Interview with Thierry Blancpain: GT Eesti
Anyone would understand how Lelu wooden blocks could give you the impression of being transported back to your childhood. The Swiss font label Grilli Type, working with refurnished+ a Swiss design studio, has created a homage to a historic toy kit dating from the Soviet era. The collection of 76 colourful beechwood blocks with round edges comes in a simple but carefully designed package that also contains a small jute bag for easy transport, and a risograph-printed poster. The double-sided poster features all of the blocks in the set their original size. Lelu is a limited edition of 250 copies, designed using the new GT Eesti launched in January 2016.
How was the GT Eesti font developed? Who was involved in the process?
Reto Moser, the designer of the font, was a student of Urs Lehni at the Bern University of the Arts in 2009. Lehni is a Swiss graphic artist, who was also lecturing in Estonia at the time. Through his friend, Indrek Sirkel, Lehni obtained access to Estonian children’s books from the era of the Soviet occupation of the country. These books were all typeset with Zhurnalnaya Roublennaya, the Soviet inspiration for GT Eesti. Moser and his fellow student Tobias Rechsteiner liked this font very much, which is why they designed two cuts in standard weight: Eesti Text and Eesti Display. These roots can still be found today in the two sub-families, GT Eesti Text and GT Eesti Display. From 2011, Moser worked alone on the font and changed it more to suit his own ideas. Revivals can become boring quickly and in the case of GT Eesti, we faced the challenge of making a useful tool for designers in 2016 from a Soviet design dating back to the 1940s. To achieve this, designers must not copy or try to design a digital pattern as true to the original as possible. Instead, they should try to understand the intentions of the design and to apply these to the whole font in a suitable and uniform manner. And naturally, the designer shapes the fonts with his own personality as well. This is how a self-contained font family developed whose form was full of character, but which is also functional and useful to designers around the world.
What the main characteristics of GT Eesti?
The two sub-families Text and Display have many characters in common, and others are slightly different. Other characters are completely different; the tops of A, M, N, W, and V are pointed in Eesti Text, whereas they are flatter in Eesti Display. This flattening produces a more tranquil typeface when used extensively. On the whole, the text sub-family is more dynamic, has more horizontal movement in the typeface, whereas the Display font is distinguished by a more static, vertically aligned typeface. The text cuts have ink or pixel traps that allow the font to be easily read in smaller sizes, both in the printed form or on screens.
GT Eesti is a geometric sans serif. Zhurnalnaya Roublennaya’s historic precursors are geometric fonts that were drawn around 1930, and especially in Germany: Futura, Erbar, Berthold Grotesk, and so on. Zhurnalnaya Roublennaya, however, has much more charm with its curves than all these precursors. Even Super Grotesk, the standard grotesque for the former German Democratic Republic, is very similar to it in many respects.
How did the idea come about to redevelop the Lelu wooden toy alongside the ABC book?
We always allow ourselves to be guided by our own interests in projects like this. Reto Moser particularly liked one of the Estonian ABC books, which led to developing the font. Inspired by the way children read and learn a language, he designed a wonderful ABC book called “Apple, Ball, and Cha-Cha-Cha”. We have produced this book as an eight-colour risograph print. Our Lelu wooden toy has a similar story: coincidentally, we found pictures from an original toy from the former Czechoslovakia, and the thought of holding this toy in our own hands would not leave us alone. And so we built our own toy set without having known the original, based on the geometric basic elements that are the foundation of all geometric fonts: squares, circles, and triangles.
Can you imagine developing more products based on GT Eesti?
For the moment we are happy to be able to address new fonts again. GT Eesti has been a work in progress since as far back as 2009 and releasing such a long-term project also always means saying farewell. We are currently looking forward to our next release, GT America, for which new things are sure to occur to us.