Serebro Nabora

We tried to get to the bottom of the phenomenon that is type conference Serebro Nabora and decided to have a chat with its founder, type designer, teacher and organiser of the Brown­fox stu­dio Gayaneh Bagdasaryan.

15 August 2014






Vika Bogorodskaya
Nikolay Shtok
Maria Krasyukova

erebro Nabora type con­fer­ence was thought up in 2012 and its first edi­tion was a huge suc­cess in the au­tumn of the same year. It turns out that a lot of people from all over Rus­sia and bey­ond are will­ing to share their know­ledge about type and ty­po­graphy—a new space for pro­fes­sion­al dia­logue and new dis­cov­er­ies was born. Today, Serebro Nabora is a large-scale in­ter­na­tion­al event with in­tens­ive courses, mas­ter­classes and ex­hib­i­tions. In 2014, de­sign­ers and ty­po­graph­ers of in­ter­na­tion­al renown are to speak at the con­fer­ence: we’re look­ing for­ward to ses­sions with Lu­cas de Groot, Erik van Blok­land and John Hud­son, among oth­ers. The Rus­si­an speak­ers in­clude ty­po­graph­er Ev­geny Grig­or­iev, as well as de­sign­ers Elena Nov­oselova, Ir­ina Smirnova and Al­ex­an­dra Korolkova. The full list of par­ti­cipants looks im­press­ive.


Gay­aneh Bag­dasary­an calmly stirs her tea and de­scribes with an un­der­tone of hu­mour the concept of her con­fer­ence, which in 2014 be­came an in­ter­na­tion­al event. She doesn’t rush to bowl you over with en­thu­si­asm or come across as a per­son whose every minute is planned in ad­vance. It seems that Gay­aneh must have some sort of philo­soph­er’s stone that helps her to find time for both design work and the con­fer­ence, but over the course of our con­ver­sa­tion comes the un­der­stand­ing that her suc­cess is based on noth­ing more than sol­id con­fid­ence in her abil­it­ies and many hours of hard work. © Photo: Vika Bogorod­skaya.

How did you get the idea to hold a type con­fer­ence?

It was an ab­so­lutely im­puls­ive de­cision. I’m al­ways like that: do first, think later. I was go­ing to a Ukrain­i­an type event, and I was sud­denly struck by the thought that here, in Rus­sia, there’s noth­ing sim­il­ar, while there are a num­ber of such events in Ukraine. I found this so un­fair and even hurt­ful that I thought, “I have to fix this—right now, today”. I im­me­di­ately sat at my com­puter and in­vited sev­er­al friends to meet up and give some talks about type. They all agreed. Wak­ing up the next morn­ing, I, of course, real­ised that I’d been too hasty, but it was too late to back out: I would have felt awk­ward in front of the people I’d in­vited. Since I’d got my­self in such a mess, I’d have to give it a shot. But I as­sumed that it would be a low-key event—twenty to thirty people, fifty at most. I couldn’t have ima­gined that people would come spe­cially from Vla­divos­tok and that there wouldn’t be enough room in the hall for them.

It was a spon­tan­eous urge—I felt ashamed for my coun­try, that’s all. If I’d sat down, thought about the best way to plan it and star­ted think­ing up strategies, I nev­er would have made the con­fer­ence hap­pen.

What was next? What chal­lenges did you face when or­gan­ising the con­fer­ence?

I in­vited some po­ten­tial speak­ers, we dis­cussed their top­ics and I came up with a sig­na­ture style. Dimitry Rastvortsev came up with the name Serebro Nabora (which can be roughly trans­lated as “Sil­ver Type”). We did the web­site to­geth­er. I had to deal with the prac­tic­al is­sues. The first prob­lem I came up against was find­ing an ap­pro­pri­ate hall. In the first year, I changed the ven­ue three times, be­cause I gradu­ally real­ised that more people would come than I thought. Fi­nally, I was lucky enough to meet Vas­ily Tsy­gankov, the head of the Graph­ic Design De­part­ment at the In­sti­tute of Busi­ness and Design. The in­sti­tute offered me its premises, and they also took on all the or­gan­isa­tion­al con­cerns: equip­ment, sound, chairs. That was a great re­lief for me, be­cause I wouldn’t have man­aged my­self, of course. The most dif­fi­cult thing in the first year was the fact I didn’t real­ise how many people were go­ing to come. Re­gis­tra­tion for the con­fer­ence was free, which made it hard to count the num­ber of at­tendees. I closed re­gis­tra­tion when the num­ber of people reached 900. The day be­fore the con­fer­ence, I coun­ted the chairs in the hall…

There were ninety at most?

