Displaay — Martin Vácha — Interview


Interview with Prague-based graphic designer Martin Vácha, founder of Displaay.

Dennis Moya: Hello Martin how are you?

Martin Vácha: Hi there. Sometimes very happy, sometimes fine, often in a rush. Looking forward to some new projects, to some just-finished projects and to skiing, hiking and traveling holidays.

DM: Can you introduce yourself?

MV: I am a Prague based graphic designer currently working in Studio Najbrt. I studied a course that calls itself “Graphic Design and New Media” (304) at UMPRUM in Prague (AAAD). These days I run Displaay as a hobby, which is why the progress of finishing typefaces is so slow! In Studio Najbrt we also design quite a lot of bespoke typefaces, especially me and my colleagues Marek Pistora and Aleš Najbrt. One of them – Sklonar “lost” it’s client/purpose and now it is available for purchase.

DM: How did you come to start up your type foundry?

MV: I think a lot of graphic designers want to modify or create their own typeface. This could be true for me too. When I had to decide the subject of my final master project, I realized that for a lot of tasks I wanted to try to make a bespoke typeface. So then I decided to choose and finish five typefaces (Hellix, Reckless, Wallop, Natron, Documan) which I had developed during my studies. I wanted to practice designing typefaces and to improve my type design program skills during my MA project. So I thought it would be best to choose different types of typefaces to learn different types of proportions, rules and overall appearance. I also thought that it was a good idea to share the trial versions of them. People have even liked and downloaded them and asked me if they can use them. That is very important feedback for me and so that drives me to finish them.

DM: Where does your interest in graphic and type design come from?

MV: It’s a long story. I guess it could be a family predisposition. My mum is an art teacher. When I was a kid I loved browsing through encyclopedias and especially observing pictures where you could see through objects like Superman and see how things work inside. Later in grammar school I drew so much everyday. It could have been some form of therapy for me, I’m not sure. I had a period where I drew designs of cars. At that time, around 1995, me and some kids around me were crazy about collecting NHL cards of hockey players. We were big fans of the NHL and my best friend created the NY Rangers and the Edmonton Oilers using me and my friends as players! We made our own jerseys on white t-shirts with textile markers and had to design the names and numbers (so here I met typography for the first time) and we played in them almost every day. After this I had a period of designing my own versions of album covers. So all of this gave me and my mum the feeling after we moved to a bigger city that I could try an advertising-design specialization at high-school. I fell in love with graphic design especially due to my young teacher Jiří Hanek. With his help I explored the works of Rodchenko, Cassandre, Vignelli, Rand, Aicher, Bayer, Tschichold, Müller–Brockmann, Gerstner, Miedinger, Frutiger, Carson, Saville, Sagmeister, Dunbar, Sutnar, Najbrt, etc. This was in 2002 and I felt it would be amazing to work towards having a career like these guys. So from that time I knew that I wanted to continue to learn, work and move forward in this field.

DM: Would you like to talk about one of the recent project you designed?

MV: Firstly, I would like to mention my new typeface Matter. It seems to be an ordinary sans-serif font family but it has tiny nuances. It began when I was looking for something like Akzidenz-Grotesk but I wasn’t satisfied with what I found.

You know nowadays we have many sans-serif fonts but designers are continually looking for new ones. They still expect new shapes of classical forms, new details and a new, general overall look. One could say this doesn’t matter but it does. From this starting point comes Matter. It was drawn for the first time in June 2015 and has since been used for some projects. It is a Grotesk typeface with a subtle, warm touch. This is caused by lively forms and diagonal terminals. The vertical terminals still have some angles even when it seems there are not.

Secondly, I would like to say I really appreciate the collaboration with Neo Violence label on visuals for gigs (e.g. Mutation nights) and releases. The aim is to be quite quick in designing. So in one series of EPs I decided to explore simple geometric relations.

Next I have to mention one of the first tasks we got at university. We had to create a magazine with students of Photography from FAMU and our team spontaneously decided to go to Romania and document everything during this trip. We were only the ones who left Prague I think. We collected a lot of material, I made some illustrations and modified Helvetica Textbook for the magazine. The deadlines were printed on paper, crumpled and vectorized again as a reference to the Romanian mountains, valleys and rough roads. That is how Terrain magazine was created. I thought we were going to do more issues and more trips but other project got in the way. But the dream is still in my head.

Finally, I really enjoyed working in Studio Najbrt for Field restaurant (by the way they got their first Michelin star last year). I developed the logotype and other graphics. I even had the opportunity to create the decorations in the windows and in the interior. So I carefully picked objects connected with the cultivation of fields to make it appear like pieces of art. You can find over-hanging objects with engraved information about dimensions, material and serial number underneath. A bespoke red plough dominates the interior, a real one would be too big and heavy to be integrated onto the wall hanging over visitors’ heads! Near the wine cellar under the stairs you can find real bales of straw and so on.

DM: Where would you like to see your typefaces used?

MV: Wherever it fits well. I hope it will be for interesting projects that come from the heart. I just prefer cultural, independent projects because the visual language of these kinds of projects is usually relatively open, free and attractive to me.

DM: A favorite book about design?

MV: Since I finished university I don’t read much and in my opinion most literature about design is too far from reality. Currently I learn from my son and so enjoy family life the most. Also I read on the subway during the winter because I don’t ride my bike below 10°C. Usually it is WTW or a book about personal development. That’s a subject which is really important for everyone I think.

DM: The last word…

MV: Peace, love, respect each other, anything is possible and enjoy your day!

Dennis Moya with the
help of Tiffany Bähler