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Minna Sakaria

MA Visual Communication, 2013–15

I’ve been working intensely since graduation, trying to get things rolling; I think I only had one week off! I’m setting up a studio with a fellow Royal College of Art alumna Carolina Dahl, laying the foundations, making a website, contacting clients and upscaling from freelancing to a full-time practice. She’s based in Gothenburg and I’m in Stockholm, and we’ve been travelling to meet clients in London. Last week, we went to Seoul to participate in the International Typography Biennale.

Carolina and I started working together in the second year of the Master’s. Our interests are closely aligned and I’d never met anyone with such similar visions and ambitions as my own before. In the summer between first and second-year, we had a trial period of working together and that’s why we named ourselves Summer Studio.

I did my BA in Graphic Design & Illustration at Konstfack University in Stockholm. It was a very good course and they have a Master’s programme there as well, but I chose the RCA because I wanted to get a broader perspective beyond Stockholm. Aside from wanting time to further define my own practice, I always knew I wanted to find a partner to work with and, luckily, that happened.

First-year was tightly scheduled. To begin with, I found that a bit frustrating but, looking back, I wouldn’t want it any other way because I learnt many good things. I always knew that I wanted to do graphic design, although illustration is a big influence in my work as well. It was good to be able to do illustration electives alongside design research and graphic design.

I worked on my dissertation over the summer, so I had done a lot of research and had a lot of energy built up to launch into the final year. I wrote about how hand-drawn type affects the value of communication, looking at less refined typefaces, and I framed this within queer theory. I wanted my dissertation to result in a kind of strategy for working critically with graphic design, and that was successful in that it informed the work I did for the Work-in-progress and Final Show.

For the Work-in-progress I designed a 3D modular typeface, made in wood. The pieces were like building blocks from which you can form each letter. My research was about daring to define your own structures and letter shapes, for type to be truly expressive. There are so many conventions in type design and that feels restrictive. The building blocks were intended to enable a critical approach to designing typefaces; with these modules, you can put them together in unexpected ways, and create a fantastical R instead of a normal R. It was about social construction – you can learn the convention, or you can explore your own fantasies or invent new forms. The work can function as a tool for expressive type-design, but also as a metaphor for de/re-construction of societal norms.

For the Final Show, I drew on primary research I’d done for the dissertation into the contexts for script typefaces and sans-serif typefaces. I found that they are used in a highly gendered way, for example, CocaCola Zero for men has a sans-serif font, and CocaCola Light for women is set in a script. Gendered type is also very apparent on t-shirts in high-street clothing stores, especially in the children’s department. I took that on into my final project, designing two new typefaces, and switching the statements and the type. It made the communication a lot more ambiguous. I call it queer type.

I feel like I’m 10 years older than when I started at the RCA, in that I had a lot of things I wanted to think about and I got the time to do that – think about them, explore them, work with them, defend them, and put them into words. I know much more about my ideas and my approach, for example that my work is founded in research. I feel more confident in my expression now.

The RCA offers diversity in practices, people and cultures. The multitude sharpens your mind in the process of defining your own practice. There are so many opportunities and the expectations of you are really high, from tutors and fellow students; I pushed myself in ways that I wouldn’t have done in another context.

"My research was about daring to define your own structures and letter shapes, for type to be truly expressive."
Minna Sakaria
Minna Sakaria