There were about two hun­dred and fifty of them. Of course, we re­served an­oth­er room with a live stream for those who wouldn’t fit in­to the main hall. But I knew that people were com­ing from Nov­os­ibirsk and Kazan, from Rus­sia and neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. Most of all, I was wor­ried that there’d be no space for the people that had spe­cially trav­elled a long way. Every­one made a real ef­fort: they used up their days off, bought train tick­ets, booked ho­tels, some of them even put in hol­i­days to come to the con­fer­ence—that made a real im­pres­sion on me. I wanted to see their ex­pect­a­tions met, so that no one would be dis­ap­poin­ted. In the end, we man­aged to fit every­one in—some people had to stand up, oth­ers listened from the bal­cony, but no one com­plained, and every­one was sat­is­fied.

Do you won­der why people got so phe­nom­en­ally in­ter­ested in a type con­fer­ence?

I think that people were will­ing to travel be­cause there’s noth­ing like it the provinces and re­gions. Even Mo­scow can’t really boast a lot of events like ours. But in Mo­scow there are at least schools and pro­fes­sion­als. We can meet up and call each oth­er—there’s a pro­fes­sion­al scene. Re­cently, for ex­ample, I went to Chisinau (the cap­it­al of Mol­dova) to do a three-day in­tens­ive course, which was a real nov­elty there. Their graph­ic de­sign­ers don’t get pro­fes­sion­al edu­ca­tion; they’ve learnt everything them­selves.

A total lack of spe­cial­ised edu­ca­tion­al in­sti­tu­tions is the main reas­on that people are so eager to get to a con­fer­ence. There, they can re­ceive some in­form­a­tion, learn something new, en­rich them­selves. And of course, a con­fer­ence is a great emo­tion­al boost, which can in­spire you for the whole year.

So people get in­to the pro­fes­sion­al circle and start to par­ti­cip­ate in this one big thing to­geth­er.

Yes. They break out of their routine. Most de­sign­ers’ routine, sadly, is bor­ing. They do the same thing every day. They need to step back and ex­per­i­ence, so to speak, the Great and Beau­ti­ful. It’s really im­port­ant. A lot of people have said to me that the con­fer­ence is help­ful be­cause it provides a burst of cre­at­ive en­ergy. Then people go and sign up for spe­cial courses—to learn about cal­li­graphy or ty­po­graphy. The con­fer­ence gives them a big shake-up, pulls them out of the routine.

Daniil Voroby­ov’s talk “On the evol­u­tion of let­ter­forms in Rus­si­an Print­ing Type in the 18th and 19th Cen­tur­ies”. Serebro Nabora con­fer­ence. Mo­scow, 2012.

The first Serebro is best re­membered for its ver­sat­ile pro­gramme. The sub­ject mat­ter of the talks was un­der­stand­able to both type and graph­ic de­sign­ers. How does this ap­proach dif­fer from oth­er glob­al type con­fer­ences?

I must say that Serebro Nabora is gradu­ally nar­row­ing its fo­cus too.

Won’t that scare away people who don’t work in type de­vel­op­ment?

I don’t know the an­swer to that ques­tion, but the pro­gramme planned for this year is sim­il­ar to the ones pro­posed by over­seas con­fer­ences. It’s more type-based. In the first year, the sub­ject mat­ter was broad­er more out of des­per­a­tion than any­thing else. We don’t have enough type ex­perts to make the en­tire con­fer­ence about type. Then when I star­ted to in­vite for­eign speak­ers, the gen­er­al top­ics of the talks be­came more spe­cif­ic. Per­haps this will mean that the audi­ence will be smal­ler. But, as a type de­sign­er, I wanted to make an event for my­self and people like me, so that it wouldn’t be ne­ces­sary to go abroad and so that the talks would be trans­lated in­to Rus­si­an. That’s im­port­ant too: not every­one speaks good enough Eng­lish to un­der­stand such com­plex texts on the fly.

