Polish type designer Maciej Połczyński firmly believes in the magic of mistakes—so much so, that they often set the direction for his projects. This belief is central to Laïc, his three-month old type foundry that elevates errors to a form of inspiration. “I do believe an error is one of the key elements in the development of any visual discipline,” says Połczyński. “It’s often not only about the error itself, but observation of that error.”
Many of the edgy typefaces offered by Laïc are the result of hours spent experimenting with type design through doodles and digital sketches. “I’m trying to shape the letters following eye-logic and intuition rather than numbers and proportions,” says Połczyński, who was first inspired to start designing digital fonts by Dutch type designer Martin Majoor. Today, Połczyński often works on a couple of typefaces at the same time, which he finds prevents him becoming creatively “stuck” on any one project. Much of his trial and error process is born of working with software programs such as Fontographer or FontLab Studio 5: “The best part is when you get lost inside the software you’re using,” says Połczyński.
Laïc launched with a collection of 10 typefaces, all designed by Połczyński. As well as being inspired by imperfections, the designer is also inspired by the chaotic, illogical nature of the city of Warsaw, where he’s based. “A few years ago, there was a burst of interest in so-called TypoPolo, an aesthetic phenomenon describing the amateurish design of advertising banners and sign boards that flooded the public space since the early ’90’s,” he explains. “The movement reflected the political and economic changes in the country and praised typography made by amateurs. I think it might have inspired me in some ways as well.”
Połczyński’s first typeface, Cyrulik, was designed as part of the Warsaw Types project, a collection of 12 new font families inspired by city’s typographic heritage. The name draws on an antiquated word used to describe the “profession of a doctor and a barber,” and was also the title of a satirical literary magazine published in Warsaw between 1926 and 1934. This element of storytelling is central to Laic, where typefaces are named with archaic Polish words and adjectives that reflect Połczyński’s interest in the flaws of human character. One such font is Obibok, named after the word for a person who avoids work and effort. Rounded shapes reminiscent of deflated tires are used to build the glyphs, looking to reflect that idea of laziness. Another example is Nieuk, translated as “dunce”, which is built of modular lowercase letters that don’t adhere to the baseline—the type of writing that could be expected of a non-diligent student. Similarly, Nielot, meaning “flightless”, was inspired by Russian Constructivists and designed with straight, angular lines that give a sense of strictness and order.
This original design approach has put Laïc firmly on the map when it comes to the alternative Polish typography scene. Połczyński’s typefaces were not designed to cater to the needs of big corporations in a bid to escape corporate values: he believes fonts designed with those sort of clients in mind often communicate a uniform,constricting visual language that’s focused on selling alone. With Laïc, he aims to stay independent and make quality design accessible and affordable. That means that Laic’s fonts sell from €15 (around $17.40) per font style (available for download for up to three users) up to €100 (around $116) for the entire family. Połczyński firmly believes that higher price does not always indicate higher quality: “Design is a field that is very hard to measure. I believe its value depends on designers’ intentions.
“Typefaces are tools, and tools should be available to anyone.”
Laïc’s other ambition is to create a space for young Polish designers like Połczyński who want to push their creative boundaries and showcase their work. The potential in that is to accelerate the growth of the Polish typography community, which is relatively small despite the country’s rich history in lettering. The very first movable type was cut by Johannes Gutenberg in Krakow in the 15th century; Polish designer Władysław Strzemiński created his universal typeface in 1932; and it was also in Poland that Bronisław Zelek’s first multiscript font of the pre-digital era New Zelek, was born. Today, the most recognized Polish type designer is Łukasz Dziedzic and his export typeface Lato, which according to Google Repository is the third most popular font in the world.
Although there’s no distinctly “Polish” typography style, one element seems to link various typographical projects in the country together: local patriotism. Some of them take inspiration from Polish design heritage of the 20th century, such as Warsaw Types, or Mateusz Machalski’s recently released Bona Nova, a digitization of a 1971 font by Polish banknote designer Andrzej Heidrich. The latest typeface by Threedotstype, Sudety, was inspired by a mountainous region in south west Poland.
While there are plenty of independent type designers in Poland, there are only three foundries—the others are Threedotstype and Capitalics—though Laïc is the only one that accepts submissions from other designers. Połczyński wants to support the growth of emerging young type designers by offering them a space where they can submit they work and help expand Laic into a fully-fledged platform that will feature a blog and even more typefaces. All of them, however, must comply with Połczyński’s definition of good design—that which “combines form and function and achieves a particular goal while bringing satisfaction to the users.”
He is currently working on a new typeface called Monter—“the assembler”—where letter shapes are reminiscent of tiny screws. He has also started working with graphic designers on printed materials for the foundry, such as catalogs and posters. As we discuss the future, collaboration turns out to be a key word for Maciej: “If you’re reading this and you wish to submit your typeface to Laïc, let us know,” he says. Come along, and take all your imperfect ideas with you.