Urtd: Words That Work (and Play)

Perhaps every type designer can look back on a key moment (or series of key moments) that marks the decision to pursue this craft and trade.
Fontstand is pleased to present the first of a monthly series of articles by Sébastien Morlighem on type designers and foundries, their stories, inspirations and creative processes.

Slovakian-born Ondrej Jób fondly remembers his childhood days and learning to read. At the early age of six he was already deciding how much he liked a book based on the typeface of its captions — Clarendon was his favorite. During his primary-school years he developed a growing interest in handwriting and drawing, even sketching decorative Bodoni-esque headlines in his notebooks or inventing code alphabets, exploring an ever-expanding landscape of letterforms.

Like many Slovak children, he went to after-school art classes because he enjoyed painting and drawing, but at that point art was just his hobby, not his career plan. It wasn’t until he enrolled in high school and came into contact with computers that he discovered the joy of working with fonts, shaping his first layouts and page designs in Microsoft Word. Later in his teens he was introduced to real design applications and made up his mind to pursue a career in the arts, so he applied to the graphic design course at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava.


Paper, an experimental typeface inspired by the cylinders of paper-making machines.


Kompilat and Syndikat, Jób’s first two typefaces and his baccalaureate project at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava.

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The academy didn’t offer a concentration in type design at that time, but it did provide students with considerable freedom to experiment. Frequently frustrated by the fonts available on the school computers or in his own collection, Jób began to find increasing satisfaction in creating headlines for his typographic projects from scratch. And when he developed a couple of experimental typefaces in his third year, he realized that he wanted to be, that he had somehow already become, a type designer.

His master’s degree project was a display typeface originally derived from lettering for a t-shirt project that was never completed. Enthusiastically welcomed and released by Peter Biľak’s Typotheque foundry, the aptly named Klimax comprises two optically opposite weights: Plus, possibly one of the fattest, most fanciful typefaces ever made, and Minus, its skeletal monolinear sibling, both in Roman and italic versions. Considering its designer’s youth, Klimax wears a rare confidence, foreshadowing Jób’s main impetus: turning exhilarating letterforms into functional tools through innovative digital craftsmanship.

Klimax Plus and Plus Italic

Despite much initial hesitation, and encouraged by Biľak, Jób applied to the Type & Media course at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague (KABK) in 2008. He was accepted, and after his first day in the studio he knew that he had made the right decision and found his direction, following in the footsteps of instructors such as Erik van Blokland.

Type and Media, clockwise from top left: 1. Discussing typefaces with Jan Willem Stas; 2. Stonecarving exercise; 3. Pointed pen calligraphy; 4. Ondrej presenting Doko to Type and Media teachers; 5. Doko booklet and specimen; 6. Erik van Blokland's TypeCooker exercise.

The following year proved to be a milestone in his early career: in January the Type Directors Club awarded Klimax its Certificate of Excellence in Type Design, and in June Jób graduated from KABK with his final project, Doko. This typeface inspired by comics, cartoon and illustration was a challenge for Jób, whose work typically begins with a lettering project rather than an abstract concept, but its Roman and italic versions, each in two weights, are sustained by a subtle calligraphic flow filtered through their modulated hand-drawn silhouettes, remaining sharp and whimsical when used as a display face, and also sturdy and legible as a text face.

After leaving The Hague, Jób set up Urtd, his own studio and foundry in Bratislava, where he designs applications and websites, relentlessly continuing to develop his programming skills while sharpening his attention to details and consistency. He tries to achieve a satisfying balance between self-initiated projects and custom jobs, both enjoying the liberating feeling of being his own master and also recognizing the risk of getting lost in too many possibilities and breaking too many rules. He knows that his clients’ feedback and criticism usually drive him in unexpected directions and make his work better.

Studio work, clockwise from top left: 1. Doko; 2. Custom typeface Milkface; 3. Remi; 4. Context of Diacritics – an analysis of diacritics designed to help type designers refine the character sets of their fonts.

Letterings for Pecha Kucha Night Bratislava

“I’ve always been sensitive about originality. I’d hate to be called trendy or to get caught copying someone’s work or style. Of course, it’s almost impossible to be totally original, but with every project, I try to get as close as possible. And that could be my philosophy; I’d rather be new and original than make a ton of money with something that doesn’t bring anything new to the table.”

Nevertheless, he still revels in making zany, sophisticated typefaces filled with OpenType features, alternative glyphs and ligatures, the most representative and recent example being Odesta, a decorative script type family (seven weights from Hair to Black) which germinated from a logo designed for a photo studio. The logo was eventually set aside, but proved substantial enough to start a challenging typeface project. Mainly built on modular separate strokes and emphasized ball terminals, Odesta’s letterforms evoke a baroque flock of swashy, swanky swans, as if an uncanny ornithographical approach had influenced its design.


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Even more versatile is Woodkit, a type system released by Typotheque in 2014, which also developed out of a shop logo. Unlike Jób’s previous projects, it’s an anthological survey, mixing nineteenth century wood type and letterpress with twentieth century wooden cube alphabets for children. However, it exceeds both historical gene pools and rejuvenates their forms through three families, Solid, Print and Reprint, each one emulating successive states of print degradation and featuring six distinct styles. Not only does Woodkit recover the vanished materiality of the trace left by an inked type, but it also rediscovers the sheer, fundamental joy of assembling blocks to create words, as many of us did in our childhood.

Three new typefaces currently in development. Doko Sans at the top.

Today, Jób has a promising range of projects in the works, including a sans-serif version of Doko, a “big and serious family” that will retain the warmth and plainspoken appearance of its serif predecessor; a serif family inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement with both text and display styles; a nice, quiet book typeface that also started during his studies at Type and Media; and last but not least, a couple of yet-to-be-revealed display and script faces because, in his own words, “I really couldn’t live without this crazy stuff.” There’s hardly any doubt that the shape of things to come from Urtd will continue to be imaginative and surprising, and that using its typefaces will remain an engaging experience.

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