How are the themes formed? Do the speak­ers sug­gest things that they’re in­ter­ested in them­selves?

Yes. They of­ten sug­gest themes them­selves, and I agree. Some­times, they pro­pose mul­tiple top­ics, and I choose the one that seems the most in­ter­est­ing to me. Oc­ca­sion­ally, I ask spe­cif­ic speak­ers to do spe­cif­ic sub­jects that I con­sider im­port­ant and rel­ev­ant. But, as a rule, people just talk about their work, and that’s how it should be. Con­fer­ences are there so that spe­cial­ists can share their re­cent ex­per­i­ence with each oth­er. His­tor­ic­al ma­ter­i­al can and should be found in books, while con­fer­ences are for as yet un­pub­lished thought that no one has had the time to share.

In oth­er words, we can say that Serebro Nabora re­flects what is hap­pen­ing in the pro­fes­sion now—some re­search is also present, but to a less­er ex­tent. Is that right?

Yes, I’m more in­ter­ested in the up-to-date. But I wouldn’t set re­search in op­pos­i­tion to the here and now. Re­search can be top­ic­al too, and there are a lot of talks at Serebro that show this. For ex­ample, Al­ex­an­dra Korolkova is go­ing to present us with her re­flec­tions on type design for the second time. John Hud­son is go­ing to speak on a re­search-re­lated theme too.

What gets the most act­ive re­ac­tion from the audi­ence at a con­fer­ence?

Last year, the most heated dis­cus­sion sprang up around font rent­al. This con­firms the need to fo­cus on rel­ev­ant, top­ic­al sub­jects, on which people feel a lack of know­ledge, or want to hear the opin­ion of pro­fes­sion­als. Every­one, without ex­cep­tion, was im­pressed by Telingater’s lec­ture. I didn’t ex­pect such a suc­cess—and this suc­cess wasn’t linked with the rel­ev­ance of the top­ic, but the speak­er’s skill. Vladi­mir was ex­tremely well pre­pared, which brought res­ults. We do get some dis­ap­point­ing talks, of course, but you can’t do any­thing about that. I try to in­vite top-class speak­ers whose talks will be pre­dict­ably in­ter­est­ing, but I can’t test them all. My prin­cipled po­s­i­tion is that the speak­ers should be as di­verse as pos­sible from year to year. This, of course, is linked to a risk of dis­ap­point­ment.


Vladi­mir Telingater’s talk about the life and work of his fath­er, So­lomon Telingater (1903-1969), an out­stand­ing ty­po­graph­er, cal­li­graph­er and book artist, stuck in many people’s minds at the 2013 con­fer­ence. © Photo: Maria Krasy­ukova.

The last Serebro Nabora was com­ple­men­ted by year-round mas­ter­classes. Please tell us a bit more about them.

My part­ners at the In­sti­tute of Busi­ness and Design sug­ges­ted the idea of con­duct­ing mas­ter­classes. They’re pro­fes­sion­ally in­volved in edu­ca­tion and saw the de­mand for these work­shops. They sug­ges­ted that I not wait for next Novem­ber. If people are so eager to study—be my guest: we’ve got the fa­cil­it­ies, the teach­ers and all the re­sources needed to con­tin­ue the pro­cess throughout the year. At first, edu­ca­tion wasn’t a part of my plans, and for me per­son­ally, the most in­ter­est­ing thing is the con­fer­ence it­self.

What is the level of the mas­ter­classes? Who at­tends them?

Es­sen­tially, de­sign­ers who work in agen­cies and design stu­di­os. More of­ten than not, young ones: the av­er­age age is prob­ably twenty-five to thirty. They’re de­sign­ers who want to im­prove their level and fill the gaps in their know­ledge.

Among the teach­ers of these courses are names like Bor­is Tro­fimov, Vladi­mir Chaika and Dmitry Kavko—a quite di­verse set of pro­fes­sion­als in terms of their meth­ods and style of work. How were they chosen?

