ATypI 2015 São Paulo (part 2): Letras flutuantes /// Floating letters

Along with this year’s shift towards discussing the business, ATypI visitors could indulge into the colorful, vivid type design culture of Brazil and neighboring countries. Plus, some speakers displayed extreme – or is it basic? – thoughts about working ethics.

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By Sonja Knecht, @sk_txet

If you want to start off with overall conference impressions and get to now the first talks please read my report ATypI 2015 São Paulo (part 1): Adeus romantismo! /// Bye-bye, romanticism. Now here we pay attention to the local type scene and to some talks of unexpected nature.

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Fernanda Martins took boat sign painter Luís Junior to São Paulo; he demonstrated how he and his co-artists in Amazonia create their bountiful letters.
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Fernanda Martins, type design professor and initiator of the Letras que Flutuam (“Floating Letters”) project. She currently lives and works in Belém, North of Brazil.

Letras flutuante /// Floating Letters

Fernanda Martins aquainted us to the amazing Amazon boat sign painters. This was wonderful. After first just documenting their work via some incidental private pictures, she found out about the patterns, rhythms and rules of the “Floating Letters“ and expanded her findings to her Letras que Flutuam project.

The less influenced and globalized, the more beautiful the letters?

Thus, Fernanda Martins supports the artists in exchanging their knowledge and share their traditions across regional borders. She cooperated with letter painters from Peru to meet and work in São Paulo.

It would be interesting to get to know more about the aesthetics Fernanda Martins derived (like different forms of serifs or the special shadows) and connected to type design. To me it was a pity to see her information-and-emotion-packed lecture in one of the smaller (research) sections. The Floating Letters should flood big main stages for abundant audiences in Europe and in the US to get to know them. Which, at second thought, might admittedly be a contradiction to what Fernanda said (referring to the origins of her project) about letters probably being of more beauty the less globalized they get …

22552074791_fcf2aafa08_k Floating LettersAzuzena Del Carmen and Alinder Espada, founders of Carga Màxima lettering workshop in Lima, Peru (all pictures by Luke Garcia and Andre Hawk)

22551951221_3586a19b39_k Floating LettersLuís Junior, one of the amazing Amazonian “letter openers” (“abridores de letras”) of Letras que Flutuam (right), together with the Peruvian painters from Carga Màxima

The “Abridores de Letras” – boats letters openers, imagine! – live and work in the North of Brazil, which is some 3.500 km away from São Paulo. We must have this in mind to understand how special it is that they joined us at the conference, and also to have speakers from several South American countries meeting in one place. The distances are not quite the same as those most of us are used to.

Sandro Fetter together with Edna Lucia Cunha Lima gave a survey of the most important models of teaching how to write in Brazilian school books in the twentieth century. Will personal handwriting survive? In which way? Do we still need it, and what is it good for exactly? Different continent, same questions.

Priscila Farias mapped the early history of typography in São Paulo; Jose Roberto D’Elboux gave a talk and took us to a walk through the neighborhood to get to know about typical urban typography in São Paulo: handcrafted art déco lettering on impressive apartment buildings.

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Rafael Neder with ATypI’s Marina Chaccur, who helped him translate the personal estimations about type in his country he made in Brazilian Portuguese

Rafael Neder added to this by presenting the practize of Brazilian letterpress today, analizing the main characters in the double sense: the protagonists of this vivid community and their output.

“São Paulo is the uggliest city in South America. But I love it.” (Rafael Neder)

He took the audience on a funky video journey with Brazilian rhythms, presenting local letterpress workshops. Rafael Neder was the one to answer the essential question “what is the future of Brazilian type design” in beautiful intense Portuguese (translated by Marina Chaccur): “It is a difficult question; we discuss this a lot. We don’t have a conclusion. Not that we have no identity! This mixture is tipical for us but I’m afraid that this vitality can get lost”. Well to us visitors it does not look like anything is getting lost here. Different country, same sorrows, again?

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Isabella Ribeiro Aragão about Funtimod (pictures by Luke Garcia and Andre Hawk)

Isabella Ribeiro Aragão summarized the story of Funtimod, the Fundição de Tipos Modernos (Modern Type foundry). Funtimod (founded in 1932) was the first and largest Brazilian type manufacturer. But how Brazilian was it, actually? Funtimod was founded by German immigrants who used a lot of imported matrices from Europe. Isabella analized this and identified key type families that were in the focus for adapation, plus Brazilian adaptations. Fascinating! Isabella Ribeiro Aragão almost crawl into the letters and “felt like a true researcher” microscoping Funtimod type samples.

