Planet typography MyFonts
The typographic Times
Peter Bilak


[December 2006]
“I prefer to have a direct contact with the end-users, it shows a lot how fonts really work, and can be inspiring for other type projects.”
Peter Bil’ak

You’re a Slovak living in The Netherlands. Have these two cultures an influence on your work ?

Of course the place where one is born, raised and where he lives have always influence on an individual. With me it is no different, and my years spent in Slovakia, England, US, France and Holland have a profound influence on work. Sometimes it is hard to articulate what is more dominant, and to clearly see the influence, i think it works on a more subtle level, almost unconsciously. It is clear that since I came to the NL my work became more organized, and I am interested in the design methodology, while before (while living in Slovakia) it was more intuitive. But traces of all influences mix, and create what is my work today. It is neither purely Dutch or Slovak, it reflects a number of influences.

Some of your typefaces are distributed by FontFont (Eureka for instance) others by the foundries you have launched (Typotheque). Why ?

I released my early typefaces with FontShop. In 1999 I started Typotheque, so all new typefaces from now on, we will publish ourselves. I prefer to have a direct contact with the end-users, it shows a lot how fonts really work, and can be inspiring for other type projects. We will eventually publish also other fonts not designed just by myself at Typotheque, so it is exciting to build up a small type foundry with focus on quality, innovation and exploration of contemporary ideas.

With Eureka and Fedra, you have created two exhaustive families of typefaces. Have you a special interest for this kind of program ?

Type familyThere was no special plan to create huge typeface families for Eureka or Fedra. When the first weights were released and used by other designers, it was evident that other weights would be useful.
Monospaced fonts were created because of an annual report project, phonetic fonts for dictionaries, so as more people used the fonts, the intended application also grew bigger, so now there are text and display typefaces available too within one typeface family. That is the benefit of working with users directly. Now after 5 years of (dis-)continuous work, I think Fedra project is finished, so I can finally focus on other projects. I am really looking forward to do smaller type families now.

Have you observed a stronger interest for CE typefaces these last years with the EU expansion towards Central Europe ?

Fedra SerifI have seen an increased interest from the side of type designers in multilingual typefaces, not just CE, but also Greek, Cyrillic, etc. The advent of Unicode allowed many people to explore non-Latin type which is an interesting area. Working with Greek or Arabic, have also opened a lot of possibilities for me when working with Latin type again. I think one can be inspired by non-Latin type to use different construction principles.

There is also a slightly increased interest in CE for other non-western type forms. For very long time they were ignored by the major type foundries, so the users learned to modify existing fonts, modify software to use it, which was not really the best practice. Now they get the same functional fonts as other users, which saves them time, and results can be better.

Do you still follow the typographic activity in Czech Republic and Slovakia ? What are the specificities of the locally designed typefaces ?

I have a continuous interest in the development in Czech Republic and Slovakia, contribute to the local magazines, lecture there sometimes. My wife Johanna has co-organized an exhibition of the last 20 years of Czech and Slovak Type design and typography, which was travelling around Europe.

We want you to Love TypeWe at Typotheque have published a book We want you to Love Type, which documents the exhibition, and the specific processes of type design in that region. Johanna is now writing an essay which explores the roots of Czechoslovak typography.

Like elsewhere, typography in Czechoslovakia responds to the changing technology and other trends. Besides this, as a small country, in the 1920-1940, many designers were preoccupied with the definition of the local specificities and ‘national character’ of the type. Some interesting projects came out of this romantic, national movement, mainly reflecting specific linguistic needs of Czech and Slovak which are nearly perfectly phonetic languages, and make use of extended diacritics. The same movement can be observed now, when more people work with type.

In, there is a section which presents some samples of the use of your typefaces. Do you usually like the way the designers use your type for their own work ?

It is not about liking or disliking the samples. The samples are very much needed results of my work. Every type designer creates basically an incomplete project - a semi-product, which needs to be used in order to be complete. Seeing the final result with the input of the designer is therefore invaluable, as it offers to analyze the samples and identify things which are not optimal. At Typotheque we often publish updates of typefaces which respond to the samples we receive.

You’re also a teacher and an editor (of the dot-dot-dot magazine). Do you consider yourself as an educator in addition to your typeface design job ?

dot-dot-dotI also work with contemporary dance, conceiving dance pieces; write for books and magazines; organize and curate exhibitions. These are seemingly very different activities, but I realized that as a designer I am not working with objects but I am able to ask questions, and reflect on these questions. So I can work with various media, across disciplines, and my experience can be still relevant. I think the diversity of my work make each part stronger. I learned so much from the dancers and their approach to movement and tension that I can apply the experience while working on animation and even type design. But as the main thing: working in a medium-independent way, I can usually keep my eye on the larger picture and not to get involved in the tedious detail, which is a very welcome thing for type designer.

What is your next project ?

The coming two weeks I am working on a new dance performance which will have a premiere in the Hague in November. It is my ongoing collaboration wit Lukas Timulak, the choreographer and dancer from NDT.

Next to this, I am making a proposal for a typeface for some Slovak newspaper. This could be also a next Typotheque typeface.

Related articles: Fedra Sans & Fedra Serif typeface portraits (November 2006)