Typeradio interviewed by Ilya Ruderman 

2 December 2015

Answers

Don­ald Beek­man
Liza En­e­beis

Questions

Ilya Ruder­man

here is a charm­ing for­mula on Typer­a­dio’s web-site: “Type is speech on pa­per. Typer­a­dio is speech on type”. Since 2004 the archive of the in­ter­net ra­dio chan­nel on type and design keeps grow­ing and counts at the mo­ment nearly three hun­dred re­cords of in­ter­views with (type) design pro­fes­sion­als and le­gends. This time Typer­a­dio (Liza En­e­beis and Don­ald Beek­man) an­swers to ques­tions from Ilya Ruder­man at the type con­fer­en­ce Serebro Nabora, Septem­ber 2015, Mo­scow.

Ilya Ruder­man: Have you guys ever done an in­ter­view about Typer­a­dio? I’m sure over the years someone must have already in­ter­viewed you. Right?

Don­ald Beek­man: We only had an email in­ter­view. We have nev­er ac­tu­ally sat down to have a chat. No video also.

Liza En­e­beis: Well… we had one in­ter­view in Ber­lin dur­ing Designmai Fest­iv­al. There were a couple of stu­dents that asked us ques­tions but they were very along the lines of our own ques­tions so it was a sort of a joke. They would ask our ques­tions like “Are we re­li­gious?”, “Do we have rituals?” This happened once in Ber­lin and maybe once or twice over e-mail.

Liza En­e­beis and Don­ald Beek­man at the con­fer­en­ce Serebro nabora, Mo­scow, 2015

Ilya: OK, let’s make it. Can you briefly ex­plain the ori­gin­al idea of Typer­a­dio? How it star­ted? Who is in­volved and the whole concept be­cause, I think, it’s not very clear to every­one.

Don­ald: Typer­a­dio star­ted when we re­ceived an in­vit­a­tion from Un­der­ware to join them in set­ting up a ra­dio sta­tion at Typo Ber­lin for one time only. So, Typer­a­dio is—Un­der­ware, the font foundry in the Hag­ue, which con­sists of Akiem Helmling from Ger­many, Bas Jac­obs from the Neth­er­lands, and Sami Kortemäki from Fin­land; my­self Don­ald Beek­man, I am a graph­ic de­sign­er from Am­s­ter­dam; and Liza En­e­beis, who is now a cre­at­ive dir­ect­or of Stu­dio Dumbar, but was work­ing at an­oth­er stu­dio at the time.

The idea is that ra­dio is a com­pletely non-visu­al me­di­um and ty­po­graphy is purely a visu­al me­di­um. So ex­press­ing a visu­al me­di­um in a non-visu­al way is very weird and strange. You have to think about “How does that work?”, “What’s hap­pen­ing? How can you ex­plain ty­po­graphy if you can’t show it?” This is the basis of all the pro­jects that we do for Typer­a­dio, a trans­la­tion from a visu­al thing in­to non-visu­al and then something hap­pens. Ra­dio is also very per­son­al. I really like to listen to ra­dio. What’s great about ra­dio is that you can do something else. You can jog, you can walk, you can drive a car, whilst with video you’re stuck to the screen. It’s an old-fash­ioned me­di­um in a way but also so clas­sic, it’s time­less. I think ra­dio will al­ways be there. People will al­ways listen to people talk­ing.

Ilya: Did you have any ori­gin­al goal with the pro­ject?

Liza: No. It was just a one-off pro­ject. The idea was: we will go to Ber­lin. In Ber­lin you could buy ra­dio space and we could trans­mit around the con­fer­en­ce, over 500 meters.

It was real ra­dio. We had small ra­di­os. You could buy them for a euro. We also had ra­dio set up in the con­fer­en­ce space. And of course we had ideas: OK, what do you do on ra­dio? One thing was in­ter­views or play­ing mu­sic. We thought that the best source at this con­fer­en­ce would be the speak­ers. So why not in­ter­view the speak­ers about the work they do and then live-stream it in the con­fer­en­ce? There was no pod­cast­ing back then. You could ba­sic­ally stream. Pod­cast­ing didn’t ex­ist 11 years ago.

