Backstory: Valentyn Tkachenko is a graphic designer from Kyiv, Ukraine, who, like a fair few other graphic designers we know, is obsessed with underground music. In particular, he’s obsessed with experimental Ukrainian music, which often blends modern electronic music styles with motifs from traditional Ukrainian folk songs. He cites artists such as YUKO, ONUKA, Alina Pash, Dakha Brakha, Khayat as some of the main musicians he listened to while studying his Visual Communication course at the Projector Creative & Tech School in Kyiv. It was there that he created Mak, a typeface that aligns his love of this music with his passion for type design.
“Like many designers, I can’t imagine my life without music,” says Tkachenko. “Music creators are just like designers: they experiment with sounds, combine different cultural contexts, and rethink historical backgrounds” to create something new, he adds. The experimental nature of his favorite music styes is also echoed in the design for Mak. “I wanted to mix and play with the historical shapes of Ukrainian Cyrillic, different styles, and the constructions of [today’s] trendy typefaces to see what resulted.”
What are its defining characteristics? The font is unusual in its merging of Ukrainian typographic tradition and modernity, and is notable for its large contrast between strokes. The font, which is free to download, is only available in light and bold weights—the absence of a regular variation was a deliberate reference to the irregular, boundary-pushing nature of the music that inspired it. “I don’t think decorative strokes really need a regular style,” Tkachenko says. “I wanted to leave some space to show its experimental, playful nature.”
Why’s it called Mak? The word means poppy flower in Ukrainian, which is a key folk symbol in Ukrainian culture. It’s also the title of the first song Tkachenko heard from YUKO, who he cites as the music act that became the “main inspiration of typeface’s concept.”
What should I use it for? Due to its unusual, experimental nature—and the fact that it has no regular weight—Mak isn’t really one for body copy or large chunks of text. It’s perfect, however, for designs that are centered on a typographic approach, and it makes for a great display font for posters, packaging, and branding projects that allow for a wilder approach. Obviously, it also works nicely for music-related design work, like record packaging and flyers. “It’s a very self-sufficient typeface,” says Tkachenko. “It’ll always stand out next to the other elements of a design.”
What other fonts should I pair it with? The designer advises that due to the complex letterforms of Mak, it’s best paired with simple grotesque-style fonts. He recommends NAMU by fellow Ukranian designers Dmitry Rastvortsev and Ermilov by Kyrylo Tkachev.