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Helvetica + Color + Shape = Anna Kulachëk’s Recipe for Tight Turnarounds at Russia’s Strelka Institute

“‘Look at me! I’m an event!’” says art director Anna Kulachëk, mimicking what she believes one of her posters might say if it could talk.

These vibrant prints, which often couple a simple typeface with primary colors and basic shapes, are undoubtedly loud and eye-catching. Every week for nearly five years now, Kulachëk has used her simple recipe to churn out numerous designs for Moscow’s Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design. These posters have been celebrated in numerous design exhibitions and are instantly recognizable as belonging to the Strelka when they rapidly disperse across social media as designers worldwide swoon.

OK-RM designed the basic identity for Strelka in 2012, which draws from the metaphor of public space by using a clearly defined grid. Kulachëk, originally from Donetsk in Ukraine and now based between Moscow and New York, was brought in-house during May of 2013 because OK-RM’s basic identity alone was not enough for all the various media required. There are so many events that take place at the institution every day—from art openings to parties, lectures to movie screenings—that there needs to be someone in charge of designing fresh visuals that respond to individual programming. “Strelka didn’t know how to do it when I started,” says Kulachëk. “And neither did I! But I simply began and then we figured it out along the way.”

She joined right as beginning of summer, the busiest time of year. “For me, it was a really tough period,” Kulachëk remembers. “I had to design so many posters and other media, and all of the time: each required its own identity that I had to come up with from scratch.”

To address the quick turn-around required as art director, Kulachëk began to devise a loose system of her own for one-off posters. She often takes elements from OK-RM’s identity—maybe its lines and gridded components, or its Fugue typeface—and couples these with basic shapes and bold primary colors. “Our biggest issue is still always time. I never have enough,” she says. “That’s why all of my posters are simple. They’re easy to print. Easy to notice. Always: Name, Strelka, Time. Really direct.”

Kulachëk will often use one of two typefaces for event posters to make information even more clear: her fonts of choice are the aforementioned Fugue, or Helvetica. “I’ve never been a big fan of discovering strange, new typefaces. In my work, typography is about its pairing with color and composition. It’s about proportion.”

For posters that aren’t part of the weekly turnaround of party prints, but instead represent a particular lecture series or lengthy program, Kulachëk will create a fully conceptualized identity. A lot of her poster design for the Strelka has become second nature though, especially as she’s been responsible for the visual identity for so many years. Often she can rustle a poster up in an hour. It’s intuitive, an expression of her personality, one that’s now become mixed up with Strelka’s own brand.

Her work has that same quality as an illustrator with a distinctive style: you know when you’re looking at a Kulachëk, thanks to its distinctive playful simplicity. Today we speak with the designer about five recent posters for the institution, to explore the way in which she runs wild with composition while also grounding every print in a language distinct to the Strelka.

1
Party Poster

“I always dreamt of creating really simple graphics. When I began designing, I was scared to do something like this poster though. I always worried that the client would think that I didn’t work hard enough. But I love the simplicity of this design: its shapes, color, and straightforward communication of information. Looking at it is like eating a favorite dish.

“Often at Strelka, when it comes to the parties and DJ events, I don’t have a particular topic or theme. This can be the hardest thing: to create something from nothing. After years working for the Institution though, I’ve found my tools and a language for these kinds of situations.

“I always begin with the basic information. For this poster, I worked out that the event has four lines of information, and each line has a similar amount of letters. I started to play with them, and at the same time, brought in simple, triangular shapes. The music was electronic so that simplicity and repetition worked well for the mood of the event.

“When I put the typography on top of the two colors, I suddenly saw exactly what I wanted, especially when I changed the colors of the lettering. When it became 3D from simple, 2D shapes, I knew it was fun. If you see this poster outside amongst others, the composition is huge, and the simple shapes jumping out really catch your eye.”

Anna Kulachëk, Strelka Party Poster, 2018.