Don­ald: We wanted 24-hour ra­dio. But the whole pro­ject forced us to think about how to fill eight hours of ra­dio a day about ty­po­graphy. We re­cor­ded eight hours and that was re­peated twice be­cause we had to get out of the build­ing by six or something. So it was re­peated twice also to have listen­ers in oth­er time zones be­cause of the time dif­fer­en­ce.

Cour­tesy of Blocter

Ilya: That’s how you prob­ably came up with the idea of start­ing with the same ques­tions all the time?

Don­ald: The story is like this: if, for ex­ample, Erik Spieker­mann is in­tro­duced, you know who he is, you know about him and about his work, but some­times there would be a de­sign­er who is not that known and then we had no idea who we were talk­ing to. This is kind of dis­re­spect­ful to in­ter­view some­body and not know any­thing about him or her. So we made a scheme of twenty “yes” or “no” ques­tions as a start­ing base in case we didn’t know a per­son. And from these an­swers we would con­tin­ue our con­ver­sa­tion.

Ilya: Over the years these ques­tions changed. Now you ask few­er ques­tions than in the be­gin­ning.

Liza: Be­cause now they go more in depth. When we first star­ted, we had twenty “yes” or “no” ques­tions. And then we had a short talk. Now we have taken the “yes” or “no” ques­tions out, we just ask cer­tain ques­tions from the ori­gin­al list and then more spe­cif­ic ques­tions geared to that per­son. It’s more an evol­u­tion. And the oth­er thing is that the ques­tions are not 100% re­lated to ty­po­graphy. Of course, we are in­ter­es­ted in ty­po­graphy but we are more in­ter­es­ted in the per­son. I think it makes a dif­fer­en­ce to the work and also how you per­ceive that per­son’s work if I know a bit more like… how you were brought up by your fam­ily. I find that in­ter­est­ing be­cause it gives me a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of who you are, I love your work more or I start hat­ing your work be­cause of who you are.

Ilya: It was al­ways in­ter­est­ing to listen how dif­fer­ently people an­swer the same ques­tion. I’m won­der­ing, did this pro­ject some­how change your per­son­al lives, ca­reers?

Don­ald: Yes, not pro­foundly but… What Liza and I have among oth­er things in com­mon is that we are very curi­ous, we’re both very in­quis­it­ive. As soon as we meet someone we ask: What do you do? What do your par­ents do?

Liza: It’s not be­ing nosy but curi­ous.

Don­ald: You’re just curi­ous and in­ter­es­ted in people. And that didn’t change, but it gave me (and now I’m speak­ing for my­self) the op­por­tun­ity to meet more people and also people who I really look up to or ad­mire or think they do great work. It’s fant­ast­ic – in­stead of just go­ing to a con­fer­en­ce and listen­ing to gen­er­al present­a­tions, you have them sit down and ac­tu­ally have a con­ver­sa­tion with them. So Typer­a­dio is a kind of an ex­cuse to talk to more people that I sort of know ac­tu­ally.

Liza: For me… I have a big­ger re­spect now for ty­po­graph­ers and type design. I star­ted twenty years ago as a graph­ic de­sign­er and I didn’t know so much about the pro­fes­sion it­self, and how much work goes in­to design­ing a typeface, and what that means. Even though as graph­ic de­sign­ers we are the people who work dir­ec­tly with ty­po­graphy, we just don’t know what goes in it. I buy fonts and don’t down­load them for free. When I was a stu­dent, I re­mem­ber copy­ing all these typefaces from oth­ers. I had about a hun­dred floppy disks. So now I preach: buy it, don’t steal.

Ilya: Be­ing a graph­ic de­sign­er, did you wish to design a typeface?

Liza: No, be­cause I also re­spect how good the oth­er people are. I like graph­ic design and I like it more as a whole, but I think be­ing a ty­po­graph­er is a spe­cial­ist area. That’s not my strength.

