Typonine: The Delights of Intricacy

Whatever its level of simplicity or complexity, type design is a matter of integrating distinctive elements into an original body of work that opens new possibilities for users.

Nikola Djurek is a very active person. After studying both in his native Croatia and in Italy, he founded his graphic design studio, Typonine, in 2005. His growing interest in type design, however, led him to apply to the Type & Media course at the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) in The Hague, where he earned a master’s degree. He returned to the University of Zagreb to get his PhD, after which he began to teach both there and at the University of Split. He still runs Typonine, where his activities include designing sophisticated, inspiring typefaces and typographic systems that have been awarded several prizes. Also, he makes one of his country’s finest red wines.

Exploring the potential and enhancing the playfulness of letterforms is one of Djurek’s purposes, and his mastery of complementary tools helps him to achieve an ideal balance between the organic and digital. “Tools are very important, as they make the design process easier and faster. My first step in designing typefaces — after fiddling with preliminary research and ideas — is doing sketches, so this part is not that much connected to tools. Of course pens and nibs are also tools, but I’m talking about digital tools (mainly software).”

“It it always great to see my typefaces in use, sometimes in a way I would never expect, but this is also the best thing: let fonts live like their users (designers) want.”

A longtime student of the history of typography, Djurek uses these digital tools to tinker with classics of the repertoire or stretch their limits. The Marlene project, for instance, was built upon a progressive, dynamic interpretation of the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century period of tremendous typographic change. The first part, Marlene (2008, four weights from light to bold, roman & italic) is a text typeface family balancing the stylishness of the “modern” (or neoclassical) genre with the sturdiness of Egyptian (or slab-serif) types; it was expanded the following year with Marlene Display, where Djurek shifting the emphasis to the slab-serif side in a uncanny way, only providing thin and dark roman weights (regular & condensed), and again in 2010 with the higher-contrast Marlene High (2010, four weights from light to bold, roman & italic). Between designing these families, he also managed to produce a Stencil version (four weights from light to bold, roman) with extra swashes inspired by eighteenth century English calligraphy.

Marlene

Marlene Display

Nocturno and Nocturno Display (2013, four weights from regular to bold, roman & italic) journey into another trackless typographic zone, the so-called ‘old-style’, and reinvent it with a remarkable sense of wholeness. With its short ascenders and descenders, its large proportions and comfortable serifs, Nocturno Roman is an indefatigable workhorse, while its italic companion is fluidly graceful, and the Display family is much sharper, with its crisp silhouette and its flared serifs. Both are well-suited for any editorial context from newspapers to magazines.

Nocturno

Nocturno Display

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Asked to define what motivated him to design type, Djurek says, “Every project is different and needs its own approach. I’m searching for projects that have meaningful content and ‘background story’, which sounds like a normal thing, but it’s something that can get lost during any design process. I’m trying to build strong connections between language and script and of course territory. Therefore, I would like to think that this is my contribution to the typographic world. Other designers are doing similar things, but my approach is different, and my background, of course, is different as well.”

The best examples of this contribution are Identitet (2014) and Balkan Sans (2012). The former is a multiscript system carefully combining angular Glagolitic, round Glagolitic, Croatian Cyrillic (bosančica), Cyrillic, Arebica and Latin, scripts that are (or were) used in the Balkan region. The latter is based on the study of a phenomenon known as “Balkan sprachbund” (a term describing languages whose sound and grammatical features have merged because of their geographical proximity). It consists of two Latin and Cyrillic sans serif and stencil typefaces, a truly unprecedented attempt to literally merge two scripts with similar features and obvious differences into the same vertical space, thus generating many possibilities for editorial and signage design.

Identitet

Balkan

Such inventive and crafty typographic instruments seem to push farther past the borders of their own design with every new addition, but how far is too far to go? “Today, after a long time, we have several software programs that deal with drawing letters and producing fonts,” says Djurek. “My personal favorite is Frederik Berlaen’s Robofont. Within just a few years, it’s become an integral part of my type design process. And on the market now you can really see fonts that are designed using many new tools; various inline, shadow and gradient fonts. This trend will stop at some point very soon, as it will become overused, but for now designers are keen to create these effects, because it is very easy to make nice, new things.”

Until Djurek’s prophecy comes to pass, his latest release brilliantly demonstrates that this trend might be in the prime of its life. Tremolo is an experiment in emulating typeforms rendered with lettering tools such as the brush, generously giving inky-black flesh to words (text, Roman & italic), or the ball pen, stripping them to the bone (display, Roman & italic). Moreover, Tremolo Gradient brings three decorative variations in red and grey, dividing each glyph into two harmoniously balanced colored sections separated by a zigzagging party wall.

Tremolo

Tremolo Gradient

Typonine is unequivocally one of the most daring digital foundries of our times, sowing mutant type seeds that may evolve into even more fascinating organisms. We can only wait and see what Djurek’s continuous experimentation will bring!

Cover Photo: Djurek’s family vineyard in Zabok, Croatia.

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