2
Summer Opening Party

 

“Every year we have a summer program, and these posters from 2017 have been my favorite of the summer events so far. I used a version of the grid from the identity by OK-RM for it; the design highlights the summer programming’s opening party. I created nine rectangles to communicate that we’d have a lot of events during the summer—each rectangle loosely represents one of the many posters to come. I then took individual squares and blew them up for individual posters that we placed outside.

Anna Kulachëk, Strelka’s Summer Opening Party, 2017.

 

“The invitation to the party similarly drew from the poster and its individual squares.

Anna Kulachëk, Summer Opening Party Invitations, 2017.

 

“After I created this poster, I needed to design a series that would advertise the lectures taking place throughout the summer. We have a template that we often use, designed by OK-RM, that simply highlights who is lecturing on a particular day. I took this gridded template, and then positioned similar shapes to those used on the summer party poster behind the grid. I changed the color and shape depending on the speaker—always using two bright colors, because the poster is divided into two languages: English and Russian.

Anna Kulachëk, Summer Programming, Strelka, 2017.

 

“We used these same colors and shapes on the screen behind the speakers during our lectures. All the pictures of the event looked similar: simple, bright, you could tell something exciting was going on.

“Lastly, when we closed the summer events, we had a closing party. I used the same shapes I’d been using throughout the summer, but applied a shiny gradient on the top to finish the identity. I love how this one poster for the start of the summer spurred an identity that lasted the entire period. It became a perfect combination of the basic Strelka identity with a new Strelka, all mixed together.”

Anna Kulachëk, Summer Closing Party Invitation, Strelka, 2017.

 

3
Sun Ra Concert

Sun Ra Arkestra is coming to play next month for this year’s summer opening, and the poster is inspired by the use of suns across the band’s CDs and clothing. I also wanted to capture the psychedelic sound of the jazz.

“The most difficult component was the typography. I’m never looking for the next, new typeface. I often use Helvetica as I’ve said, but sometimes I experiment with it by putting it into an unexpected format. Here, I placed it in a triangle. The Strelka always asks me to make everything very readable and I try my best, but sometimes I cover letters up or distort them. They often say ‘Oh Anna, it’s impossible to read!’ and we have to meet in the middle.”

4
The New Normal

“This is a poster for one of Strelka’s education programs, The New Normal. From the beginning, Strelka said they’d be running the program for four years. I knew we could use one identity for the entire duration, and so I created this block system.

“During The New Normal event, students attempt to build a new encyclopaedia that determines what the new normal is. My main reference came from the idea of where we get our information from today: Google, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. There are a lot of squares and grids in these spaces, so I took those forms to create this identity.

“Each year, I use a different abstract gradient within the rectangles. When I tried using direct pictures, it didn’t work because it became too much about one specific thing. When I began this identity, Radim Peško who made the Fugue typeface that Strelka uses for its main identity created a new version called Fugue Tails, which is a bit more crazy. I thought: this is a perfect moment to use it. The new normal and a new Fugue.

“We have a block system now that we can use every year. Putting together the information and images on each New Normal poster is like playing a game of tetras.”

Anna Kulachëk, Strelka’s The New Normal poster, 2017.

5
Party Poster

“I like to play around with graphics and shapes to find new tools for future posters where I don’t have a particular topic. One shape I’ve been playing around with recently is dots. The first time I used them though, I thought, ‘Oh no! Dots! Why?’ But with this event, I knew it could handle it. The shapes are extremely noticeable and direct.

“This poster is for one of those events where I didn’t have a particular topic and was just told that a DJ is coming. It’s during these moments that I can put my personality into the design. I have this amazing situation at Strelka where I can do that; we’ve built this system together where it works.

“The idea for dots began when I was playing around with stickers for a New Year’s poster. I didn’t want to have a Christmas tree, so instead I alluded abstractly to baubles.

Anna Kulachëk’s sticker sheet.

 

“For this poster, I began with the grid, then applied typography on top of it. I deleted several letters and place them behind my dot layer, because I like it when the graphics and typography come together and intermingle. If they’re separate, then it looks flat and like an Apple logo or something.” 

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