Ilya: I know that Don­ald did. I’ve heard a lec­ture.

Don­ald: No, I stick to dis­play. I just leave the text to you guys. You ac­tu­ally know what you’re do­ing.

Ilya: An­oth­er slightly con­nec­ted ques­tion. What are your fa­vour­ite typefaces? What do you use by de­fault? Which typeface are you think­ing of when someone says the word “typeface”?

Don­ald: In my work in gen­er­al I re­turn to Goth­ics, like News Goth­ic, Trade Goth­ic, Frank­lin Goth­ic. It’s al­ways, when I start a pro­ject and I have no idea what to use, I just start with Frank­lin Goth­ic and just see, “Oh no, this is com­pletely wrong” and then you choose from the op­pos­ite side. When I have no idea and I need a typeface, I tend to use a sans serif and spe­cif­ic­ally Amer­ic­an, like News Goth­ic.

Liza: Yeah, it’s a bit tricky. I don’t design hands-on my­self be­cause I al­ways work with oth­er people now.

Ilya: But you used to do this.

Liza: I still do it, but I al­ways work with some­body else. My per­son­al fa­vour­ite typeface is Druk by Ber­ton Hasebe. I did a lot of ed­it­or­i­al design, and it really re­minds me a lot of those ‘60s magazines, for ex­ample Twen or Nova, where they have these very con­densed typefaces. And I really love it. You can do any­thing with it.

 

Druk is a study in ex­tremes, fea­tur­ing the nar­row­est, widest, and heav­iest typefaces in the Com­mer­cial Type lib­rary to date. Start­ing from Me­di­um and go­ing up to Su­per, Druk is un­com­prom­isingly bold. Druk was con­sciously de­signed without a nor­mal width, nor light­er than me­di­um weights. Ber­ton Hasebe, the de­sign­er, wanted to avoid the com­prom­ises of for­cing the typeface away from its es­sence for more gen­er­al-pur­pose us­age. Druk is con­ceived to of­fer new pos­sib­il­it­ies to graph­ic de­sign­ers that oth­er typefaces can’t. Its three widths can be mixed to­geth­er for bold and ex­press­ive ty­po­graph­ic treat­ments. Cour­tesy of Com­mer­cial Type

Ilya: Frankly, I am sur­prised. It’s a very ori­gin­al fa­vour­ite.

Don­ald: It’s very sub­ject­ive. It’s al­ways time-based. Ask me in an hour and I’ll prob­ably have a dif­fer­ent an­swer. So it’s really what is your mood, what is com­ing out and what you re­dis­cov­er from the past. You get there in a very in­dir­ect way.

Liza: As far as type foundries, I like the work of Grilli Type from Switzer­land, and Colo­phon Foundry from Eng­land. These are my fa­vour­ites for now, but who knows in two years’ time.

Don­ald: Lineto, they do fant­ast­ic work!

Ilya: And how do you choose with whom to do an in­ter­view?

Liza: It’s how good-look­ing they are.

Don­ald: And how much money they are will­ing to give us, of course!

Ilya: Do you vote?

Liza: No! We just say this per­son would be good to talk to, or oth­er people re­com­mend some­body.

Ilya: So you just talk to every­one.

Liza: It’s not any­one. You’re spe­cial.

Don­ald: You’re an ex­cep­tion. In gen­er­al, you can say the older the de­sign­ers are, the more stor­ies and life ex­per­i­en­ce and design ex­per­i­en­ce they have. In gen­er­al, those are the more in­ter­est­ing, but that’s only very gen­er­al, be­cause there are young de­sign­ers who are really up and com­ing, do great work.

Ilya: Hon­es­tly, in gen­er­al when look­ing at the people with whom you mainly talk—it tends to be the young­er gen­er­a­tion, rather than the older one. Why so?

