Annual report

Hello. We are Custom Fonts studio (CSTM Fonts), and we draw fonts. More precisely, we are Ilya Ruderman, Yury Ostromentsky and Olga Pankova. The following text was written by Ostromentsky, so it sometimes may come off overly personal. A version of this article in Russian can be found here.

Kazimir

Kazimir is a Modern serif style typeface, made with a nod to the second half of the nineteenth century. As a basis we took a typeface used in the book “History of Russian Literature” by P. N. Polevoy, published by A.F. Marx in 1900. Russian typography of the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has already been mourned as the renaissance of Cyrillic type tragically halted by the Bolshevik Revolution. In a quarter of a century type will be recast into swords with plowshares, and all that’ll be left will be “Literaturnaya” and its brethren. Today, the pre-revolutionary typesetting looks a bit naive — it is both stern and funny at the same time. Everything appears is as it should be. The line of text feels handcrafted, done by a skilled hand. But look closer and the details reveal a bit of provincialism.

“The history of Russian literature” by P.N. Polevoy, published by the publishing house A.F. Marx in 1900. This is the book we were looking at while drawing Kazimir. Some details of the font may seem too display-ish today, but a hundred years ago they worked great for text settings.

There aren’t many typefaces revived from this time period, especially with a Cyrillic set, and so we took advantage of this particular circumstance. This isn’t a pure revival, it is something more complex and inventive. We sampled elements of pre-revolutionary typography, and parsed them through the contemporary lens of fashion, of form and of harmony. The result is a typeface in five weights, with companion italics. It also contains two stylistic sets, one default and one alternate, called Regular and Irregular respectively. Into the latter one we put all the most bizarre shapes and unexpected proportions of characters. You can select the desired set in Adobe applications by going through the “OpenType/Stylistic Set/Set 1” menus. Regular and Irregular can be used by themselves or mixed together, depending on the tone you want to achieve. Stylistic sets exist for both roman and italic.

We drew Kazimir mainly as a display face, but when we noticed it being used as a text face, in books and on screen, we thought that it would be a good idea to draw a text-weight as well. Kazimir Text is in production now and will be published in 2016.

Sketches of Kazimir Text from our Instagram feed

In the fall of 2015 Kazimir won first prize in the Cyrillic fonts category at Granshan’15.
Buy the font here: https://www.myfonts.com/fonts/cstm-fonts/kazimir/ Download the type specimen here: http://tinyurl.com/kazimirtypeface.

Pilar

The first version of this typeface was designed for headlines in the “Bol’shoy Gorod (Big City)” magazine in 2012. I was working as an art director at Big City, and it felt that what was happening in the streets of Moscow during the wave of protests in 2012 — the sense of what was in the air — seemed in tune with the European graphics of the Spanish Civil War period. This typeface has a dose of that Orwellian/Hemingwayian romanticism. It is loud, but not too crude. It is rectilinear, but pretty loose at the same time.

Posters of the Spanish Civil War period

The typeface slotted into the magazine quite seamlessly — the series of “yellow covers” are still recalled as one of the symbols of the protest movement of 2012, the so-called “Snow Revolution”, in the aftermath of the contentious Russian Duma and Presidential elections. After I left the magazine the font was still used there for some time, but eventually Big City was shuttered.

Issue #298 of “Bol’shoy Gorod (Big City)” magazine published on May 16th, 2012, had twelve different covers with provocative headlines. The above three read (l. to r.): “There are more of us than you think”; “To hell with the Fascist article 282 [of the Russian Penal Code]. It’s a disgrace, not a law. Don’t prosecute for thought-crime”; “The fact that in the center of Moscow lies a corpse of the founder of a totalitarian state is idiotic, and bordering on criminal. Lenin, get out of here.”

In 2015 we took the files out of the desk drawer, greatly expanded the set, partially redrawing the contours, and christening it in honor of Hemingway’s beloved Pilar. Now the typeface has four stylistic sets, with four sets of alphanumeric glyphs, one default and three alternate ones. Every letter comes in four different designs. We called these four sets: Regular Open, Wide Closed, Narrow and Wild. You can choose one of the sets via the “OpenType/Stylistic Set” menu within the Adobe applications. And if you use the “Contextual Alternates” feature, the word will be set in glyphs from all the sets in turn: the first letter from the default set, the second from Set 1, Set 2 for the third, the fourth from Set 3, the fifth again from the default set, and so on.

Besides politics this particular Spanish aesthetic and style of letter was also employed in much advertising work of that time. I originally drew this font for my own work, and only for the magazine, as it allowed me to create a diverse, and rich visual environment for Big City. We went back into it in order to make this quirky thing a bit more versatile.

Buy Pilar here: https://www.myfonts.com/fonts/cstm-fonts/pilar, and download the type specimen here: http://tinyurl.com/h4s7n7f.

Tele2

Advertisements for Tele2 Russia using the new fonts
Branding agency Plenum Brand Consultancy showcasing their new advertising campaign using the new Tele2 fonts

We began this project in the autumn of 2013 (when we weren’t even CSTM Fonts yet), and finished it in 2015. The company Tele2 turned to us with the task of developing a corporate font for them with a solid Cyrillic, and in a style similar to their previous font.

