Typography Spotlight: Nikita Prokhorov

ADC Member masters the art of the ambigram

Wow, New York, that Snowpocalypse was a bit of a letdown, no? Sure, it was more than a light dusting, but nowhere near the seventeen feet of snow the news outlets seemed to predict. But don’t worry — meteorological phenomena may let you down, but ADC and Monotype’s Typography Month is here for you.

Just like last year’s Photography Month and Illustration Month, ADC Typography Month features a daily Typography Spotlight, highlighting ADC Members and Young Guns who love working with words and letters. Some of the names are already famous within the design community, while others will be new for you to discover, but all of them are card-carrying ADC Members from around the world.

Next up in the Typography Spotlight: A New York based ADC Member who can certainly turn a word on its head.


New York, NY, USA


Where did your interest in typography begin? It’s generally not something kids in kindergarten aspire to be. When did you discover that you could actually make a living out of it?

My initial interest in typography grew out of necessity, when I attended school as a graphic designer…we kind of had to learn about that typography thingwhatchamacallit. While I experimented a bit with typography, it never really evolved to fully fledged hand lettering, as I was perfectly happy with using existing typefaces with just slight tweaks. My real interest in hand lettering developed several years after graduate school.

As for discovering that I can actually make a living out of it… I’m still discovering that!

How much of your ability is self-taught versus through schooling?

Almost all of my hand lettering ability is self taught. My traditional education comes from undergraduate and graduate degrees in graphic design. As my interest in hand lettering appeared several years after I finished graduate school, most (if not all) of my hand lettering have been self taught, in addition to watching tutorials online and researching other artists that have made a career out of hand lettering and custom typography. The obsession with ambigrams appeared after I read Angels & Demons by Dan Brown also helped my hand lettering develop rather rapidly: eventually, it led to the publication of my own book, Ambigrams Revealed, in March 2013.

How would you best describe your style? How did you foster that style? Do you tend to lean towards one type of lettering?

I’d like to think that I don’t have a style, but I see certain repetitive letterforms appear in my work, especially ambigrams. I try to experiment as much as I can, and to never fall into the constraints of a specific lettering style. At times, the project requirements guide the end result, other times it’s vice versa. But I always strive for diversity!

“There’s always someone who excels in the type of design you want to pursue, and figuring out how to do it better (and make a career out of it) has been challenging.”

Walk us through your usual type design process.

For initial exploration and development, it’s white paper and pencil. Rough doodles, thumbnail roughs, etc.
For details and refinement, it’s vellum, pencil, and Sharpie, with more precise sketches.

I always start on paper. In an ideal case scenario, the final sketch I bring into the computer is as close to the final desired vector lettering as possible. But sometimes, the allure of the software proves to be too much and I take a shortcut to the computer with rough pencil sketches. About 80% of the time in those situations, I end up going back to paper.

What is your favorite ‘practical’ font, one for everyday use?

Papyrus and Comic Sans. If you ask why….well, it can only get better after using either one of those typefaces.

Do you have a favorite letter of the alphabet when it comes to experimenting with design?

I love letters that have perfect symmetry: O, X, N. The preexisting symmetry and balance leaves a lot of room for play.

Who wins in a fight: serif or sans serif?

Depends on the context, whether it’s just uppercase and lowercase letters versus each other, and whether they’re allowed to use any diacritical symbols and punctuation as weapons..

The obvious difference between an illustrator and a letterer or typographer is that the latter works mainly with words and letters. Name a not-so-obvious difference between the artforms, one that certainly applies to you.

I wouldn’t really consider myself an illustrator, so I can’t comment on that difference. Personally, I’ve always stuck to black and white type…perhaps because I always try to make my designs function in black and white first? I don’t often go beyond the color/illustrative barrier, and I admire illustrators that take hand lettering and seamlessly blend it with illustration, color, texture, etc.

What other artistic passions do you have? Where else do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration from music, reading, cultural events, etc. May sound cliche, but it’s completely true! I also love adrenaline-inducing activities, such as skydiving, wing walking, and scuba diving. Any of those will give you a different perspective on your work and provide you with virtually unlimited inspiration (think colors of the sea life and patterns on the ocean floor!).

Which professionals do you look up to the most in the typography/lettering world?

Doyald Young – I’ve always admired him for his pure and classical letterforms and monograms. His work is simply bliss to look at. A few other lettering artists I admire: Gerard Huerta, Tony DiSpigna, Tom Carnase, Herb Lubalin, Ken Barber and Keith Morris. As a community, Dribbble has a wonderful assortment of amazing talent.

What is the most challenging thing about your career?

Finding my own niche has been a challenge. There’s always someone who excels in the type of design you want to pursue (lettering, logo design, publication design, etc.), and figuring out how to do it better (and make a career out of it) has been challenging. Hopefully I’ll figure that out soon!

At the end of the day, what do you love most about being a typographer or letterer?

The flexibility of my job, as a graphic designer and as a lettering artist. I truly love my job…and i don’t really consider it a job.