Don­ald: Maybe the older ones are harder to reach, harder to get in touch with. They don’t vis­it con­fer­en­ces much. As for the really fam­ous, you have com­pet­i­tion from ra­dio sta­tions and even from out­side of the design world: they also want to talk to them. For in­stance, Christo (Christo Vladi­mirov Ja­vacheff), the artist, was at the last In­teg­rated Con­fer­en­ce in An­t­werp. He’s not a de­sign­er but we would have loved to talk to him. But with Christo you have to stand in line with the BBC, Bel­gi­um ra­dio, Bel­gi­um tele­vi­sion, Dutch tele­vi­sion. So you really are the sev­enth in line and there’s no time for Mr. Christo to talk to us, des­pite the fact that every­body is very sym­path­et­ic and really try­ing to make it work, but it simply doesn’t hap­pen.

Ilya: Did any­one re­fuse to talk with you ex­cept, as I know, Un­der­ware people?

Liza: Yeah, there are people. They just don’t really en­joy be­ing in­ter­viewed and they say “no”.

Don­ald: It could be a lan­guage prob­lem: they’re not con­fid­ent enough to talk in Eng­lish, for in­stance, or they’re shy and mod­est and don’t feel like it—“It doesn’t suit me to talk about my work.”

Ilya: I have a fa­vour­ite ques­tion (I’m sure Liza will like this one).

Liza: Here comes the “penis” ques­tion.

Ilya: You tried to speak about that twice already… But my ques­tion is this: You have spoken with a lot of type de­sign­ers. What is your hon­est opin­ion of these people? Are they nor­mal? Are they spe­cial? Are they unique? How would you de­scribe type de­sign­ers and ty­po­graph­ers. Are they jerks?

Liza: I think they are a very ded­ic­ated group of people. They’re not driv­en by money, for ex­ample. And that’s the dif­fer­en­ce from some oth­er pro­fes­sions. I’m sure that people that are great at their job are nev­er driv­en by money, in any pro­fes­sion. But par­tic­u­larly with type design you really have to do it for the love of what you’re do­ing. The com­mit­ment of these people is really un­be­liev­able be­cause there are very few that make their en­tire liv­ing at type design. They are a very com­mit­ted group, maybe more so than with graph­ic de­sign­ers—to over­gen­er­al­ise.

Don­ald: On top of that, what they do is so ab­stract for people who are not in the design world or type-design world. Twenty years ago, people didn’t know what fonts were. Now they have a list OF fonts in their Win­dows ma­chine. They have real­ised that things look dif­fer­ent if they do them in an­oth­er typeface. Com­ic Sans is dif­fer­ent from Times New Ro­man. People know that now, so that’s like a gi­ant leap for­ward since 1990.

Ilya: But it’s still a quite en­ig­mat­ic pro­fes­sion.

Don­ald: If I talk to people who are not in the design world and then you ex­plain about the dis­tance between the let­ters that defines their read­ing ex­per­i­en­ce… I mean that’s rock­et sci­en­ce for them. It’s really like “wow!” They look at me glazed, “What the fuck are you talk­ing about?!” “Well, it’s very im­port­ant.” They sort of be­lieve you, they seem to take your word for it, but they feel “Yeah, right! Whatever.” It’s so ab­stract, and and that makes for the al­most weird mi­cro­cosm that is the type-design world..

Liza: But it’s chan­ging. Now I’m really happy that on the news you hear about Google re­design, for ex­ample, and it’s on every big chan­nel: “Oh! Google changed.” I was so happy that so many people un­der­stand, “Oh, look!” They know what cor­por­ate iden­tity is. This is already one step closer.

Ilya: And the next step will be if they know our names. Maybe.

Liza: Yeah, it’s go­ing to take maybe an­oth­er 10 years, but it’s still a step—un­der­stand­ing it is a part of design. So hope­fully…

Ilya: I no­ticed that you spoke sev­er­al times with sev­er­al de­sign­ers. You keep in­ter­view­ing them.

Don­ald: Only Stefan Sag­meister.

Liza: No, and In­dra [Kup­fer­schmid].

