“When I Am Designing a Book, I Know I Am Creating Something Meaningful and Practical”

An Interview with Slovakian Designer Slávka Pauliková

Graphic and type designer Slávka Pauliková is originally from Slovakia but currently based in the Hague. She has gained experience in different design fields by learning and working in countries such as Slovakia, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. I’ve asked her about her career and future plans among others.

How did you become first interested in typography / graphic and type design?
I started my studies with fashion design. While studying fashion, I began to find magazines and books about fashion design more interesting than fashion design itself. I started focusing more on editorial and graphic design, and later typography and typeface design.

You have studied in both Slovakia and the Netherlands. What are the major differences between these countries regarding graphic design and typography?
I also studied in the Czech Republic, and I can see differences between Slovak and Czech design approaches as well, even though these two countries are much closer to each other than to the Netherlands.

I think the difference between the Netherlands and Slovakia is basically appreciating design. Understanding of design and design history in the Netherlands is more developed than Slovakia. It is much more elaborated, and it has a strong theoretical idea and concept-oriented design education and culture. Everything made has its purpose as well as it is well considered and intellectually satisfying. This is typical for Dutch design. In the Netherlands, designers can express their own opinions easier during client work. In Slovakia, it is still more about the client’s idea. Clients see designers as a pair of hands rather than a well-educated professional. On the other hand, there are a lot of opportunities for improving the design of fundamental things in Slovakia.

If I should specifically speak about typography, then I’d say that typography is more illustrative, more poetic and elegant in the Central European countries. Dutch typography goes straight to the information with a simple and clear approach.

Do you think it is more difficult for a Central / Eastern European designer to get noticed internationally than someone from France or the UK, for instance?
If a designer works online, and if he or she is specialised in something unique with strong design skills and can present the work effectively online, that designer will get noticed even if he or she lives at the North Pole.

However, being noticed does not always mean getting work. Most designers still need to be in physical contact with their clients. It is an advantage to live around bigger cities such as London, Amsterdam and New York. People who set foot in such metropolis need to make effort to fit in. There is still some prejudgement towards people from the east of Europe. However, as I’ve said before, if you can offer something unique to the clients, there will be always demand and people will offer you work without thinking about where you are from.

I’ve seen that you’ve done a lot of work considering editorial and book design. Do you like these types of work the most? If so, why?
I like book and editorial design because of one specific reason. At the end, you are creating a product, book or magazine that people can read and put on their shelves. When I am designing a book, I know I am creating something meaningful and practical. Something that will hopefully last for a long time. I also enjoy designing identities and websites, although I know they are more ephemeral.

What are the characteristics of a well-designed book?
 Good books come to life when the content meets the design and the design meets the content. When the designer thinks about the content and the reader at the same time.

You have also designed typefaces. What do you consider the greatest challenges of creating a typeface?
The greatest challenge is to come up with an original and smart idea. Good typefaces are traditional and contemporary at the same time. They are based on old techniques and guidelines but they fulfil the needs of contemporary design technologies. A century ago, a type family had only three styles, regular, bold and italic. Today typefaces are drown for extreme palettes, from hairline to black, from compressed to super-extended. The designers have to predict where the typefaces will be used and decide how much the fonts will cover. These attributes, weight and language support, make the typeface functional but a clever new idea makes it unique.

When I was browsing your Behance page and website, I noticed that handwriting plays crucial role in your work — of course, not all the time. Why is that?
The idea of handwriting was my subject when I was studying. I made a couple of projects where I was focusing on today’s handwriting. I was studying how we change the shapes of written letters. The results were quite interesting. We develop our own writing style which differs from the basic shapes we learn at school. This was my topic a few years ago but I didn’t develop this projects further, although I still like to see how people write, what kind of unique letter shapes they can create.

The Identity of Observatory and Planetarium project is also remarkable. Could you talk a bit about it?
Design studio Pixl-e from Brno, Czech Republic asked me to collaborate with them on a design proposal for the new identity of Observatory and Planetarium in Brno. It was a beautiful and unique opportunity to make an identity for a Planetarium. The whole research about space is very interesting and colourful. We found so many inspiring details and shapes in space. It is quite easy to loose yourself when you are making such an extensive research and complex identity for such institution. We decided to keep the identity simple but with a hint of a puzzle. We used the typeface Ion designed by Ondrej Job, which is a LED screen based typeface. We were taking the typeface apart, putting it into layers on top of each other. We were using the extra black style which is not that legible but by emphasising the corner points we managed to mimic the space. This way we created a quite remarkable identity.

You worked for Studio Joost Grootens between 2011 and 2014, and now you are a freelancer if I’m not mistaken. (However, I’ve found your name on the studio’s website on the list of co-workers.) Why did you decide to be a freelancer? What are the advantages and disantvantages of being a freelancer or work for an agency?
Working as a designer for Joost Grootens was a great experience. I was lucky to be part of the studio where I learned the most. After three and half years collaborating with Joost Grootens, I decided to start working more independently. Especially, I want to bring out my design by working on self-initiated projects, doing some workshops and lectures as well.

As a freelancer you experience a totally different approach of working. You are responsible for every single aspect of design from finding a client to finishing the product. This is what I wanted to experience. When you are working for an agency you can quickly fell into a routine, and you can start feeling not moving further with your design skills. In my opinion, working for an agency is more comfortable. When you are a freelancer you have to face more challenges — finding clients, creating contracts and fallowing payments… things which you usually don’t see when you are working for an agency.

What are you working on now?
I am working on some typeface design projects and some visual identities. One of my very recent projects is the identity of a furniture and product design store in the Hague. It is a newly open store that focuses on responsible contemporary design with timeless approach. It is a start-up store and that is what I like about it; it is very refreshing and inspiring to work on such a project. You can define the main idea of the store with the identity and do some copywriting as well. I am also starting with a series of editorial design and lettering workshops.

What are your plans for the future?
At this moment I am starting working more independently and I will see what the future will bring. In general, I want to be open to everything new that makes sense to do, to design, to focus on and to spend time with.


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