Amazing Typography in the Work of Katlego Phatlane

HOW’s online editor recently told me about an awesome fellow from Johannesburg, South Africa, who has some killer designs that feature amazing typography. I know—lots of adjectives in there. Totally necessary.

The fellow’s name? Katlego Phatlane. But he goes by Katt. If you haven’t seen his work, you’re missing out. And after interviewing him, I can safely say that if you haven’t heard him talk about his work, you are also missing out. So read on.

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Phatlane says he hasn’t classified his style because he feels he doesn’t have one yet. “That’s why I am constantly experimenting,” he says. “I’m not comfortable yet, which in many ways is a good thing because I’m always pushing myself.”

Phatlane originally wanted to be an architect, but he found his way into design thanks to an art teacher in his final year of high school. The teacher noticed Phatlane’s knack for problem-solving and suggested he consider studying visual communication. 

Amid all the client work, Phatlane seems to regularly carve out time for personal projects. “With most client projects there is mostly always a form of direction required, and the room for experimentation is guided by a lot of rules,” he says. “This is why I love working on my own projects, because there are no rules, no deadlines and the freedom to change things whenever the mood takes me. I find it much easier, though, to work on client projects because I love working in a team environment.”

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Phatlane notes that his biggest challenge in personal projects is to “create something beautiful out of a simple and mostly random thought. The final product is always exciting, that sense of being able to bring my thoughts to life in ways other people can relate [to] is very rewarding.”

When looking at his epic portfolio, it’s easy to assume that Phatlane’s favorite element in design is typography—and he confirms this. He creates a lot of 3D projects and is always looking for ways to fuse these with typography. “Whenever I see type, I see it in 3D almost immediately, so due to a lot of experimentation I don’t publish most projects; but those that I do will go to my Behance profile. It’s the easiest way to show my work to the masses, and it really shows your growth. I love up-skilling and challenging myself, so this network is great to keep track of that.”

One of the HOW team’s favorite pieces of Phatlane’s is his side-project poster “Always try to make type look amaze-balls.” Phatlane says he was inspired to create this after a random day out and seeing a friend’s expression, and goes on to say that he finds inspiration in “random ways all the time.

“Whenever I see something—it could be anything—it gets me thinking about something else,” he says. “I love it when that process begins because I know that some form of project is being born. So I immediately get a pencil and paper and I’m scamping away.”

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Phatlane considers working with Hearst on the chapter opener for O magazine’s 15th anniversary (pictured above) to be his biggest challenge. Hearst really liked the style of one of his projects and wanted him to adapt that style for the opener. “This was challenging, as I had to adapt something that was so unique to what it was, and creating the same thing with ‘restrictions’ was quite intense,” Phatlane says. “It’s always challenging adapting something you’ve thought up [in a] carefree [way] and just for fun to something that would be critiqued by the world, and it had to look inspired—truly difficult.”

He’s at a place now in his career where he’s eager to collaborate with as many people as possible. “I want to be able to work with anybody, because at the end of the day we all just want to make beautiful work, so why not do it together!” he says.

I asked Phatlane whether he has any words of wisdom for designers looking to experiment more in the realm of typography. This is what he said:

“There is really something beautiful about typography that I can’t really say I’ve experienced with any other element in design. Typography is so broad, complicated in its technicality, and so subjective when customizing; but with all that, everyone can have their own unique expression. It’s how language looks, that to me is poetic because it’s like a design element that can relate with anybody from anywhere. This is so special in the global village we now live in; to have such a powerful tool at your disposal is something I wouldn’t take lightly. So if you’re a designer [who isn’t] excited by the sight of a well-designed ampersand, I worry about you.”

[Editor’s note: For the record, Phatlane included a winky face with that last sentence. Though I daresay he will indeed be worried about you—it’s the way of the typography lover, no?]

More work from Phatlane:
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