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Tony de Marco run on stage to camouflage with the local ATypI team (all pictures by Luke Garcia and Andre Hawk)

Tony de Marco and Claudio Rocha presented Tupigrafia Magazine (founded in 2000) and great spirits; João Bandeira let us indulge into the “Popcretos” (a series of poems) by Augusto de Campos, who in his visual poetry combined the vivid aesthetics rooted in 1960s pop culture with political implications and linguistic resources. João here was backuped by Tony de Marco who added several videos presenting de Campos’ concrete poems, a “tension of word-things in space-time“. I liked the haptical way of how both this poet and the presenters seem to perceive type. Yes, letters are something to touch.

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João Bandeira aqcuainted us to the visual poems by Augusto de Campos

Dario Muhafara and Maria Laura Nieto from Buenos Aires, Argentina, presented their front door numbers. This system of urban street signs on oval enamel plates, is inspired by English Baroque type and still crafted by hand. In more than 100 years it grew organically into something very beautiful, vivid, that still seems to link the growing city of Buenos Aires to nineteenth century industrial Europe.

“Juan is 70 and his son wants to be a philosopher.”

Dario Muhafara pointed out the subtle differences and details of those numbers and shows pictures of were they are made, by Juan, Carlos, and other enamel artists in Buenos Aires: “these workshops are very much different from the Adobe offices.” And the enamel artists sons tend to turn to other professions instead.
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Dario Muhafara from Buenos Aires, Argentina
Dario describes the process of producing the signs, including the stencil matrices, and links them to type design today by pointing out contrasts, serifs, etc. But will they survive? Can those beautiful number plates be preserved as digital typefaces only? Or in real live in the city streets?

At this point I want to name one of the many interesting research talks (please excuse, it is just not possible to refer to all the talks), somehow pars-pro-toto-wise, because it covers intercultural and sociological aspects that could be observed in many places:

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Irmi Wachendorff with Simon Johnston, who spoke about “A 21st century typography curriculum”

Irmi Wachendorff looked at how people of different cultural backgrounds live together in urban environments. How do they express themselves typographically in their neighbourhoods? She used geo-coded photos and some 26.000 images of her home region, the “Ruhrgebiet”, a commercial and residential area around the industrial city of Essen in Germany. She found 38 languages on signs and shopfronts and over 100 languages spoken in primary schools. Irmi Wachendorff’s field of research were commercial, transgressive, infrastructural, regulatory, commemorative and artistic signs.

“A space is never no man’s land, but always somebody’s space.” (Irmi Wachendorff citing Jan Blommaert)

Questions of identity arouse and a “Lingustic Landscape”, as she called her talk, evolved: the typography, as materialized language, marks people’s spaces and places they made their home. Irmi Wachendorff will continue to work in this multi-faceted research project, called “Signs of the Metropolises”, at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany (German research project title: “Metropolenzeichen: Visuelle Mehrsprachigkeit in der Metropole Ruhr”).

Menções especiais /// Special mentions

Lucas de Groot has earned a very special mention: first because he caught a severe something, supposedly from tap water (the city of São Paulo has a water problem mainly when there is no rain, and there was no rain); this threw him out of the conference into the hotel bed for more than two days.

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Lucas de Groot (all pictures by Luke Garcia and Andre Hawk)
Still, he managed to follow his plan: he met with the former art director of Folha S.Paulo whom he worked with 20 years ago to do the redesign of their typefaces: Eliane Stephan exchanged memories with Lucas and told him about the development of the newspaper, providing copies of Folha de S.Paulo from back then and now. So Lucas could extract stunning figures to share with us.

Today, Folha de S.Paulo is still the biggest and most popular daily newspaper in São Paulo. They even published an announcement about the ATypI conference, presenting several speakers and mentioning Lucas de Groot as the designer of their typeface. Based on the Folha type, Lucas set up an inspiring lecture about editorial typeface design and typography, and how it changes, and how he developed his typeface Floris out of the Folha project (Floris is not only a typeface, but also the name of his son).

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Lucas de Groot worked with Folha de S.Paulo as early as in 1994

Lucas de Groot extracted, or rather, interpolated future figures and developments we have to expect in editorial design: newspapers will become thinner and thinner, type will become larger, only the cover girl does not change much (Sharon Stone then, Jennifer Lopez now, with longer hair, but same sitting position). There will be less and less text. So, expectedly: no more content in 2020.

Ampliando as possibilidades do desenho de tipos ///
Expanding the possibilities of type design

Lucas went into the detail and forecasted the development of the currency signs, leaving the audience laughing out loud when facing the Brazilian reais shrinking stepwise compared to the US dollar. Yes they do have inflation and yes they do have severe problems out of it already. (Let us hope for the best and that Brazil will not follow the Venezuelan way of inflation and chaos.)

