The Daily Heller: TDC is Back in Orbit Again

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Ksenya Samarskaya, a graphic designer, type designer, writer, educator and strategist, has recently been appointed the TDC‘s first managing director in the club’s 75-year history. Her daunting mission is to guide TDC’s brand and vision; manage marketing and partnerships; oversee operations; liaise with the advisory board; herald TDC’s annual Typeface Design and Communication Design competitions, relaunch the Ascenders Awards, and foster new initiatives. Quite a huge challenge. But she insists that she’s ready for the task ahead. Today The Daily Heller publishes our interview with Samarskaya about her new responsibilities, goals for the club and the type world around which TDC orbits.

(To illustrate the interview, Samarskaya has selected work from competitions that represent the TDC’s expanding universe.)

This is an exciting time for type and typography as art and commerce. You were just appointed the TDC’s first-ever managing director, to work alongside the esteemed long-time director, Carol Wahler. What does this position entail, and why did you accept the challenge?
It’s an amazing and unique opportunity with a lot of forces coming together—it’s not often in the type community that there’s an organization with the history and reach of the TDC that simultaneously has access to resources where it’s able to really activate on it. I’ve also often judged opportunities by the people in them, since at the end of the day that’s what really makes or breaks any forward momentum. And I couldn’t have found a better cohort, from the passion and generosity of Carol Wahler, to the support and mission-driven team at The One Club for Creativity, to the energy, rigor and introspection of our advisory board. 

Design: Mak Kai Hang. Publisher: Joint Publishing (Hong Kong) Company Limited. Client: Phi Foundation for Contemporary Art.

The TDC has had its share of sustainability and survivability issues over the past two years. What caused this, and how will your new managerial role and the TDC’s relationship with The One Club help rectify and reenergize the organization?
It has reenergized the TDC, and Elizabeth Carey Smith, along with the rest of the board, have done a remarkable job of working through the transition. Really putting in a lot of heart and tears to navigate the TDC to where it is today. We now have the opportunity to reanimate in a way that’s stronger and more robust than what it’s had for quite a while leading up to this. 

We now have access to the support, resources and wealth of knowledge that exist within The One Club for Creativity. We have a rearranged structure that doesn’t put as much burden on the board, which allows them to focus on what they’re best at, and most passionate about. And the existence of this position—which gives space and allows for greater reflection and contemplation—to really consider where the TDC has been, and how best to adapt its historic goals and mission of celebrating typography to the current landscape. 

Publication: The New York Times Magazine. Design: Rachel Willey, New York. Design Director: Gail Bichler. Art Director: Matt Willey. Deputy Art Director: Ben Grandgenett.

As I said, this is an exciting time in the typo-universe. More than ever, during the last, say, 20 years (concurrent with the digital revolution), more independent foundries have grown into being, and there seems to be a rise in consolidations of firms and designers. Two questions: What is behind the swell of activity, and is it a healthy sign?
There’s definitely a lot more interest and momentum in type, resulting in a greater abundance of new type foundries and people trying their hand at creating their own fonts. The software is more intuitive and reliable. There’s more knowledge and how-tos being disseminated. Complex scripts are slowly becoming easier to create. 

I’m incredibly optimistic about where this is going—I think we’re still barely at the beginning of the tipping point toward a unique and unprecedented flourishing, driven mostly out of spaces and regions we haven’t traditionally looked at.

Design: Ariane Spanier, Ariane Spanier Design, Berlin. Client: Fukt Magazine.

Type is so endemic to daily life—from brands with propriety faces to the mass public knowing how to “read” typography for its symbolic and emotional content. What role should the TDC take in terms of professional vs. public outreach?
Absolutely. It’s a wild contrast with how endemic type is to how relatively little it’s critically considered among the general population. There’s a lot of opportunity in the ways that the TDC is uniquely positioned to help bridge this gap in understanding, defining and helping people decode all the visual communications and cues that surround them. There’s a lot that we are able to learn about ourselves by looking at the cultural artifacts we’ve created. It’s like looking at an eclipse; these small viewfinders give us an opportunity to really dissect and understand the larger whole in a way that doesn’t blind or immobilize us.

As to the balance of professional vs. public outreach, I see them as entangled and interwoven. What helps one also impacts the other almost immediately. But I would love for people to not be so afraid of type—to not see the TDC as an exclusive tower for the few, but really understand that typography touches and affects all of us, so everyone is just as welcome to, and has as much right, to be in this space. 

Design: Natsuki Isa, Kazushige Takebayashi, Shuhei Yokota, Tokyo. Art Direction: Natsuki Isa, Kazushige Takebayashi. Programming: Shoya Dozono, Junichiro Horikawa, Ryosuke Nakajima. Photo Retoucher: Miki Kudo. Design: Studio, SHA inc. Client: BioClub.

TDC Annual is a significantly influential document and showcase. Will it change in any substantive ways?
The annual is very dear and personal to me. It was a book I looked forward to and prized as I was coming into the industry, and the creativity embedded in its design—not just its content—over the years continues to be a rare standout in the publishing world. That said, I think there’s additionally a lot of opportunity as to how we present and showcase the typographic work in digital ways. Whether designing in a way that allows for greater access from remote regions, or bringing in the ability to sort and sift the work in different ways, creating opportunity for trends and learning about our cultural zeitgeist to rise to the top. 

Liberté conquérante/Growing Freedom: The Instructions of Yoko Ono and the Art of John and Yoko. Design and Art Direction: Julien Hébert, Montréal. Creative Direction: Mathieu Cournoyer. Infographist: Lucie Chagnon. Account Director: Sarah Rochefort.

With the sudden increase of online media and more and more physical archives to collect rare artifacts, how does TCD plan to contribute to this wellspring?
My way of approaching the TDC is to look for anything where there’s a gap within what’s being done elsewhere and to help fill those missing links. I think the current positioning of the TDC is incredibly flexible in that way, as there are so many methods to champion typography. It’s incredibly, incredibly exciting how much interest, conservation, discussion and publication around type is sprouting up, and I hope we can help those parallel organizations, or individuals, rise and work toward their goals as well. We already have a wealth of partnerships across the industry, and I intend to strengthen and add to them by supporting existing initiatives and finding opportune ways to build up the industry by building each other up.

Have you looked into your crystal ball (or goblet) about what is the next wave of type and font industries?
I think, looking from the outside, there are still a lot of basics that haven’t been developed. If we look at worldwide scripts, there is nation after nation of people that have only a handful of typefaces available to them, or have had no hand in shaping the typographic landscape that they’ve access to. 

If we look at Latin type, or, Western European type, some would say that there’s already been a peak and it’s a saturated market—but, how can it have explored or found all there is to find if it’s been so self-referential all this time? If it hasn’t had a chance to learn from other scripts and other histories? And, if we zoom out even more and look at the culture and conversations surrounding type—as you mentioned before, type is completely endemic to daily living—type is on par with food, or clothing, as to how regularly all of us interact with it. Yet if we compare the critical and media landscape that exists to help us navigate and translate the embedded stories and connotations that provide remixes or recipes for use, it’s an almost invisible fraction to how much there is being written and said to help us navigate the cultures of food, or cultures of fashion.

Even the culture of technology eclipses it, despite being much less embedded with history or in constant use. How many tutorials are there to get the most out of your phone’s camera, or comparing which currently available version of the iPhone to purchase, as compared to … Designers or type users still haven’t navigated their way through the dozen or so single-button options of OpenType. The opportunity of work to be done is very, very vast. And I think once it’s built, people will wonder how it wasn’t there all along.