At the very beginning of the project the company was still Swedish, and we even had hope that if the font did well in Russia, that maybe it might even go further up the corporate chain. However, during the design process the Russian part of Tele2 splintered off, and the Swedes had their new font drawn by Göran Söderström — which incidentally is very good. Previously Tele2 employed two slab-serif styles, regular and semi-bold, but in the design process we arrived at a more complex solution. From the beginning we tried to challenge the common client brief of, “we want a similar style as before, but make it better”, and showed Tele2 several stylistically different sketches. We did it in no way as an affront to the client, but first and foremost, to clarify what the exact style should be. How closely should it follow the previous face? Where might it be possible, and perhaps necessary, to deviate from that? We wanted to find out what the true essence of this style is. And secondly, to convince the client that the slab serif may not be the only solution, and that some things are better set in a sans serif.

Sketches showing the search of a new font style for Tele2

Our expectations were fully justified. To our aid came Nikolai Artamonov, art director of the DDB advertising agency, which was hired by Tele2 to handle its design. Together with Nikolai we managed to convince the management team of Tele2 that for a large company with many different messages it is not a good idea to be limited to only two weights of one typeface, but instead to employ a slightly more complex system.

The new font family Tele2 consists of a sans for text settings, a slab serif for display use, and a stencil style for extra large display settings. The sans and the slab serif have two weights, regular and bold. Of all the stylistic proposals Tele2 chose the minimalist option — simple, open characters with crisp drafting and minimal contrast.

Tele2 Text Sans
Tele2 Display Serif
Tele2 Display Stencil

The slab serif is the legacy, because it was the previous branding face, thus the main promotional messages of Tele2 are set in this font. Large blocks of text, directory information, or anything that requires a small point size, is set in the sans. And for the most prominent, short, statements the stencil style is used.

These three structurally different fonts are integrated into a single graphic system and therefore work well together, as each one slots into its place and performs the task required of it. It is, however, a quite flexible system as the designer has room to reinterpret and to play around. The sans can easily be used for the large headlines, and the slab serif can be used for large passages of text.

I also want to add that for all those involved in this project, the process turned out to be quite complex, but a very interesting one. Tele2 is a big company, and decisions are made ​​by a large number of people. All of the design work is handled on the agency side, with separate teams for web and print. On top of that, in the midst of this project, the agency’s art director in charge of Tele2 changed. Now, if I am not mistaking, the branding is handled by another agency altogether, Plenum Brand Consultancy.

For the management team of Kirill Obuh, Anna Brazhnik and Victoria Vorobieva, this was their first time participating in a font design project. But the way they dove into the completely obscure and esoteric aspects of type design, and how they found their own way of understanding, and even growing to love them, is incredibly cool. During the work on this project we dealt with a number of different folks: two art directors from DDB, a web agency, and a bunch of other people, but the easiest and most constructive dialogue we had was with the management team. Thank you!

All five fonts support the major European and Cyrillic languages, with a small portion of the extended Cyrillic set (Kazakh, Tajik, Uzbek and Kyrgyz languages). Plus a special added set of icons.

The new font is coming into use across Tele2 communications and will soon replace the old fonts in all media.

Tele2 Typefamily won second prize in the category of Cyrillic fonts at Granshan’15.

Сity Sans

The project for the Moscow-City turned out to be pretty quick. We were approached by Tatiana Voltsinger and Danila Shorokh of Moscow City’s in-house design studio. They are developing a wayfinding system and branding for a new business district of the city (called Moscow City). Danila asked us to draw a geometric sans, but not exactly; a techy font, but not quite; a simple one, but not exactly. The font has to work for wayfinding, that is, it has to be readable from a distance, and at any angle. As a branding face it needs to have some special distinguishing features. Finally, the new font needs to identify with Moscow.

So a not-quite-geometric, a little-techy, neo-Moscow-grotesque came out in seven weights from Thin to Black. It supports most of the European languages, a slightly expanded Cyrillic set, including Bulgarian. Plus, like Tele2, City Sans has its own set of icons.

Currently the wayfinding system is in the pilot phase, with five informational totems set in City Sans. The design studio is also starting to use it on its website.

Piloted informational totems in Moscow City

Type Specimen for Kazimir and Pilar

Spread from the type specimen for Kazimir from the publishers, “TypeJournal”, store

For the retail fonts Kazimir and Pilar we created type specimen brochures. For Kazimir we did a straightforward booklet with pages showing samples of set type. We don’t have any copies of it left, but it can be bought at the “TypeJournal” publishers’ store. For Pilar we decided to make a poster with made-up advertisements for Spanish plumbers, Russian gold buyers, news from the Paris City Hall, etc.

Ilya Ruderman holding the Pilar poster in the CSTM Fonts studio

Coming Soon

Besides Kazimir Text, in 2016 we will release BigCity Grotesque Pro. This font, like Pilar, was drawn specifically for the Bol’shoy Gorod (Big City) magazine by Ilya Ruderman in 2008. In the magazine BigCity Grotesque worked in tandem with BigCity Antique drawn by Alexander Tarbeev. One of the most impressive features of this font is an abundance of Cyrillic ligatures. In 2009 the font was one of the winners in the competition “Modern Cyrillic 2009”. The new version will have a significantly expanded family of fonts, and will have slightly redrawn contours in places.

Sketches of BigCity Grotesque Pro from our Instagram feed

We are working on several new fonts and other projects, but it’s too early to speak of them. For all of our news, you can follow us on Facebook and Instagram, and our fonts are available from MyFonts.

Yury Ostromentsky, CSTM Fonts, 2015
Translated by Alexander Tochilovsky