Dmitri Voloshin about the ONEST font. Mega Morning. STS

How is a font born, why was another set of characters needed, and how can ordinary lettering become a matter of national security?

– Good morning again! We are moving on to the next topic. Exactly one year has passed since the creation of the first Moldovan font called Onest, and during this time, it has come to support more than 280 languages and has won a prize at the world’s largest new design festival. But today, we decided to find out more about how this font was created from the art director of the Onest project, Dmitri Voloshin, who is with us this morning. Dmitri, good morning!

– Good morning!

– Well, basically, congratulations are almost in order for the anniversary of this project called Onest. On April 1st, you launched the project last year.

– Absolutely right.

– Perhaps the most important thing is that we’ve met for various reasons, for different projects. The font – where did it all begin, the inception of this idea, and I’d like to know more about why this idea came about.

– Well, the idea came to me about three years ago because, as a graphic designer who loves design, I often encounter various fonts in my work, and I have a kind of pathological passion for font solutions. That is, I can see a certain inscription on a building in some city, stop, and examine how well the letters are composed. I’ve been involved in this topic for more than 10 years – deep study of fonts, their selection, and typography, so to speak. And I realized that I was ready to create our first Moldovan font.

– In general, there were some impulses to do this – it’s not like you just woke up one morning and decided to create your own font, right?

– Of course. Creating your font is a quite complex story. It’s not just drawing a picture, even with what artificial intelligence does with images now. So far, there is no artificial intelligence that can create a completely new font.

– The process itself is that complex?

– Very difficult, yes.

– We can talk a bit about the process, but I was curious… I watched a film about the creation of this font when it first appeared and realized that I had never paid attention to something. For many countries, it’s a mandatory component – having their own font used for all administrative papers, signs, and so on. Suddenly, I understand that we don’t have that unified approach. Can it be said that steps have been taken in this direction, and will it continue to develop?

– Well, it’s very important for a country to have its own font not only for self-identification and having its own face. It is crucial from a security point of view because there was recently a situation when the famous Times New Roman font, which you know, was revoked by the font owner from all state institutions in Russia. Its use was prohibited. Now, imagine the huge amount of software and documents that used this font, a standard in Windows. At any moment, the entire system could collapse.

So, the country needs to have its font with an open license. Onest is a completely free font, open to everyone. It cannot be recalled or taken away. If you use it, use it freely. Therefore, for the state, it is very important to have protection against external influences, at least to have its own state font.

– It seems like something we never think about. I know that you had to overcome quite a difficult path to register this font with our Intellectual Property Office.

– Yes, it was quite challenging. The process is complicated because it was the first of its kind. When you come and say, “I want to register a font.” And they say, “Font? What’s that?” I try to explain. They say, “Is it like a picture?” – “No, not a picture.” – “Well, then let’s consider it some kind of a product.” – “No, not a product.” In principle, something like this had not been registered before, so our lawyer and their lawyer spent a considerable amount of time determining what a font is, what it consists of, and how it is registered. And our font was the first registered one.

– Dmitri, for those of us who are not particularly familiar with this field, we understand that there is a letter, it can be written in a slightly larger or a slightly smaller way. Well, it seems like there are all kinds of letters. So what is unique about creating the font itself? Does each letter have some, I don’t know, symbols? Because there are interesting moments in your work as well.

– It is essential to understand what type of font you want to create and for what purpose: for romantic greeting cards with a special flair or a formal one suitable for business letters. Should it be narrow to fit on mobile devices or wide, decorative, and vibrant for large signs?

Once you understand what you want to create, you can gather a few similar fonts that you like and are familiar with. Drawing inspiration from them, you can sketch your first few letters that will define the character of the entire typographic solution. This is how Onest was born. I, of course, stood on the shoulders of giants. Yes, I have favorite fonts, like Gotham or Helvetica. I tried to find the best and most flavorful ones, considering our Moldovan diacritics. Some fonts can distort diacritics, either hanging below the baseline or interfering with the upper lines.

I determined that for the Romanian language, the optimal thickness arrangement would be with 7 styles, allowing for use from the thinnest to the boldest, depending on the message you want to convey.

– I would like to talk about the team. Who was involved in the development, because I know you didn’t do this alone – a large number of people helped you in this process.

– Well, even though I’m a designer, I haven’t mastered the nuances of font art perfectly. These people study to become font designers for years, even decades, to become professionals. Since our font must include Cyrillic characters, I found a great Russian designer, Andrey Kudryavtsev, with whom I created this font. He has extensive experience with Cyrillic.

We spent about 8 months creating the initial styles, and then they were refined to seven versions. There are currently 530 glyphs, with 500 in each style. A glyph is a character. The “%” symbol, the digit “1,” or the letter “A” – all of them are glyphs. So, we needed to draw 3,500 outlines for people to use the font.

We have a local team that includes designers who tested it. Many studios were involved. I’m afraid to list them all now, not to forget anyone, as quite a few designers tested and gave their feedback. They pointed out issues with Romanian diacritics that needed fixing. But the strategy was developed by Eugen Boico, who helped me integrate it. Because our font positioning is not just a free font; it’s a font for the state. We want all documentation to be in a consistent style, signs to be correctly made, and no errors. We don’t want it to be like it is now when you go to our government and see font errors or the Olympic committee, where the letter “M” is made from an inverted “W.” That’s complete absurdity.

– There’s still a lot to work on and fix.

– Because the team is large. I’m afraid to offend anyone. I can provide a list; it’s on the website, by the way – you can see the people working on it.

– It’s important to emphasize that these people who create the product live here, in our country. I know that this font contains some interesting and innovative solutions, like if you enter a few symbols some special meaning appears. Can you elaborate on this?