Going to the extremes to make facts not only fun, but clear: Lucas de Groot.

With TheThinnest and the Fattest, and his fights towards getting to design them, Lucas shares rules and methods of “normal” type design, at the same time expanding the possibilities you have – if you take type design not necessarily to the extremes, but damn serious. (And no, you cannot do without italics; and yes, it is nice to have more then four weights in a typeface.)

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The main hall was packed to the last seat
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A delighted audience at ATypI 2015 São Paulo

In short, Lucas’ lecture was fun but he showed serious aspects of type and newspaper design and of several other kinds. He goes to the extremes to make facts even clearer, and even painfully clear sometimes.

Another special mention goes to Erich Alb and his homage to Hans Eduard Meier (1922–2014). The way Erich Alb described his life and work was both touching and impressive (next to some more sad and beautiful homages we had at this year’s ATypI, like Sumner Stone on Hermann Zapf). The title of Erich Alb’s talk “The Challenges of Hans Eduard Meier” was way understated, at the same time adequate for this remarkable Swiss personality: Hans Eduard Meier suffered from severe back pain until he was operated on it in his seventies only. From very young to until almost his very last days he seemed to be happily productive, quite unimpressed both by success and non-success, showing an unabated working enthusiasm. With his typeface Syntax and his book “The Development of Script and Type” (originally published in 1959 under the German title “Die Schriftentwicklung”), Hans Eduard Meier made major contributions to type design.

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All pictures by Luke Garcia and Andre Hawk for ATypI

This was not to be expected when young Hans Eduard started off. He once took a long swim to an island only to swim back again immediately because of heavy rain stating to pour down: “through all his life, he failed in many such attempts”, Erich Alb epitomizes this. As a young man, Hans Eduard Meier designed the world famous Hilti logo and earned two bottles of beer for it.

Young Hans Eduard Meier started of to promising new shores – and reached them very late in life.

At age 82, he invented what became the official school script in Switzerland (“die ABC-Schrift”). At 90, after eye surgery, Hans Eduard Meier finalized his Meier Capitalis. It was released one month before he died. Today, Meier’s Syntax belongs to the four most used Swiss typefaces (you can at least guess one of the other three), which Erich Alb shows in an “infographic” with four high snowy mountains, waving a Swiss flag.

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An act of remembrance: Erich Alb holding up a picture of Hans Eduard Meier

Erich Alb’ personal memories of Hans Eduard Meier were equally impressive to me: His workspace always was in the same perfect order, always – except for one wall. This was full of pictures, little notes and other resemblances from his family. Hans Eduard Meier changed it every month. Is there a better way of living your live one day at a time? It was important to him to have a view out of his window while working, a window to nature, next to computer window. In June 2014, on occasion of Erich Alb’s last visit at Hans Eduard Maier’s home, the shutters were closed. On 15th July in 2014, “Hans Eduard Meier went for his last walk”.

O desejo de fazer um bom trabalho ///
The desire to do a job well

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Barbara Jarzyna, Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI)

Let us not forget the talk that will be going to the eternal type industry archives as “Catherine Dixon’s kick-ass keynote” (sorry to not remember who stated that quote). Catherine really did a good job here and it was not because she revealed best kept secrets or did anything special – but because she stated some things that are damn necessary, now and in type design future.

Her concern was about “workmanship”, not craftmanship (and workwomanship of course): the ethics of our professions. Catherine argued against under-valuating, and against “a shift towards generalism in education”, and against the fact that for many a designer only the idea counts, not the execution.

“Design is not only about design thinking, we make things”: Catherine Dixon in her kick-ass keynote.

In those core aspects her talk reminded me of the talk of her compatriot Neville Brody at TYPO Berlin in 2013 (for German readers please see my German report about Neville Brody at TYPO Berlin 2013). I very much liked how Catherine focused on making things. It also reminded me of Erik Spiekermann, who referred to this (Sachen machen) as a core characteristic (and success factor) of German design and designers, on occasion of his speech at the Rat für Formgebung in 2013 (for my lucky German readers: Gestalter mit Gewissen – Erik Spiekermann erklärt, warum Gestaltung made in Germany gut ist).

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Catherine Dixon was the one with the wake-up-call-like talk of the conference

Catherine Dixon’s answer? We should do our job well. Just for the sake of it. She pledged for a desire to do a design job well, because we want to do it this way and no other. At some point she referred to The Working Party on Typographic Teaching, a group of British typographers around Michael Twyman (born 1934), Professor Emeritus of the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading, and Peter Joseph Burnhill (1922–2007). Specially in their third conference in 1968, The Working Party on Typographic Teaching were preoccupied by the challenges of computing, at the same time impressed by the integration of mathematics and algorithmic reasoning into typography. Irrespective of technology, their central issue, to design type and written language to meet readers’ needs, was constant.

