This June, the first Typographics took place in New York City. Subtitled “A design festival for people who use type”, it was more than an average design conference. In fact, a 10-day program was set up, with workshops, talks, and a multitude events, culminating in a two-day conference. In parallel, a TypeLab was open most of the time, to be a place where the attendees and presenters could get together and learn from each other.
The nucleus of the event was New York’s Cooper Union – home to the Type@Cooper program, and the archives of the Herb Lublin Study Center – both of which were elementary in making Typographics a reality.
The TypeLab is an institution first started in the 1990s, to present an alternate program to the rather formal ATypI conference – at the time very business-oriented. There have been multiple installations of TypeLab, but not recently. Typographics presented a chance to revive the TypeLab concept, where it was a place for (planned and/or impromptu) lectures, workshops and critique sessions.
The venue for TypeLab New York was a publicly accessible store just across the street from Cooper Union. Normal passers-by would sometimes walk in, and wonder what was going on – it was often interesting to hear their comments and observations.
John Downer did his part in making the store front more attractive, by painting a huge window splash, demonstrating a different faceting technique for each letter he painted.
Inside the lab, there was a constant flow of workshops and presentations on all kinds of type-related topics – programming, lettering, calligraphy, hardware hacking, CSS, interpolation, Python etc, – too many to list!
Jeffrey Zeldman stopped by the TypeLab to be interviewed by Nick Sherman, the result of which was made into a web page overnight by Marko Dugonjić and Tin Kadoić.
Nick Sherman brought a button machine, which was an instant success with the attendees. To pay tribute to David Jonathan Ross (who greatly contributed to Typographics, but unfortunately could not come in person), many DJR Fanboy buttons were made. TypeLab was an awesome place to hang out, learn from others, and have great conversations.
The venue for the conference talks was Cooper Union’s Great Hall, which “has stood for more than a century as a bastion of free speech and a witness to the flow of American History and ideas”.
The speakers were well-selected, many not often seen at type conferences. As one of the organizers, it was clear that Roger Black was responsible for influencing the selection quite a bit. As a result, the topics presented were faceted quite broadly – type often being the main topic, but the best talks actually went beyond type itself, and put it in context with other aspects of design.
An outstanding presentation considering the connection of type and web technology came from Erik van Blokland, who demonstrated that type does no longer have to be a static design element (as it would be in a printed book).His research on curves responding to the viewport size was demonstrated through a series of examples, which made clear how much ahead of the (responsive) curve Erik is.
Another talk with a strong focus on technology was held by Marko Dugonjić who demonstrated several projects that challenge the lack of typographic variety on the web. One example is the Benton Modern Brochure site, which has both Formal and Expressive settings – they make the same content look and feel entirely different, by just swapping out the CSS styles.
Some of the presentations considered the challenges of using type and planning typography in a bigger, often very complex system: Jacky Goldberg (Yahoo!) made a point about type choice too often being about the smallest common denominator, and explained how she works against that. Carrie Gee introduced a re-designed TIME magazine, (using Commercial Type’s Duplicate Ionic and a new text face by Kent Lew) and revealed the challenges encountered in the typography for such a big project. Sue Apfelbaum talked about typefaces as the key ingredient of an editorial brand, and how consistent use of type can ensure brand continuity. In a very energetic fashion, Bethany Heck made clear how prevailing notions of using only X number of typefaces per project are questionable. She convincingly explained when Helvetica might want to be mixed with Univers; or how a mix of “too many” typefaces can be perceived as harmonious.
Naturally, there were presentations about the subject of type itself — how and why type is drawn, by whom, and how type is perceived: Christan Schwartz pointed out that technology of application can stylistically change the design of a typeface. For instance, typefaces drawn for phototypesetting will have more round or “doughy” details, simply because the technology was good at reproducing that one particular aspect. Matteo Bologna of Mucca Design (he seems to be involved with an organization called “TDC”) revealed the fact that “real men draw text faces”. Mike Fortress communicated the problems encountered when designing a system of symbols. Through shared properties like shapes, proportions and line quality, symbols are made to work together, a workflow with many parallels to typeface design. Bruno Maag and Alessia Nicotra (a very elegant team) demonstrated which areas of the brain are active and stimulated while reading. They also explained how learning different writing systems can influence the development of the brain. Sumner Stone gave a very moving tribute to Hermann Zapf, who had passed away just days earlier.It was clear how influential Hermann Zapf was for Stone’s own career, and how close the two men were. The loss of Zapf is a truly personal matter for the many people he influenced. Alex Trochut showed examples of his always-delightful lettering work, but he made his presentation more than a portfolio talk. His advice to designers is using the things learned from idols to find their own voice – and not be shy to admit their sources of inspiration.
One of my personal highlights was a session called “The Good Old Days, The Bad Old Days”: Two “New York Design Power Couples” took the stage: Paula Scher and Steven Heller, Louise Fili and Seymour Chwast. Each of them shared a small anecdote or allegory encountered in their careers as designers when they were still working in an analogue fashion. It was a very personal and charming insight, somehow fitting the conference very well.
Being distracted by TypeLab, I had no chance of attending all of the conference talks. There is a rumor that one day everything will be available online – I am looking forward to catching up!
I think that the Typographics conference was a big success, with outstanding talks and a very good vibe – I particularly enjoyed the TypeLab. The only issue for me was (as always) not being able to be in multiple places at once.
I hope there will be another Typographics next year – I’ll try to be there!
Frank Grießhammer, July 2015