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Peter Bil'ak & Typotheque
Variety is the spice of type

by Angelynn Grant

Dance Writer for iOS is definitely something new in terms of the execution of shape and gives Bil'ak another hat to wear as “app inventor.” Letterforms made of bodies or parts of bodies have been around for centuries, curios in the early days of printing. But a choreographed and executable font in motion is a fresh take. “I’ve been working with modern ballet and dance for over a decade, together with the choreographer Lukas Timulak. I usually propose a new concept, a basic idea of what should happen during the performance. Lukas then rehearses it with dancers and then we work together to make the piece coherent to show it in theaters. While I usually keep disciplines separate, Dance Writer connects them. It was originally made for an exhibition at Experimenta in Lisbon, a large-scale interactive installation. Later it was reduced to the iPad and iPhone screen in a messaging app that coverts text to movement. It’s probably the least useful messaging app, but it’s highly enjoyable to watch the letters emerge and to be able to share them with people.”

Since 2003, Bil'ak has worked with choreographer Lukas Timulak on the creation of dance performances inspired by letterforms. From left top to right bottom: Twenty (2005), Oneness (2007), Eroica (2010), A Game (2012).

WTW, which has both print and digital editions, isn’t Bil'ak’s first foray into magazine publication. In the early 2000s, he was co-founder and co-editor of Dot Dot Dot, but the two are very different. “DDD was a magazine started by two graphic designers, but it slowly became a more arty project full of esoteric subjects. It was not easy to read; the texts were dense and oblique. WTW is a wider magazine about creativity in unexpected places. It wishes to reach a larger readership, outside the professional design field. The selection of topics is made to be jargon-free and understandable to the general public. It includes design stories that are relevant to a larger audience, stories about human ingenuity from around the world, stories I would share with my friends, dancers, photographers or my brother who is an engineer—a sort of design magazine not just for designers. And I am glad that it seems to work—I hear stories, for example, where a designer buys the magazine and then writes that her husband, a physician, reads it from cover to cover. WTW is a magazine I’d love to read myself because I can constantly learn new surprising things, from all around. Many trade magazines are too limited, as they try to anticipate what their audience expects to read.”

With all the “hats” Bil'ak wears—type designer, graphic designer, writer, curator, teacher, choreographer—what does he say when someone at a party asks him what he does for a living? “This is indeed not an easy question and I usually answer it differently at different times. It’s also a good question, which forces one to look at the core of the activities. Essentially, I work with design and publishing, which encapsulates publishing fonts, books, magazines. But I don’t necessarily think others should do the same. In my work I do what I find logical, almost obvious to do. So sometimes I work with content, but then encounter a technical challenge and spend months working on creating tools to make my work more efficient. For example, in a WTW project, I spent the most time on writing specifications for a publishing platform that allows collaboration between writers, editors and proofreaders, so we work on a single source of text, which we can then export to InDesign, HTML or e-books.” Other tools he’s created include software to help with font production, code for font testing and apps to help create Arabic fonts on the Mac. “None of it existed, so we had to make our own.”

Cover and inside pages from Works That Work, No. 1, a "magazine of unexpected creativity"
founded and edited by Bil'ak. Graphic design by Atelier Carvalho Bernau.

Bil'ak and his wife Johanna, also a designer, were both born in what is now Slovakia, but have lived and worked in the Netherlands for over a decade. They run Typotheque with a small core team. “I started Typotheque back in 1999 as a platform to publish and sell fonts. In 2001, it merged with my design practice, which was a separate design studio. In 2003, my wife joined and today I work with Nikola Djurek, my former student, who helps with font development, Lieveke op ten Berg, who helps with e-mails and support and SLONline, a small company of developers who do all of our programming. Johanna runs the online store with books and T-shirts and does her own projects, mainly books and visual identities.”

Upcoming projects for Bil'ak include future issues of WTW plus a special typeface for it called Lava, further language extensions for Greta Sans and—donning another surprising hat—selling a series of handmade typographic rugs.

Unsurprisingly, Bil'ak says he had no specific career path as a youngster. “From my early childhood I enjoyed drawing, but I suppose most kids do that. I was clueless about what to do until my late teenage years and even then I didn’t make any clear-cut choices. I am interested in many things. We live in the age when young people are encouraged to specialize, to be highly professional, knowing more about less. I was happy that my teachers allowed me to know less about more—having broader vision—and from this situation looking deeper at some selected areas of interest.” Spoken like a true Renaissance man. ca Grant
Angelynn Grant is a Boston-based graphic designer, writer and educator. She has taught at Rhode Island School of Design, the Art Institute of Boston, Simmons College and MIT. You can e-mail her at In addition, Grant is the host of a jazz program on MIT radio, WMBR.