Interview with Janik Frithioff

Have you ever gifted someone something because you were annoyed at them for lacking it? That’s how the Danish graphic designer Janik Frithioff (37) felt when looked at the street signs of Coppenhagen and noticed their lack of identity and readability. Using his spare time and passion for typography, functionality and design in the public space he went on to create his gift to the capital.

How did your interest in typography start?

– Actually it started after I graduated. I started to see typography as an important element in creating visual identity. But also in relation to history where typography in my opinion is a part of dating time periods.

How would you describe yourself as a designer?

– Analytic, objective, very focused on function, and very strong technically. I put an honor into creating solutions which are relevant in the context without getting affected by subjective opinions and trends.

After noticing a lack in function and readability, Frithioff would be inspired to spend three years designing new street signs for Coppenhagen in his spare time. This would in 2017 be his gift to the public.

– My primary motivation was to contribute to a relevant and readable font for the capital. I get irritated by dysfunctional design in public space. Instead of just complaining I would rather come up with an idea for a solution. That was the situation with Hovedstad that I decided to design when I was sad about seeing Stadsskriften being squeezed onto road signs. With poor visual identity and readability. I worked on it in my spare time. I was also lucky to be able to receive objective comments during the process from other graphic designers.

How was your design process?

– My process was very analytic focused and I looked at old pictures from Copenhagen to find some special features about danish fonts and took pictures myself. In that way to find some more general design features and rules for the font. Old fonts that are used in the city have in many cases a horrible readability and are quite dictated by subjective rules. Therefore it was a big challenge to try to make a font which is both historically relevant but at the same time with a good readability. This is shown in all choices in relation to the shape and design of the letters. When letters start to appear visually a lot of tests (Eg. Road signs 1:1) are made in order to adjust more. When all tests are satisfying I see the font as a finished piece.

What do you think is important to think about when designing typography?
– Overall relevant font design is important to me. Further most when it comes to function. Readability is something you can never compromise with. Something else that to me symbolises good font design is relevance in context.
Hovedstad did not end up being used but instead a font by the design company E-Types. Why do you think they chose to say yes to them?

– It is correct that E-types were chosen to design a font for Copenhagen commune which was to cover all surfaces. I can only wonder about the fact that it ended up being E-types that were chosen for the assignment. I see Copenhagen commune's visual identity as the best among all communes in Denmark, because of the strict use of identity creating fonts. I still mean that my idea for road signs is more relevant because road signs have a longer lifetime than a visual identity and therefore it should be represented by a timeless font.

What do you think about the font made by E-Types?

– It is clear that E-types and their “CPH” have looked at Copenhagen typographic history especially on the small g which is very relevant in the historical context. The whole font is well made but they have in my opinion chosen a very decorative way which in some cases is bad for the functionality. With other words it has a more branding-ish focus and is not only designed to take a functional role.

Which visions do you have for Hovedstad now?

– It is saved but not in use. I could easily imagine that it could be used as a font design on road signs in another Danish city with relevant historical references.

While his plans for Hovedstad didn’t work out as he hoped, Frithioff is still making fonts for the public's enjoyment. He is in charge of creating systems for wayfinding, traffic information, and defining visual identity for Odenes’ tram system, scheduled to make its first trip in 2022. As a part of the project he designed the new font Comeo together with Danish font designer Trine Rask.

– The collaboration with Trine Rask was an enormous pleasure and it was an exciting assignment because we had to design a font which had to be readable on different kinds of surfaces. It also involved the development of dot-designs which are used on LED Dot-matrix screens. Comeo is a font family which gives an identity-creating typographic portrayal with a very good readability in all of the transport system of Odense Letbane.

What is important to consider when designing typography for public use?
– The most important is that you do not make a font for yourself or other designers. You make it for a big group that contains different people who mostly notice typography and other signs when it works. Therefore it is a central thing that functionality is in focus. All choices that have to do with design should be explained according to the given goal. Eg. Hovedstad was designed to be a readable font on road signs with reference to a special danish tradition within typography, in that way to help the citizens understand road signs and also be relevant when it comes to the area it is in.
What are your plans and dreams for the future when it comes to work?

– I am very into public design. Design that has an impact and which is not controlled by commercial interest. Therefore I hope to be able to contribute within public design in general and public transport in particular.

Do you have any advice for design students?

– The best advice I can give you is to be true to yourself and not let yourself be affected by other people's subjective taste and trends. Furthermost to design for the purpose with solutions that are relevant in the specific contexts. It is also my opinion that it is important to have analytic access and take functional and economical aspects into consideration. The bigger worked through the analytic base, which you can argue for, the better and more relevant is the finished product. Finally, to focus on solving assignments in the best possible way in relation to the given circumstances and requirements, not to focus on prices, please a trend, or to search for broad recognition.