“How you work” is more important than “What you work”. Interview with Dinamo Typefaces.
This week we got the chance to talk to Fabian and Johannes - members of the Amsterdam-born (Berlin-based) Type foundry and creative studio Dinamo. There’s no hiding the fact we’re big supporters (you’re currently reading this in the Favorit typeface they created) but more than simply enjoying their work on a creative level, we love what they represent as a studio.
As well as their work, what we admire about Dinamo is that as successful as they’ve become over the past few years, they’ve always championed a positive, supportive approach to not only those who’ve helped them personally, but also the creative community as a whole.
So it was great to hear the full story of how Dinamo first came around, how it’s evolved over time and how important all the different collaborators have been to developing the uniquely colourful personality that’s made Dinamo what it is today.
We’d love to hear the story of how Dinamo was born.
Dinamo started around 2012 or 2013, possibly still in Amsterdam, where Johannes studied and Fabian did an internship, or maybe in Berlin already, where we both moved right after... But the bottomline is, we slowly started collaborating because of our shared interest in typeface design and in more of a free-time-activity-setting next to our “real work” as graphic designers. We were first feedbacking each other's sketches and soon designing typefaces together - four eyes in front of one computer.
After maybe a year we felt that our Grow Typeface was ready, and luckily we got connected to Gustavo Ferreira who started to help us with the production and mastering of that project. At first we really hoped to release it with one of the existing type foundries that we admired – but when nobody really showed interest we simply released it ourselves on a mini website. That was when we gave it a name, mostly because we needed a URL. What we like about the name “Dinamo” is that it describes an energy producing machine, an engine that produces more than what goes into it.
How would you describe your philosophy and culture as a studio?
Our practice really stems from shared interests and having conversations – ping-ponging ideas – testing and developing those that feel worth the attention and seeing what they can become and where they can go. Like probably everybody else, we try to work as much as we can on things that we care about, whenever possible balancing self initiated projects and client commissions healthily.
We also love to explore other fields than just typefaces, which makes us learn and meet and work with a lot of great people – not sure whether there is a consistent and clear philosophy behind this all, but we always try to make the most out of whatever we can and do.
Your website has a strong emphasis on celebrating the people you’ve collaborated with. What does collaboration mean to you exactly?
The longer we do what we do, the more we realise that “how you work” is much more important than “what you work” on. Of course we care a great deal about results, but if the way to get there is not nice for everybody involved, the work makes no sense. As a consequence we started to focus more on defining which projects we accept or not; how we go about them; with whom we work together and how we structure them so that everybody is getting the most out of it, etc. Dinamo is able to do what it does because of everybody involved. So, it has to be “people first” to keep it that way – always.
Talk us through your research process.
Of course there are certain standards and workflows we maintain throughout all our projects, but in general we feel that everything we do is asking for its own process and its own solution. Ideas or references for our projects can come from lots of places: We love to experiment with technology and test new tools, we love to go to archives and libraries to dig for lost or forgotten things and we always have lots of conversations in the team and with our partners and clients to find out what is really needed and what is equally interesting to all of us involved.
How has your practice evolved over time?
When you spend most of your time very close to something you don’t see it change too much because it's constantly developing – yet rarely at drastic speeds. A nice moment of overview and perspective recently came with launching our new website: the previous one we developed together with our dear friend Jakub Straka, when Dinamo was really just Johannes and Fabian. Today, we’re a flexible team of 6 to 12 people working part-time between Basel, Berlin, London, Offenbach, Melbourne, San Jose, Tallinn and Lausanne on creating retail and bespoke typefaces, running the type foundry, developing design software and doing workshops, research and consultancy. It’s not that we’re working in completely different ways or on completely different projects than back when we started – but today we’re certainly more aware of it and accordingly structured. And we’ve got a bit better at saying no.
You have a “Hardware” branch to the studio. What does the tangibility of design objects mean to you?
The Dinamo Hardware grew from the coincidence of us both wearing the same kind of grey pullover when giving a lecture. Comments from the audience or the hosts made us think of a Dinamo Uniform and when Johannes first visited Korea in 2016, we made a few textile patches to bring as a present that instantly made whatever you put it onto a little bit into a Dinamo Uniform. Everybody loved the patches and from there we just continued to make more things: shirts, hats, pullovers, but also toothbrushes or a chair more recently.
Of course, on one hand the Hardware branch is a great excuse to explore other disciplines than typeface design and actually create “real things” that also make sense to our friends that don’t do graphic design. But on the other hands we also are amazed about how both the Hardware and our typefaces follow similar principles in the sense that we’re incorporating or piggybacking tools and everyday objects and (mis)using them as carriers to spread our ideas and perspectives.
When I saw your Different Times t-shirt I assumed it was born out of the strangeness of 2020, so was surprised to learn it's a previously explored concept. It must feel more hauntingly relevant than ever now. What does it mean to you? And how have you been navigating the pandemic?
The “Different Times” slogan actually comes from Johannes' bachelor thesis at the Rietveld Academie, in which he wrote about what it means to be type designers today, holding a mouse in their hands. When we first started to make shirts this idea came back and we ended up with this slightly ironic design, featuring five different digital versions of the ubiquitous Times typeface: Times Ten, Times New Roman, Times LT, AT CG Times, and MT Times Bitmapped—all pretty much looking the same and therefore undermining the shirt’s own message.
For unknown reasons they kept selling out fast and on the third of fourth reprint we started to not only change the colours but also mess with the message: Hence “Difficult Times” after Trump’s election or “Spiritual Times” on the occasion of a stay in Los Angeles.
When the pandemic hit and all of us started to work from home, we honestly didn’t think much about Hardware – but a few weeks in, our friends from Other Means got in touch and together we dropped an “Uncertain Times” hat in order to cover the loss of the cancelled Typography Summer School and to begin developing a scholarship program for the next years to come.
On the topic of education: you run workshops, release free tutorials and are raising funds for a scholarship program. Clearly, educating the next generation is very important to you. Why?
We don’t care about “teaching people” too much but much more about “learning together”. By sharing your own knowledge you usually attract the knowledge and thoughts of others. As a continuation of this thinking, we also started an experiment and now offer a “Dinamo Student Font Package” on our website with a selection of our typefaces at a very reduced price – even including our 2 latest designs Diatype and Maxi.
What does Berlin mean to you? And how has it been as a home for Dinamo?
Since a lot of Dinamo’s early steps happened in Berlin, the city will always have a big emotional value for us of course. And even though it's slowly changing, we feel that compared to many other places, Berlin still offers a lot of life / work quality and space for doable prices. Because of that, many things happen that couldn’t be the same way elsewhere, bringing together great people and initiatives that we're grateful to have around us for inspiration and exchange. And, to add one more sentimentality to it: Berlin of all cities is the one we always look forward to leaving BUT ALSO returning to.
Once the world goes back to normal, what do you see in the future of Dinamo?
We miss traveling a bit these days, or simply meeting and hanging with friends. But we generally operate with a “carpe diem” attitude and simply do the best we can in each situation given – because the time is always now.
Thanks to Fabian, Johannes & the collective Dinamo family - wherever in the world you happen to be. You can find their links below.
From the desks of Dinamo designers around the world:
Article by Ewan Waddell.