© Teodorik Menšl

Interview with Martin Vácha

Martin Vácha founded the small independent type-foundry Displaay in Prague, Czech Republic in 2016. He studied graphic design at The Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. He worked as a graphic designer at Studio Najbrt for 8 years, and decided to quit a year ago because his passion for observing typefaces and creating new shapes ate him up completely. He is now focusing on developing typefaces and often collaborates with a wide range of design studios.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Most of the time I am happy, smiling, angry, calm, nice, even wild, passionate, crazy, organized, chaotic, always ready, focused, perfectionist, phlegmatic, screaming, leftist and enjoying any situation, sometimes struggling with different situations. I am 33, so in the best age, trying to be the best husband, dad of two sons, brother of my siblings, for sure a good son of my own parents and a great friend for my friends and all other people.

Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Lázně Kynžvart, West Bohemia (Czech Republic) near Mariánské Lázně. It’s a super small spa town surrounded by forests, hills and beautiful countryside. I hung out with the boys outside a lot, playing hockey, football, riding bikes, running through the country, the best for what you can wish for as a kid. After 1995, my friends I were pretty impressed by the upcoming technology, so we played more computer games, and studying IT.

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in graphic design?

From my early childhood, I used to draw things. First, it was probably the design of the hockey jerseys on t-shirts because at my age it was impossible to buy them. Then I drew a lot of music album covers for cassettes, later for CDs. Another epoch, I was obsessed with Knight Rider, so I started to draw a lot of cars and creating new models. I was seriously thinking about being a car designer. When we moved to Karlovy Vary (another spa city) I started to study at high school, focusing on art and advertising design, so drawing, my hobby, became something which I could study, improve and explore related branches. I fell in love with graphic design at this high school because of our great young teacher. Then I wanted to continue with graphic design at the best university in the Czech Republic.

How would you describe your creative process?

I always start with some task or assignment, trying to find some new shapes and design typefaces with some reason or purpose.

For example, once when I was designing a brand new identity for some client, I wasn’t satisfied with what was on the market and with the character of fonts I found, so I decided to create my own, and so Matter and Documan were born.

Another example, people from Anymade Studio asked me if I could incorporate some pixelized letters into some of my already created typeface because they wanted to use it for the Moog electronic music festival. But I didn’t want to take just some of my typeface, integrate pixels, and finish the whole thing. I was thinking that it was a pretty nice project, so why shouldn’t I move this further. So, first I found the Moog wordmark, and by observing that I  decided to use something from it and then create a whole brand new typeface inspired by its essence. So that's how the Roobert  typeface was born, which fitted really well with pixel letters and to the whole festival identity.

Beyond all of our typefaces are tons of hours sitting in-front of a computer, trying to set up curves and lines really well, with good overall character which work for bigger even smaller sizes of texts, doing a lot of tests, back and forth, printing, observing, again changing shapes, still going in circles, until I am either satisfied or tired. 

Does your city and surroundings influence you as a creative and individual?

No, I don’t think so. I think I am influenced by my friends, the people around me, and the different kinds of media I follow, and for sure we can count on music, magazines, other cities, travelling, and life experiences. For me, Prague is like a great baseground. You can rely on everything in the city in many ways and I feel really satisfied here. If you are a happy person, creativity and ideas just appear on paper.

What do you struggle with the most in terms of working and living in a city like Prague? 

I do not struggle. Prices on everything are still the cheapest in Europe, and the city is neither too big nor too small. This is the main thing. You can visit so many nice places just from walking around, hanging out, seeing fine architecture and galleries, going to good bars, cool music venues/clubs, great restaurants or playgrounds for kids. Here you can have a nice flat and working space with free-minded people around you. However, every city has its own problems, and Prague definitely has many of them, and we have also many creative people with amazing ideas to solve them, I just wish these ideas would become a reality sooner.

The responsibility of the council in every city is to provide a solid foundation of design, art and cultural facilities, is that evident in Prague?

This is, unfortunately, one of the problems of Prague and the Czech Republic in general. I think politicians and bureaucrats are winning this game, I hope one day we will move closer to the likes of Berlin, Vienna or London. It is the one negative aspect about Prague.

Do you think it is also the responsibility of the artist/creative to improve the quality of people's lives in their city?

Every day I meet someone creative, not necessarily artists, but people who want to make our city better. I guess everybody who is passionate about something wants to share this quality or knowledge with others. So you can find community gardens, tea houses, wine or beer bars, vegan restaurants, book stores, bike workrooms and other beautiful inspiring spots which were designed by these creative people and you can encounter inspiring people inside them. So it is definitely a task for everybody to improve the city they live in.

Can you tell us about any current or future projects that you are particularly excited about?

Me and my collaborators are just working on the final processes to realise some new typefaces. The “Ofform” typeface arose a few months ago. It started with a sketch by Marek Suchánek for a wordmark he was working on. We share the same space together and spontaneously decided to create a whole typeface together with Kristína Jandová, who sits next to me. Kristína also worked with me on the upcoming “Tobias" serif typeface. We are slowly finishing another serif typeface called “Teodor" and condensed grotesk “Greed”. I wish to find someone who wants to join me, helping me with our everyday journey regarding type-services.

Also, I am very excited to finish my first release of t-shirts and hoodies. There is a nice idea going around in our office that designs will one day be more open to our fans and customers to modify themselves, so stay tuned.

If you could add or change something about Prague, what would that be?

I wish for better city planning from politicians for our city. We have two great institutions IPR and CAMP, but I am afraid that all people in the council are not listening carefully to the advice and in my point of view do almost nothing. I am sorry to say it, but that is my opinion. 

Describe the perfect day for you in Prague.

Sunny and warm, not too hot, fun with my family, enjoying the playground with them, farmers markets, a nice vegetarian lunch, after-lunch drink in the park, a little bit of type design, maybe an exhibition in a gallery, dinner, sport, a concert etc...

If you could choose any artist/creative to collaborate with, who would that be and why? 

Any, you really mean any? Massimo Vignelli, Dieter Rams, Paul Rand, Wim Crouwel, Otl Aicher, Mirko Borsche, Zak Keys, Christian Schwartz, Designers20YY, Experimental Jetset, Dinamo, because I like what they are doing, I am not sure why. I don’t need any reason. Anyway, I am open to any collaboration because every process is somehow inspirational, educational, and brings something new.

What do you do to switch off?

Just being with my sons and wife, this is super-fast switching into another reality. Listening to music, dancing, playing sports, and mountain hiking with friends, etc...

What does home mean to you?

A cosy space I can rest in.

Sometimes people relate a specific smell to the city they live in or the place they grew up, does Prague evoke a personal smell to you?

I almost don’t smell anything, it is not my strongest sense. 

What is your favourite time of the day?

Sunset. I am a romantic. You know, the light is charming.

If you weren’t living in Prague and could choose any city to live in where would that be, and why?

Not sure, I never tried to live in another city, so I can’t compare or say. The longest term I lived abroad was 3 months in London, and as a student, I enjoyed the city very much. Once you have a family, you are looking for different qualities in a place.

prague by MARTIN VÁCHA

A selection of places in Prague - recommended by type designer Martin Vácha. See all of Martin's favourite places here


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