Ilya Ruderman: Proto Grotesk is quite an unusual typeface. As its authors from Production Type explain, over the last hundred years sans serif typefaces became practical and neutral, having lost almost every bright feature that used to define their personality. They were deliberately sanitized in order to ensure multitasking character.
Proto Grotesk’s authors decided to do the opposite and dig out the brightest things in a sans serif typeface: all the blemishes and queerities, questionable choices and solutions. That’s why we see plenty of unconventional solutions here, such as squarish ascenders/descenders next to very soft joints in the neighbouring characters.
Yura and I discovered that everything worked more or less naturally in the uppercase characters, yet it took us a lot of time to find the right level of contrast in the lowercase, as the logic was different. This is particularly apparent in the Semi-Bold style: contrast in vertical characters, contrast in curved characters (that can have a very thin line in the middle), but there are also certain characters with diagonal strokes that would show no contrast at all. Or take the s, for example: no contrast either. And then there’s e next to it, with lots of contrast. We realised that we couldn’t deal with it without people who designed Latin and said, ‘Look, we built our Cyrillic based on this logic, but we applied a different logic here. Can you help us choose the right thing, since you are better at this proto-grotesk-ness? ’
This typeface is actually very popular, it won many awards. It’s used in a wide variety of projects — for example, IStories or V–A–C Press.
Yury Ostromentsky: I might add that Proto Grotesk is somehow crossing paths with another work of ours, our own typeface Kazimir. With Kazimir, we wanted to obtain pretty much the same thing as Production Type wanted with Proto Grotesk. They were looking for the elements from the earliest sans typefaces that got lost over time, while we were trying to find the elements of the Russian pre-revolutionary typography — features that look a bit weird today, a bit wild, — and to translate them into today’s language. In a slightly exaggerated manner, perhaps.