Celebrating Women in Typography: Elena Genova
March is Women’s History Month, so we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate some amazing women working in the type design industry.
This week, we’re talking with Elena Genova, a type designer based in Edinburgh, UK, about her journey and insights from her 20-plus-year career in type design.
In conversation with Elena Genova
MyFonts:. Tell us about your journey as a type designer and any challenges you had to overcome?
Elena Genova: I started as a web designer and designed a website about Scotland back in 1998. And that’s when the whole thing started. Then I moved to icon design because I like simplifying things. Then I realized that this is something I really like, why don’t I do what I always wanted to do and digitize handwritings, since I loved handwriting? This is how my first font appeared. My biggest challenge was my lack of a design degree.
MF: When did you start your own Foundry?
EG: Well about the same time when I joined MyFonts 2014-2015.
MF: What is one tip you would give to women who are considering becoming a type designer?
EG: If you get a chance to get a design degree, go for it and gather as much knowledge in the field of typography as possible. Also, look, learn, observe, ask questions, build your confidence. If you like it, just go for it. It’s your typefaces and you are the main critiс. Do what you love, love what you do.
MF. Can you share some insights on what more can be done to advance diversity in typography?
EG: Most of the time designers follow trends. If one typeface is a hit, type designers keep creating literally the same typefaces with the small differences. We need to explore more. Don’t only make what sells as we’ll all end up using Cooper or Windsor.
We also need to do more to encourage designers with different backgrounds, from different countries, to get interest in type design. And promote them! Perhap creating a knowledge database that would be helpful for all young, aspiring designers.
MF: Do you do a lot of exploration?
EG: I do. When I start a typeface, it looks absolutely different from how it finally comes out. And it’s difficult because if you lock yourself into one style, you would finish the typeface much sooner. But if you are trying to make it more appealing, then it takes time and sometimes you just need to finish the first style and then do the second one, not transition from one to another.
MF: What inspired you? How do we inspire others?
EG: I have a passion for type design, but to have a passion you need to learn, you need to look at old typefaces. Explore forums and you’ll find your way into typography.
MF: When you said you started as a graphic/web designer, was that your initial career choice or did you try something different before that?
EG: I started, believe it or not, as a radio engineer. I was supposed to design high frequency devices, but I never worked as a radio engineer. It just never happened, this is the way it works and perhaps still works in Russia, and getting a design degree back then was literally impossible. You could either become an architect or textile designer. And even though I wanted to become an architect it was literally impossible to get into the only university we had then because I didn’t have connections.
MF: What’s your favorite book? Do you have one?
EG: I do —Fonts and Logos by Doyald Young. It’s brilliant. It’s like a whole book of ideas and inspiration. I read a lot of books. I have like a full bookshelf on typography design and technical things.
MF: What do you do besides type? Share a fun fact about you.
EG: I used to be a keen table tennis player but with the lockdown, it is not really working out. I’ve discovered another sport - indoor cycling with Peloton which I’m really enjoying. I never thought it would last, everybody kept saying ‘you’re not going to use it, it will become a hanger for your clothes.’,. I’ve never been into cycling. Never, ever. I’m afraid to cycle, to be honest, especially in Scotland, because it’s either up the hill down the hill and it’s just scary. But this is just fun.
I also have a dog — Benji. I love to walk the dog. I also like to cook.
Interview edited for length and clarity.