There’s no con­nec­tion between their courses, of course. You’re talk­ing about com­pletely dif­fer­ent classes. I just try to ana­lyse what’s miss­ing and draw con­clu­sions from that. Cal­li­graphy and type the­ory are in de­mand. It’s in­ter­est­ing that nar­row type-re­lated sub­jects are much more pop­u­lar than, say, posters. Maybe there’s already enough of that around. But spe­cif­ic type themes are in short sup­ply in our edu­ca­tion sys­tem, so I’m go­ing to ac­cen­tu­ate this where pos­sible, al­though it’s not easy—we don’t have many people who are able to teach the the­ory and prac­tice of type.

Do the or­gan­isers of Serebro Nabora want to pub­lish prin­ted ma­ter­i­al based on their con­fer­ences?

Due to our lim­ited re­sources, I’ve tried to do only what is ab­so­lutely ne­ces­sary from the very be­gin­ning, in­stead of spread­ing my­self too thin for the sake of op­tion­al ex­tras. The pub­lic­a­tion of prin­ted ma­ter­i­als re­quires time and money, and I can’t see any point in it. All the video archives are on­line, if any­one feels like watch­ing them again.

“The Meta­morph­oses of pre-Pet­rine Cyril­lic”—Vera Evstafieva’s talk at Serebro Nabora 2013.

What awaits vis­it­ors to the con­fer­ence this year?

A fant­ast­ic pro­gramme is planned. There will be a lot of in­ter­est­ing speak­ers. I hope that all the in­vited for­eign­ers come—there are some real stars.

Dav­id Jonath­an Ross from Font Bur­eau, Lu­cas de Groot, John Hud­son and Erik van Blok­land have already been an­nounced on the con­fer­ence Face­book page—it’s an im­press­ive list of speak­ers. Who else will we see and hear?

I’ve in­vited a de­sign­er who, in my opin­ion, made the best typeface of 2013. I’m talk­ing about Laurenz Brun­ner, the new European star of type design. Just van Ros­sum and Fre­derik Ber­laen, the cre­at­or of RoboFont, are com­ing too. Each of them will give a talk, and they’re go­ing to do a three-day work­shop to­geth­er. Erik van Blok­land is go­ing to do a mas­ter­class on TypeCook­er too. Lu­cas de Groot will con­duct a three-day work­shop. Liza En­e­beis, cre­at­ive dir­ect­or of the world-fam­ous Stu­dio Dumbar, will be there too. I de­lib­er­ately thinned out the type spe­cial­ists with graph­ic de­sign­ers. There will be four Rus­si­an speak­ers: Ev­geny Grig­or­iev, Al­ex­an­dra Korolkova, Lena Nov­oselova and Ir­ina Smirnova. In total, I’m plan­ning twelve talks: six each day. That’s not a lot. Last year it was a bit much, and I felt that it’s hard to di­gest all the in­form­a­tion. This con­fer­ence will be more bal­anced and un­hur­ried.

How many days will the event run?

Two days with six talks each. Ex­hib­i­tion open­ings are planned for the even­ings. One ex­hib­i­tion will be ded­ic­ated to the win­ners of the Mod­ern Cyril­lic com­pet­i­tion, and the second will be a stu­dent ex­hib­i­tion, sim­il­ar to the one that Masha Doreuli did last year. She’s go­ing to cur­ate it this year, but we’re go­ing to show oth­er edu­ca­tion­al in­sti­tu­tions too, not just the Roy­al Academy in The Hag­ue. In ad­di­tion, three in­tens­ive courses are planned, so, all in all, Serebro Nabora 2014 will last from 24 Novem­ber to 3 Decem­ber.

Can we ex­pect any talks from for­eign­ers about our en­vir­on­ment? I mean graph­ic design and the Cyril­lic al­pha­bet.

For­eign­ers do want to talk about the Cyril­lic al­pha­bet, but Cyril­lic isn’t what these people are truly known for, which is why I really don’t want to fo­cus on our situ­ation. That wouldn’t be the right thing to do. We could prob­ably tell them something about Cyril­lic, not the oth­er way round.

Is there any pro­spect of Serebro Nabora tak­ing place in oth­er cit­ies?

The con­fer­ence—no, but vis­it­ing mas­ter­classes are already be­ing or­gan­ised. I re­cently went to Chisinau, and the Lop­ukh­ina sis­ters from Kiev were there after me. Al­ex­an­dra Korolkova went to Minsk. I think that this as­pect is go­ing to de­vel­op fur­ther, be­cause it’s very much in de­mand.

