The key in this process is to answer the question of what result you want to achieve: to shock, to calm down, to create comfort. The decision should be conscious and reasonable.
Do fonts have an age? How is the same font perceived by readers at 20 and 65?
The intuitive answer is yes. Here I can only rely on my own experience. As a professional I have been constantly changing over the past 20 years: it is about taste preferences, views on fonts, certain events in the professional industry. For example, I was disappointed in the fonts of some studios when I got acquainted with them closer and learned that they were drawn rather carelessly.
How to understand you need to redesign a text-based logo? How drastic should the changes be? How to understand whether the redesign is successful or not?
A redesign is needed when there’s a feeling that something is wrong with the text-based logo. It’s similar to our case with the Yandex text-based logo tuning. It was a bit odd in terms of micro-typography but these peculiarities didn’t strike the eye and irritated none of the company members. But at some point, the new art director looked at the logo closely and said that it should be reworked.
How to understand that the redesign is successful? The discomfort that has been annoying for many years is gone. If you go a long way and a pebble gets into a sneaker, you can actually walk further. But as soon as you take out the pebble, it feels better. The same with a redesigned logo.
Please tell us about creating a font for Perm. What was the defining start? What font elements helped to convey the character of the city?
It was a project directly related to the activity that was launched in 2008 by the governor of Perm who planned to turn the city into a cultural capital of Russia and started many initiatives. The font was to reflect the character of the city’s transformation, not Perm itself.
Artemiy Lebedev, the art director of the project, asked me to create one font that will be universal for all communications. I decided not to transmit any “Old Russian sorrow” and focused on the future. The idea was based on the great British font Gill Sans of the early 20th century. It did not work with the Cyrillic versions, and I wanted to rethink it. As a result, I created three fonts based on one solution: grotesque, antique, and slab serif antique. Each had three typefaces: regular, italic, and bold.
The font had a successful history while the project existed. Once it was closed, the font disappeared along with the project. A year and a half ago, I decided to reissue it. Now designer Anatoliy Dudko and I are redrawing Permian and preparing to release a new version of it.
What are the key trends in modern typography? What fonts are in trend now and what will be popular in the near future?
Any design is good because no one knows what it will be like. The only thing I can say for sure is that the need for new fonts will not disappear. Now there is a demand for and interest in experimenting with the form, with its transformation into unexpected, strange fonts-mutants. This story has already happened in the 90s because the “noise” effects became possible (Photoshop filters, form destroyers).
In 2016, there occurred a revolution when variable fonts appeared as a new OpenType font format specification. The font that has been static over the past centuries has evolved into an interactive font that reacts to the user and his behavior. The professional font community has been trying to play with this new tool for four years now. Variable fonts are constantly appearing and they are included in type.today collections.
Moscow or Barcelona?
Moscow is my homeland, and Barcelona is the best city for me now.
Your biggest dream
My dreams have not changed since childhood. I want the world to be peaceful and humanity to stop getting sick.
Your greatest fear?
A typical parental fear for children, I have two of them. The second one is fears and paranoia related to parents.
Who’s your authority and why?
If we talk about the profession, my best friend and partner in all my projects is Yuriy Ostromentsky, as well as other people who have played a significant part for me, these are mostly teachers – Alexander Tarbeev, Dutchman Erik van Blokland, and American Christian Schwartz. These are my authorities in the professional font industry and people who have an extraordinary view of life.
A pencil or a tablet?
A pencil. I’ve got a tablet and use it sometimes, but it couldn’t become my main tool.
What were you doing last time you lost track of time?
I am a workaholic: I came to work, blinked a couple of times – and the working day is over. Besides, I can’t work on one project; I need multitasking. Now I am practicing the technique of dividing the working day into hours-limit segments and deliberately jumping from one project to another. Sometimes, there are dozens of simultaneous projects each of which is slowly moving forward.
To teach or to study?
I went through a period when I taught: I dedicated eight years of my life to it. Now I regularly teach students only at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, where I conduct a Cyrillic workshop. Teaching is a vocation one has to devote oneself entirely to. Still, I am a designer – I want to draw letters. And studying is an incessant process.
What superpower would you like to have?
To double. Because at the same time, I would like to work and spend time with children from dawn to dusk.