The 2020 Graphic Designer of the Year has designed fonts for Nike and niches.
Schick Toikka is a type foundry based in Helsinki and Berlin. The company has produced fonts for a Nike campaign, the Sennheiser headphone brand and Flow Festival. It has also cooperated with award-winning artists. Florian Schick and Lauri Toikka established their company in 2010.
Grafia Magazine interviewed Lauri Toikka, the other half of the duo. “I found myself interested in letters when I realised that font design and illustration are alike in many ways. When you draw letters, you must understand their structure. Just as with creating a character, I can first draw a wireframe of a letter and sketch it from there,” Lauri Toikka explains.
When he was younger, Lauri Toikka was interested in visualisation. After graduating from high school specialising in visual arts, he went to university to study physics but switched, after a year, to the School of Design and Fine Arts at the LAB University of Applied Sciences. Toikka, who had been drawing comics since childhood, was interested in illustration.
He first got the spark for font design during his exchange year in the Hague, the Netherlands. “At the university, teaching in font design was of especially high quality, and I ended up doing master’s in font design there.”
Toikka also got along well with his new classmate Florian Schick, and they decided to work together after graduation.
Schick Toikka’s office was established in Berlin where they had both settled. At first, the company specialised in graphic design and did font design only on the side. Soon the tables turned: letters became the duo’s forte, goodbye graphic design. After a few years, Toikka returned to Helsinki. Split between the two cities, meetings moved to Skype, but work continued close-knit.
“We had worked together for quite a few years by then, so working in two different countries was never an issue. In font design, projects can be easily divided into clear tasks.”
Florian Schick and Lauri Toikka exchange ideas over Skype several times a day. That’s when they also assess the outcomes of each other’s work. “Usually in our case, the process drives the project. We may have thoughts about the direction the project should take. That’s when you need to experiment with ideas in practice and analyse what the result would look like. We usually find solutions by focusing on just doing.” Initial ideas usually change a little through experimentation. It is difficult to say who came up with this or that feature in the finished product.
Retail or custom fonts?
Schick Toikka designs both retail and custom fonts. Retail fonts refer to typefaces that have not been designed for any specific purpose. Anyone can buy them for their own use at the studio’s website. Custom fonts, on the other hand, have been designed for a specific customer or campaign.
The designer duo aim to keep a balance in their work: half of their time is dedicated to developing retail fonts. They allow exploring, for example, particular genres, or anything that might pique their interest. “For example, for our Saol font, we studied Victorian Antiqua and tried to find our own perspective of it. We had researched historical references and wanted to make our own vision of this style.”
Scto Grotesk is Schick Toikka’s take on the so-called neo-grotesque genre that has become ubiquitous. They wanted to come up with an extremely neutral font that would not evoke any emotions. “That’s an impossible task, of course.”
The pair aim to make their retail fonts as usable as possible. The letters may have distinctive and delightful details, but the font must also work as part of a long long-form body text. The special features must not stick out and distract. “We have to find a balance: to study groups of letters, the look of columns, and the overall massing between black and white. We have to do a lot of small adjustments, for example, consider whether one of the letters might appear too dark in relation to the others.”
Identity, logo and font
Custom fonts are ordered for a particular purpose. Their design focuses specifically on what has been ordered and the contexts in which the font has to work. Custom fonts are becoming more and more common, and almost all big companies now have their own. “Having a custom font is becoming one of the fundamentals of a visual identity.”
Schick Toikka have made custom projects for customers of very different sizes. The two designers want to choose projects based on what they find interesting. Toikka’s dream project would be to design a font for an art museum.
“For example, Japanese art museums excite fascinate me. It would be an interesting intriguing challenge to get to work on a font that would be used in that kind of a space. Linking the aspect of space to the use of a font would make the design process very interesting.”
The sources of inspiration are project-specific. The designers look for ideas by studying the topic at hand and its history. “I trust in my intuition when I design. Florian is the more pragmatic and systematic one out of the two of us. Our cooperation is based on the idea that our characters balance each other out.”
The design tools for fonts have improved over the years. These days, tools are more widely available, more automated and easier to use. The number of creators has increased. “Font design may in the future become part of graphic design so that everyone does a little bit of it.”
Lauri Toikka believes that font design will become more routine and better known in the field of design. “As the tools have developed, font design has also become more democratic. The mystique around it is disappearing, which I think is a really good thing.” Currently, a trendy, growing technology in this field are variable fonts: the appearance of which users can modify.
Lauri Toikka thinks that the Graphic Designer of the Year award is a huge tribute.
“I feel humble gratefulness. I have also enjoyed working on the exhibition in the Design Museum. It has given us a chance to do different things outside daily work. The users we make fonts for are an essential part of font design, so it was fun to ask people to join us in creating the exhibition.”