Mattias Jakobsson and Peter Ström of Stockholm’s Konst & Teknik design studio have always had a love for DIY. Step into their office and you can see it straight away: hand-made wooden shelves and desks, room dividers sewn from padded felt, and makeshift couches abound. Jakobsson and Ström have always emphasized craft, not only when it comes to furniture for their studio, but also in terms of typographic design solutions for their predominately arts- and culture-based clients.
“Our DIY background means it has always felt natural to start up our own projects when we see the need for something or have the urge to create something,” say the design duo when I ask them about their continual output of self-initiated work. In 2013, the pair memorably decided that there should be an app that allows you to take pictures with both the front and back cameras of a phone at the same time, so they created Photoboth. Similarly, CopyPasteCharacter.com was designed with their own needs in mind; Jakobsson and Ström thought of something that they wanted—in this case a tool that lets you quickly copy any emoji or symbol—realized that it didn’t exist, and made it themselves. They’re graphic designers, so inevitably when they see a problem, they solve it.
“It’s important to try out new ideas and experiment in a way that’s sometimes hard to do with commissions. That’s why we always try to have a few projects of our own on the go along with our other work.”
But you can see the DIY approach to Konst & Teknik’s client work as well, for which it often develops custom-made typefaces. Many of its commissions are for small cultural organizations with tight budgets who require a recognizable identity despite their limited means. “A font is a tool that’s fairly easy to hand over to institutions so they can use it themselves for a range of materials,” say Jakobsson and Ström. “A visually strong custom typeface is a great way of keeping communication coherent regardless of the format.”
So when Konst & Teknik were asked by a traditional exhibition space called the Baltic Art Centre to create a visual identity that felt experimental and modern, the studio suggested adding new weights to the existing typeface to break up the solid form with unexpected shapes. By placing these contrasting weights next to one another, the font emphasizes that the gallery is a space that’s in flux.
When redesigning SITE magazine, a new typeface also seemed key. The publication was transitioning its language from Swedish to English, yet the editors wanted to retain something Swedish in the design. Konst & Teknik therefore drew on Tratex—the typeface used for road signs in Sweden—and created an update called Site Specific that was used for headers and captions.
As Konst & Toknik’s work is so typographically driven, it often finds it can never use the same font twice. “The visual flavor of it becomes so important and connected to a project that it feels strange to use it again,” they say. For Jakobsson and Ström, typography is like the hand-whittled wooden bolts that hold together their hand-made chairs—it only fits the chair it was built for. Type is the cement, the nails, the thread—there’s no holistic design solution without it.