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The same goes for Catherine Dixon’s talk and her pledge for certain ethical standards in the business, reaching out for think-alikes and cooperation of all kinds. She had the guts to turn to something really delicate: retro-sexism. Yes. Retro-sexism in the design business, and in type design, yes, there is such a thing.


Catherine Dixon mentioned Alphabettes and showed their logo full-screen (which could also be seen as buttons on many conference attendees’ shirts – the news is spread). Indra Kupferschmid, who initiated Alphabettes earlier this year, had tears in her eyes. She did not only collect applause for her initiative, as you might guess.

“It is a real pity that this has to exist”, says Catherine Dixon about Alphabettes, “and it is a good thing, too”.

Alphabettes is a platform for women in (type) design to communicate, exchange knowledge, and support each other. In its introduction, Alphabettes does not even mention that it is for women only, thus pointing out the painful detail of how many companies of all kinds work with men only without mentioning or even noticing.

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Fernando Díaz Morales from Montevideo, co-founder of, the first type foundry of Uruguay, and AtypI country delegate

This all came as long-awaited. To get back to the beginning of my report, rests of romanticism (if there were any) concerning producing, promoting and selling typefaces are gone. As well as romanticism concerning other aspects of working together. A well-balanced, refreshing shift towards reality took place in São Paulo: both concerning the good and the, yep, let’s call it the challenging aspects. Let us face, name and discuss all this further.

Plus, we should keep Latin America on our screens and in our minds please.

Muito obrigada, São Paulo!

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Sandro Fetter entertaining Edna Lucia Cunha Lima at their talk about teaching type in Brazilian schools (all pictures by Luke Garcia and Andre Hawk)
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Henrique Nardi with Valentina Ferrari of the organizing team
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Doğan Arslan spoke about The Challenge of Putting The Interactive Design Education on The Map (in Istanbul)
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All pictures by Luke Garcia and Andre Hawk

After the conference, I asked for “your impression of ATypI 2015 in one word” and received the following answers: “very well organized” (by Erich Alb); “very interesting to get to know about how colleagues in other countries do their teaching, plus, the technical and research panels …” (said Doğan Arslan); “great!” (this was Sandro Fetter). Andreas Frohloff thought twice: “it was ‘interesting’. No, Sonja, I switch to ‘inspiring’”. Indra Kupferschmid: “super!”. Asking on Facebook, I got no answers at all. Via Twitter, I received one single reaction (by Dave Crossland of, @davelab6), which I really loved:


In this sense: Hope to see everyone in Warsaw next year. And maybe in Berlin before, midst of May?


Please note the big article in São Paulo daily newspaper Folha de S.Paulo about this major event in typography. Please read Yves Peter’s article about the Brazilian type scene on FontShop News, and get to know about Latin American type foundries. To get the spirit of ATypI lectures heating up on local features, on research, type tech, and history, please get back to my report about ATypI Barcelona 2014: The Catalán State of Mind (which also appeared in 365typo – strongly recommended). You will encounter some ATypI speakers there – like Ann Bessemans and Kevin Larson – whom I missed to write about this time.

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José Scaglione recommends 365typo yearbook, edited by Linda Kudrnovská of Prague-based TYPO Magazine

And please do not miss to read about the strong business focus at ATypI 2015 São Paulo in part 1 of my report:

ATypI 2015 São Paulo (part 1): Adeus romantismo! /// Bye-bye, romanticism

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A very special mention goes to the photographers at ATypI São Paulo 2015, Luke Garcia and Andre Hawk: you did a great job! Please find all their amazing pictures in the ATypI albums and quite a big selection also in part 1 one of my report. Many thanks to Henrique Nardi for providing us with ATypI’s very kind permission to publish as much pictures as we wanted.

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Open-air audience (all pictures by Luke Garcia and Andre Hawk)
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Open-air demonstration by Italian calligrapher Massimo Polello about Unusual Tools
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In the calligraphy workshop (type designer and teacher Fernando Díaz from Uruguay)
Sonja Knecht TXET at ATypI 2015 Sao Paulo 2 orig
Yours truly in the research section of ATypI 2015 São Paulo
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Bye-bye to the Latin American letterers, bye-bye São Paulo! (In the picture: Azuzena Del Carmen, Carga Máxima)
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All pictures by Luke Garcia and Andre Hawk