Compact Black, a New Typeface Redrawn from Soviet-Era Visual Artifacts – Eye on Design
Back Story: KTF, a new foundry based in Kyiv and Hannover, was envisioned by founders Yevgeniy Anfalov and Oleś Gergun as a typographic playground at the intersection of Latin and Cyrillic scripts. Their design mission ranges from hunting ghost fonts from the behind-the-Iron-Curtain-past to collaborations with older masters to bridge the generation gap and preserve knowledge. KTF Compact is the happy result of what Anfalov calls an impromptu session of re-drawing Soviet visual artifacts.
In his 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” cultural critic Walter Benjamin spoke of aura—the authenticity of a single original object. With this project, Anfalov sought to complete a process of “de-aurization” to transform some original one-off type from a 1982 Soviet hand-drawn movie poster collected by his colleague Kirill Gluschenko into something modern, reproducible, digital.
The designer says, “I see potential in static typography becoming dynamic as digital fonts. The moment of translation is the most fun part of the game. I analyse what can be removed from the outline, how to distill and emphasize certain visual characteristics, and develop missing glyphs. Suddenly, it becomes a typographic alchemy where you’ve already forgotten where you started.”
Why’s it called Compact Black? Its relatively narrow proportions and very tight letter spacing suggested the name.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Compact Black pays subtle homage to the mid-20th century heyday of magazine art direction, when designers such as Willy Fleckhaus and Herb Lubalin created their groundbreaking work. This all-caps ultimate heavyweight display typeface exists on the edge of legibility, with narrow vertical characters formed from slightly rounded rectangles of equal width. Primadonnas such as the sharp-toothed W and M provide contrast to the soft edges seen on the rest of the alphabet.
Anfalov says, “Compact is a typographic Roland 909*: as you type it, a repetitive yet vibrant pattern comes into being. The letters are an active visual agent that takes up space and inverts it, with type becoming a surface.”
*The Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer is a drum machine from 1983 that became influential in the development of electronic dance music genres such as techno, house, and acid.
What should I use it for? Anfalov says, “Use it for all opportunities that celebrate typography including, but not limited to, movie titles, magazine spreads, record covers, and books. Kirill, whose poster inspired this typeface, tested it exhaustively in a short movie project with a full set of collateral materials. Due to the font’s simple structure, it even worked out with knitting: a fellow designer from Belarus, Alex Chumak, made a scarf as band merch.”