Peter Bil’ak: A Wider Understanding of Design & Type

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TYPO Berlin is like the TED Talks for the typographers and designers; it’s where industry experts present their cutting-edge ideas, projects and even some unlikely theories. The 2017 conference was this past week, May 25-27 at the House of World Cultures with 60 presentations, workshops, films and more, all of which deal with the theme of “wanderlust.”

Slovakian type designer Peter Bil’ak gave a talk on May 25 at Typo Berlin, which covered modern dance, choreography, film and how these art forms relate to design. Bil’ak is no stranger to pushing boundaries and is well-known for founding Typotheque, the first design foundry to bring web fonts to the market, in 1999. He has designed fonts like the FF Eureka, published by Fontshop, and many he published with Typotheque, like Fedra, Greta and Karloff. He also co-founded TPTQ, a company for developing Arabic typefaces, as well as other bilingual typography.

More recently, Bil’ak founded Works that Work, a magazine he considers to be the “National Geographic of design,” as it rethinks digital publishing with a strong dose of wanderlust. Bi’lak has strong connections to the creative world outside of design and will talk about the crossover points between art and design. From his studio in The Hague, Bil’ak answered a few questions about his talk and his unique approach to design.

[Related: A World of Typography: Creating Fonts for Multiple Languages | Dekalb is More Than an Avenue]

What is the best thing about design to you?
Peter Bil’ak:
Personally, I find the best thing about the design profession is that it is not limited by any physical limitations. My work changes with every time I become a temporary expert with each project. I work with writing, editing, publishing, producing books, magazines, films, physical objects and exhibitions. Once I think about the purpose, function and aesthetics, everything that is human-made is design. Basically, I am designing my own life by improving the things around me.


How do you feel Typotheque is filling a need in the market?
Typotheque is a type foundry, which sounds simple, but type design is a rather peculiar discipline. It requires knowledge of languages, as type captures the language and makes text visible. It requires technical knowledge, as type is dependent on technology to render it across all environments. And finally, it requires design skills. We work across all three domains, and have pioneered webfonts (being the first foundry to introduce webfonts), we work with hundreds of languages, designing not just Latin fonts but also fonts supporting Cyrillic, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Devanagari, Tamil, Bengali, Armenian and Inuktitut. And we react to the conditions of today to create relevant design solutions for the best typographic expression.

Your magazine Works That Work is more than just a straightforward design publication, it covers visual art, travels to Bhutan and even a self-produced documentary. What is the string that ties it all together?
A wider understanding of design makes my work unpredictable. Works That Work (WTW) magazine is an effort to redefine design, and open up the discussion about it. Traditionally, trade magazines exist in a bubble, they are written about, for, and by the member of the target group. WTW defines such categorisation, and its readers are engineers from India, professional sportspeople from Belgium, architects from Chile, or journalists from the Netherlands.

Two issues of Works That Work. Images from worksthatwork.com.

What was driving all of this?
It became a channel to discuss the relevant and impact of design for general public, and in this way it is similar to my other work, which is looking for a way to connect to the audiences, with no in-between steps. That’s why had to rethink also financing and distribution of the magazine.

Lastly, what do you have upcoming next/this year?
I may be working on more film projects and continuing working with typography and languages. Together with my partner Andrej Krátky, we also continue developing Fontstand app, which allows testing and renting high quality fonts. Fontstand is a separate company. Separately, I continue working on TPTQ Arabic, another separate company that is mainly run by Krist Sarkis, an Arabic script expert.


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