Judging by the frenzy that the con­fer­ence pro­vokes, can we say that the pro­fes­sion of type de­sign­er has gained in pop­ular­ity?

Yes, the pro­fes­sion is be­com­ing more and more pop­u­lar at the mo­ment. It’s be­gin­ning to bring in money, which was im­possible be­fore. People are start­ing to get in­volved in­de­pend­ently and earn from it. I’d like to see ty­po­graphy and graph­ic design evolving at the same rate.

In this re­spect, Vladi­mir Krichevsky is def­in­itely right—ty­po­graphy is lag­ging be­hind type design. A good typeface is just the raw ma­ter­i­al that’s needed for the design. But if nobody is able to do that, it doesn’t mat­ter how good or bad the typeface is.

I want to ask about the or­gan­isers’ prob­lems of Serebro Nabora.

I don’t have enough money (laughs). Al­though we man­age to bluff our way through every time. A big spon­sor mi­ra­cu­lously ap­pears at the last mo­ment, like last year: Adobe gave us some money in lit­er­ally the last week, which was just enough for us to break even. Para­type al­ways spon­sors, Font­lab helps out. Small com­pan­ies, for ex­ample, De­mon Press, of­fer us their work. The print shop 24­print also provides its re­sources to sup­port us. The ShanDesign stu­dio shot a short film about the con­fer­ence, voiced by a vo­lun­teer, for ab­so­lutely noth­ing. Vo­lun­teers gladly help with the little things: when we need to meet someone, put up a poster some­where or buy tick­ets to the Krem­lin for for­eign guests. It’s nice when little-known stu­di­os of­fer a bit of help. I really ap­pre­ci­ate it.

A short film about the con­fer­ence, shot by Sergey Shan­ovich’s ShanDesign stu­dio in 2013.

Some for­eign com­pan­ies choose a dif­fer­ent type of spon­sor­ship—they send a speak­er at their own ex­pense. Most not­ably, Font Bur­eau. They pay for their speak­er’s travel and ac­com­mod­a­tion them­selves, which I agree to, of course. There are a lot of costs: we need to pay to hire the hall, which should be re­spect­able enough and in the city centre. Sim­ul­tan­eous in­ter­pret­ing is big money. One earphone alone costs us 300 roubles—just the earphone, without the in­ter­pret­er. Then, of course, we need to get all the speak­ers here, provide ac­com­mod­a­tion. And there are a lot of little things: print­ing leaf­lets, serving cof­fee to guests. Ob­vi­ously, part of the costs are covered by the tick­ets, which we sold at a sym­bol­ic price of 500 roubles, but this year the price will prob­ably go up to 1000–1500. Any­way, that’s nowhere near the money that we spend. We couldn’t ex­ist without spon­sors—con­fer­ences are an un­prof­it­able busi­ness.

Would it be pos­sible to find a spon­sor in the form of the state?

I think that the state should sup­port ini­ti­at­ives like Serebro Nabora, but don’t know how to go about it. I don’t have the right friends and con­tacts. That’s why I sit and day­dream that one day my phone will ring and I’ll hear: “Ms. Bag­dasary­an, we’re call­ing from the Min­istry of Cul­ture, and we want to sup­port your great event”.

Now, two years on, what does Serebro Nabora mean to you?

Serebro Nabora doesn’t oc­cupy a very large place in my life. I’m prob­ably bet­ter known be­cause of the con­fer­ence, rather than my typefaces, but the thing that I de­vote most of my work­ing hours to is still more im­port­ant for me, and I can talk about it at great length. The fact that I or­gan­ised the con­fer­ence—well, that just happened. I could stop do­ing it or pass it on to someone else. I would even be glad just to go as an audi­ence mem­ber, to save my­self from all the or­gan­isa­tion­al wor­ries, be­cause it really is very dif­fi­cult. I just want us to have a con­fer­ence in Mo­scow that I could vis­it and where I could listen to in­ter­est­ing speak­ers with sim­ul­tan­eous in­ter­pret­a­tion.

Dmitry Rastvort­sev—graph­ic and type de­sign­er, au­thor of a num­ber of ori­gin­al type fam­il­ies, awardee of an in­ter­na­tion­al com­pet­i­tion “Mod­ern Cyril­lic—2009” (DR Cro­codile typeface).

Serebro Nabora