Don­ald: Yeah, but we didn’t really do an in­ter­view with In­dra at first. We just had those 20 ques­tions. We heard 20 times “yes” or “no” from her, but we didn’t in­ter­view her. So we figured, it’s about time that we ac­tu­ally have a talk. Also be­cause she’s un­der­gone such a de­vel­op­ment in her pro­fes­sion­al life and in the ty­po­graphy world, so it makes sense to talk to her again.

Liza: Oh, you said about fam­ous people: we in­ter­viewed Ad­ri­an Fru­ti­ger, but we don’t have the in­ter­view on­line. That’s also a nice in­ter­view that’s worth listen­ing to. And Wim Crouwel.

Don­ald: Wim Crouwel is my hero. He’s my god. I looked up to this man so much and now I’m on a first-name basis with him.

I de­signed for this res­taur­ant and he was hav­ing din­ner there with his wife and son. And I was like, “Oh! Should I go up to him” I felt like a little boy. “He knows me now.” “Hey, Wim! What are you do­ing?” And he said, “Hey, Don­ald! How is it go­ing? What are you do­ing here?” I said, “I do the design.” He said, “I love the work.”  I was ex­hil­ar­ated for a week! Wow!

Ilya: That’s won­der­ful. Yeah, he’s a great de­sign­er. Who else?

Liza: Massimo Vign­elli. I think it is a nice in­ter­view. It’s very funny also. His It­ali­an ac­cent, his flair, the way he presents his work.

Don­ald: Aaron Mar­cus also—but that’s more be­cause it was un­ex­pec­ted. We’ve nev­er heard of the guy. We were sit­ting there with our eyes and ears open. Wow! We didn’t know he ex­is­ted! And also Petr Van Blok­land. It was also an eye-open­er.

In 1967, Aaron Mar­cus be­came the world’s first graph­ic de­sign­er to work with com­puter graph­ics. In the 1970s, when a hard drive was the size of a re­fri­ger­at­or, he was already design­ing vir­tu­al en­vir­on­ments and nav­ig­a­tion through in­form­a­tion spaces. He quickly iden­ti­fied the user in­ter­face as a ma­jor factor in im­ple­ment­ing the user ex­per­i­en­ce of com­puter-based products and ser­vices. The un­tapped po­ten­tial to turn in­form­a­tion in­to know­ledge mo­tiv­ated him to be­come a re­search­er in com­puter graph­ics and a pi­on­eer user-in­ter­face de­sign­er by 1969. After teach­ing for more than a dec­ade, he foun­ded the first in­de­pend­ent, com­puter-based graph­ic design firm in the world in 1982. 

Of­fi­cial site. Photo by Ilya Schurov, Com­pu­terra Weekly, 2008.

I should listen to it again, but in ret­ro­spect I think that he answered every ques­tion at first with “Well, that de­pends”, “It de­pends what you define as…” It made me think you should al­ways ques­tion the tools that you work with, the pro­grammes that you work with. The ques­tions are be­ing asked—well, it de­pends what the para­met­ers are, what is the space that you move in. He turns everything up­side down. After that con­ver­sa­tion, I was sort of “Yeah…” You start to doubt everything that you do, but that’s in a good way, re­as­sess everything that you’ve done. Why do I use this pro­gramme? Why it is oc­cur­ring like this? Everything is like “Why? Why do you do that?” That was very in­ter­est­ing.

Ilya: That’s the gen­er­al im­pres­sion from Petr. He is quite unique in this.

Liza: There are also in­ter­views that are really dif­fi­cult in the sense that some­body doesn’t feel com­fort­able talk­ing, or as a per­son is very closed. It’s like “Yes-no” and then you sit there won­der­ing what to ask next.

Ilya: I wrote the ques­tion down but have not de­cided wheth­er I should ask it or not: are you con­sid­er­ing stop­ping the pro­ject in the fu­ture?

Liza: If there’s the end of ty­po­graphy—maybe.

Interview
Typeradio
Ruderman
3888