– Everything I do… I like to create something that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. It charges up both the team and me that we’ve made something unique. We made Onest a font that tries to be optimal and aesthetically pleasing in use. So, when certain letters are next to each other, it slightly changes them. It adjusts to the neighboring letters.

– Does it adapt to the adjacent ones?

– It adapts to the adjacent letters to look beautiful with them. Not just individually, but with the letter “O,” the tail should twist this way, and with the letter “I,” it should stand up a bit. These are small details, but when you type, you see that they align.

– I’m trying to grasp – how was each letter acquainted with another? How did it happen?

– It’s called kerning – it’s a very serious and enormous task. You need to put all kerning pairs, that is, all letters with all others, and see how they look and adjust them. It’s a dreadful job, really very challenging. 

– At the same time, it’s so interesting because it’s something we don’t usually think about. For the team, were there many discoveries in the process because creating the first relevant font must have been something new, right?

– The majority, except for those designers with prior experience, especially the main Moldovan team, encountered such a task for the first time and was surprised by the number of pitfalls and obstacles in creating a simple font.

We had to study a lot, and right now, we are working on something exclusive for you – integrating this font into Google Fonts.

Google Fonts is a library of specific fonts selected by Google from around the world, offered for free to users worldwide. We are currently in talks with Google, trying to adapt our Onest font so that it can be sent there. It will be the first Moldovan and, in Eastern Europe, the first international font used by Google. Anyone using a website in Google will use it.

– For example, how can an ordinary person who is watching us use it? Simply add it?

– They can visit the website, download it, check the instructions on how to install it on their computer, and use it in all their documents. Yes, many Moldovan companies have supported it. I want to thank everyone who supported our font, using it in their documentation, products, and marketing. People write to us that it’s very convenient, thanking us, and we, in turn, express our gratitude. Thank you, it’s very important to us.

– So, there was a response. Does this mean there will be some development, continuation, maybe new fonts?

– Yes, literally today, I finished working on a new font. It looks nothing like Onest; it’s entirely different. It’s wild, crazy, with a very vivid character called Curaj. In Romanian, it means courage, madness, bravery, so to speak.

– So, there was honesty, and now we’ve become bolder.

– And this font has a feature. It’s even more complex because it’s a variable font. It doesn’t have seven styles, but it has sliders that allow you to adjust the thickness of letters an infinite number of times. Yes, you can adjust the thickness and width of the letters differently. So, “O” can be like this, or it can be like this “O.” There are two axes, and there are practically a million different fonts in one. You create your font the way you want it.

– Dear friends, you can see how this font basically looks like. I’m just curious, you spent almost a year creating Onest; how much time was spent on Curaj? Was it the same amount of time or not?

– It was faster. Yes, we spent about six months. But I want you to understand that it doesn’t take half a year of continuous work. It involves information exchange, reflections, so if you sit down, you can do it in 3-4 months.

– Curaj was also entirely created by our Moldovan specialists?

– Not entirely either. It’s international too. When it comes to Cyrillic, we don’t have specialists in Moldova who can draw Cyrillic fonts correctly. That is, not yet. But now, I think they will appear because we’ve shown that it’s possible to create fonts, and experts will emerge. But, in the world, there’s no Cyrillic school cooler than the Russian one.

It seems like there are so many letters; what else can be invented? It turns out, there’s more. Denis started with a design festival contest where he even managed to win an award, and Onest won it.

– Is this a dedicated font competition?

– Yes, there’s a big category – fonts, and we took one of the prize places in fonts.

– What is evaluated in such competitions?

– Individuality, vividness. It’s a very challenging thing because an ordinary person, inexperienced, showing Onest, would say, “Well, it’s just a font, nothing special.” But this font has a feature – some letters look unique. I recognize our font by them. The letter “И,” the letter “У,” the letter “Т” with a hook. So, there are features. But the most important thing is that it’s a professionally made font that reads well when typeset. When you type some text, zoom out, look at it, and it’s uniform, without bold, black spots.

– So, a cohesive one.

– Cohesive, harmonious, all letters get along with each other. Of course, only a professional can appreciate it, but when you print with it, you’re surprised at how harmonious any text you type looks. And it doesn’t strain the eyes; you don’t stumble over anything.

– We talk a lot about Onest. But in the font’s name, there is, in principle, the essence that you intended. You wanted this font to be honest, frank, sincere, and at the same time, without unnecessary embellishments, is that correct?

– Absolutely correct. We planned it to be used in government agencies, so that our state could speak to us honestly. That is, without small asterisks, without additional disclaimers. Yes, write it as it is. Therefore, we made it as simple, understandable, and unambiguous as possible. So, it’s straightforward, concrete, and clear.

– Is the work on Onest completely finished now? The version we currently see, is it finalized, or will there be further modifications? I read a few days ago that 280 languages were added.

– We added those 280 languages precisely for Google.

– A vast number of people worldwide can use this font. Will there be further refinements? Are you waiting for more feedback from others who might find errors or suggest changes?

– There is a place on the website to submit suggestions and messages. But right now, we are working on a condensed version of Onest. The letters will be narrow – a condensed version. Very, very cool! It will have a distinctive, bright character. It will be Onest but in a narrow version for powerful headings. We are working on it now and will launch it soon.

– It turns out there’s a lot of interesting things happening in our country while we think, “What else can be invented?” It seems like everything, many fonts have already been created, but it turns out something unique can still be added – something we can be proud of in the future. Dmitri, thank you very much.

– Thank you, you’re welcome.

– It was great to talk about this topic, and it’s nice that Dmitri is strong in various diverse areas. Not only in sports, not only in social projects, but also in projects like this.

– This is also a social project, it can be.

– Well, we continue our broadcast. Right now, we have an advertisement lined up, after which we will return to the studio.

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