The Daily Heller: Type With Kyiv Influences

Posted inThe Daily Heller

Yevgeniy Anfalov is a native of Kyiv, Ukraine, who since 2008 has worked in Germany, creating editorial design, identities, custom typefaces and online entities that combine typography, photography and information design into a holistic practice. In July 2021 he launched Kyiv Type Foundry, which offers a contemporary interpretation of Russian and Ukrainian Cyrillic and Latin type heritages. I spoke with him about building a typographic voice from classical and vernacular legacies and how he uses his design abilities at such a critical period in history.

When and why did Kyiv Type Foundry begin?
In 2020, when I was organizing a field trip to Berlin and Dessau for students from post-Soviet countries, I had the pleasure to meet Oles Gergun. We got on well and shared common interests in type design. Oles had a solid background in cultural studies, and was talking about Cossacks, Freud and Ukrainian Baroque—way more interesting than the regular graphic design chit chat. He also ran a blog in which every two weeks he published digitized vernacular lettering from the streets of Kyiv. Then the idea was born to make a type foundry to produce Cyrillic fonts that were in short supply, based on the local Ukrainian context.

We felt [that there was an] uncritical view on the Soviet typographic heritage made in Ukraine, that was either ignored or labelled as Muscovite, and we wanted to take action. As we dug out so many treasures made by Ukrainians between 1917 and 1991, we felt it would be [a shame] to not republish them. We joined forces together, planned our library, finished the typefaces for the launch, programmed the website—all ourselves.

What is your background in type design?
As a teenager I was involved in graffiti and breakdancing. Very quickly I got tired of name­-writing and tried to push the boundaries of my own style by making the letters as abstract as possible and inte­grating them into architectural landscapes, drawings and collages. I was doing it with a lot of enthusiasm and energy, without knowing anything about graphic design. I still carry that spirit with me. After 12 years of living in Central Europe, I decided to study at ÉCAL, Lausanne, in Switzerland (2015–2017) and graduated with a major in type design and art direction. Despite wanting to become a graphic designer, I drifted into type design and never regretted it. My passion for designing fonts gradually professionalized. The questions arose: “Do I need a platform for my typefaces, and if so, what does it bring to me, my colleagues and the design community?” Along with drawing, I seriously thought about the contextualization of my projects, then I found a likeminded person, and things started getting faster.

How was business and development before the 2022 escalation of the invasion?
The foundry went online in 2021. It started slowly, maybe slower than expected, but I think we’ve got our likeminded audience. It’s a mixed crowd from all around the world—as the fonts are both Cyrillic and Latin-based. This duality opened up more business opportunities from the very beginning: On one hand, people from the West discovered something in our library, as we have have a slightly different take on Latin. On the other hand, those more globally oriented Ukrainian designers got interested in what we do. It was all just starting. We made a typeface for Kyiv Biennial, appeared in the press a couple of times. Dealt with licensing issues, as the market is relatively new and there is less knowledge about licensing than, say, in Central Europe or the U.S. And then, the full-scale invasion came.

Are you able to develop new work following the invasion?
I do. Despite being away from Ukraine for such a long period of time, I got closer to the country I was born in like never before. It was a big shock, and I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. News was coming every 30 seconds. My wife was in Kyiv on 24th of February and fled the war with her colleague in a car, and Oles had to evacuate his father—thank God, with success.

After the shock, I realized that my profession as a designer can be of help. At first, we donated all our typefaces to those who were active in the information resistance. Thanks to our friends and good people we didn’t know in Europe and the U.S., people in the type scene became aware of us and all of a sudden we’ve seen a huge purchase influx. Big shouts to TDC NY. We decided to donate all the money to Ukrainian volunteers. Everybody was helping everyone, and we took part in it for two months. We still do some time-limited actions to raise money, like with our last release, KTF Olivier. Also, I asked artist friends to contribute to a T-shirt charity called Khata Scho Palaje. We printed t-shirt editions and were selling them worldwide, and we still have some for sale. Then, I received a call from Pierre Pané-Farré from HAW Hamburg with an offer to teach in their summer semester, which brought me back to normal life a little bit. I was always dreaming of teaching. It helped my mental health for sure. In the summer, a Ukrainian guy from a small place called Bar, Vadym Axeev, contacted us. He started as an intern and now he’s a permanent collaborator working on our typefaces. He basically took over expansion of font families and their production. In autumn, we were getting back to our type design activities and do them with full power now.

Is all, most or some of your work in response to the war effort?
All that we do now happens within the war context, and as long as Kyiv is part of our foundry’s name, and as long as the war continues, it will stay within this context. The textual part of our releases deals with the Soviet past in a critical way. When searching for typographers, lettering artists, we always study their biographies (quite often tragic or controversial) and the context they’ve been working in, and try to tell their story to our peers. Also, when talking publicly, our main goal nowadays is to draw attention to the topic of the Russo-Ukrainian war, its casualties, and make it clear who’s the aggressor and who’s the victim—to counter Kremlin propaganda.

Worth mentioning is our lecture at Type@Cooper in March 2023. It took the form of a typographical tour through the city of Kyiv, layering the city’s state of emergency and our intimate geography of the place we grew up in. The talk contextualized our ongoing typographic research as part of the variety of our practices, such as hunting for “design povera,” flaneurism, and cultural studies. Apart from that, we’re doing our typographical research in Ukraine, searching for all kinds of printed matter, specimens, trying to organize the database of our finds, some of which we revive with our students. Thanks to Rainer Erich Scheichelbauer from Glyphs, we’ve got student’s licenses for our Ukrainian students, and we already made two one-week workshops where they had an opportunity to focus only on Cyrillics, reflect on local heritage and learn glyphs. Quite intensive for one week, but we all loved it, and we’ll continue doing it as long as the situation allows it (!). Most of them were from Kyiv and you should imagine them coming back from their lunch and talking about how they did during another air raid alarm. It’s insane … and that’s the reality they live in daily.

Posted inThe Daily Heller Typography