Elvira Umanskaya, Ekaterina Volkova
© Masterskaya, 2014
The publishers offered Masterskaya to create a layout for a modern chess textbook for children based on the contents of a classical textbook for specialized schools that had thirteen successful reprints. The project required the creation of a special navigation system — a vivid, intuitive environment that would not only make it easier for school students to work with the educational material, but also (most importantly) would spark their interest in the game. Later on, the illustrations and the iconography of the textbook were intended to be used in mobile applications and in classroom decoration. The textbook was also planned to be published in English and Spanish for schools in the USA, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and Mexico.
The key idea is «book as a quest», like Minecraft on paper, a big detailed map of a chess game split into fragments. Working their way through the textbook and learning the game principles, students gradually piece these fragments together.
The textbook layout is a polyphonic environment of quotes and innovations, where diverse plastic elements often conflict with each other. According to the designers, it would help the reader to see the idea of a game being similar to life, and life being similar to a game — both fun and hard. It was implemented through the employment of an unusual typeface with many alternative solutions, which often contradict the logic of letter design, and, of course, through illustrations. The latter come in three types: plot-related, functional and historical, and their diversity and different scale ensures a better immersion into the game context.
A chessboard is both a character and a scene of action. If it is a part of a plot illustration, it is drawn as an isometric projection. In any other case, it is shown as a flat diagram.
While creating the illustrations, we took into account the solutions proposed by the Pentagram designer John Rushworth for the World Chess Championship. The idea of filling in elaborate outlines with a regular rapport is localized in the book by using «pixelated» Russian and Ugro-Finnic patterns, which also fill the background of plot illustrations.
The cover and the front endpaper of the textbook contain direct quotes from Victor Vasarely (Vega, 1957) and raster images based on a square module.
The layout has twelve key templates, four types of illustrations with different functions and relative scale, three sizes of navigation icons, square cropped photographs, five typesetting sizes and three weight types. We used two color printing. Font size: 15.665 / 17.514 pt
“I always start my work on illustrations by carefully studying the subject and trying to come up with main characters’ images. Dima Barbanel and I had already decided that we liked Gennady Kalinovsky’s image of Lewis Carroll’s Alice who found herself in a small chess quest. Alice, however, wouldn’t be able to play a chess game by herself: first, she is a little girl; second, no one can make a miracle on his own, even in fairy tales. So we decided to add another character to help her, a boy — an opponent in the game and a helpmate in her journey. This is how a story about Katya and Sasha and their adventures in a medieval kingdom took shape. At the same time, we had to study and simplify the style of clothes, arms and armor of knights from different countries where chess was popular.”
The Emil typeface based on JournalSans (which, in its turn, is based on the Erbar typeface) is a multilayer synthesis of different gothic typefaces of that period. Our immediate goal in designing this typeface was to preserve the familiar appearance, bring it into today’s world, and define and develop the main visual idea. As a result, some basic relations and formal pairs have changed. We added variable grapheme characters and ligatures, which are based on them, into the typeface. It also includes symbol sets for the web, chess and additional versions of figures.
“Initially, this typeface was intended for my mother’s Russian language school in London. My mother explained that she needed ’a simple font, where letters Л and Д would resemble an upside-down V, because kids have a hard time remembering their shape and often write them backwards.’ I tried to do it, and I found it really fascinating, and later on it resulted in redefining the very idea of a ligature.
I named the typeface after the main character from Astrid Lindgren’s book Emil of Lönneberga. Emil is crafty and he is a real prankster — just like my ligatures.
A familiar nod of the upper part of А, which resembles a wave of a hand, makes the typeface look non-draft, which means that technically it can be included into the group of ’non-geometric’, even ’old style’ typefaces.”