The Facilitators of TYPO Berlin 2018

“When people are speaking and presenting, they are showing their humanity and opening themselves to critique.” – Kali Nikitas. During each TYPO Berlin, a small group of people plays a vital yet rather less-known role in the conference – the facilitators who help to keep the stages running smoothly and support the speakers before and after their talks. We had a closer look at this years facilitator team and how they prepare for the conference.


— by Michael Pieracci

Over the 20+ year-long run of Typo Berlin, the number of visitors has grown to approximately 1,800. The conference is organised and run by a variety of teams. Next to the the team that knits together all loose ends over month to set up a program featuring 101 speakers there is a small group of people that play a vital yet rather less-known role in the conference. They are a bridge between three forces: an enthusiastic (and sometimes very large) audience, the different teams running the show behind the scenes, and the next speaker waiting on the side, ready to come on stage.


Facilitators Johannes Erler, Kali Nikitas, Stephen Coles, Indra Kupferschmid with Porgam Director Jürgen Siebert (from left) © Gerhard Kassner / Monotype


These are the facilitators—the hosts of the stages at the TYPO conference.

The job of a facilitator is to keep each of the TYPO stages running smoothly. They serve as a mix of host and administrator, not only introducing speakers but announcing any changes to the programme or additional events taking place.
“It’s absolutely crucial to have someone in this role for each stage, to bring the audience’s attention back after a break and set the mood for the next speaker,” says Indra, who first served as a facilitator for TYPO Berlin in 2008.

TYPO Berlin 2018, has a team of five facilitators: Stephen Coles, Indra Kupferschmid, Johannes Erler, and Kali Nikitas. Each brings a variety of professional experience. “What’s crucial for a TYPO Talks conference is a background in design or typography,” says Jürgen Siebert, Programme Director of TYPO Berlin. In fact, many of the people who have facilitated in the history of TYPO, have themselves given talks at this or at other conferences, and have also contributed to the curation of the TYPO Talks programme.

Indra Kupferschmid together with speaker Rita Braz © Sebastian Weiß / Monotype

Even before the conference starts, facilitators are already thinking ahead about speakers they would like to introduce, or stages they wish to host. “Many of us are already friends with speakers, which makes it easier to introduce them. What makes for a nice challenge is introducing someone you don’t know,” says Stephen, who first served as a facilitator for TYPO San Francisco in 2012. The team of facilitators always meet on the morning of the first day to review the entire programme in detail. One by one, they select speakers to introduce, making sure all the stages are properly covered. It’s also crucial that they pace themselves—no running between stages—and schedule proper breaks. Each Facilitator spends time researching each of the speakers they will introduce. Their goal is always to conduct a very welcoming, yet brief introduction of the speaker.

Stephen Coles © Gerhard Kassner / Monotype

Stephen Coles © Gerhard Kassner / Monotype

Finding this time to research can be tricky at such a busy conference as TYPO. They often carve out small amounts of time to be totally alone to review information on a speaker and make their notes for the introduction.

“My job as a facilitator is to be aware of the mood of the space and ensure it remains very welcoming and energised for both the speaker and the audience.” – Kali Nikitas

The facilitator always meets with the speaker before going on to the stage, most often in the speakers’ lounge. This first meeting starts what could be considered a rather special and temporary relationship between the two: talking not only to get to know each other but to create a level of reassurance and trust. The facilitator is also the last person to talk with a speaker before they begin their presentation. “These moments for the speaker are often the most sensitive,” says Johannes, who first served as a facilitator in 2016. “We check in with them to see how they are feeling, but it’s best to leave them alone, to let their thoughts run.”

Johannes Erler © Gerhard Kassner / Monotype

Johannes Erler © Gerhard Kassner / Monotype

The facilitator remains in the audience during the presentation and maintains a special, focused attention. They become especially aware as the speaker reaches the end of their talk, ready to come back on stage to conduct the proper thank you, pose a question (time permitting), and then ensure a smooth exit. Kali, who first served as a facilitator at the first TYPO San Francisco in 2012, summarised this role perfectly: “When people are speaking and presenting, they are showing their humanity and opening themselves to critique. My job as a facilitator is to be aware of the mood of the space and ensure it remains very welcoming and energised for both the speaker and the audience.”


Kali Nikitas with speaker dina Amin © Gerhard Kassner / Monotype

Kali Nikitas with speaker dina Amin © Gerhard Kassner / Monotype


Kali Nikitas

Kali Nikitas is Chair of the Communication Arts and Founding Chair of the MFA Graphic Design Program at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. Kali has curated international design exhibitions, has facilitated TYPO Berlin and TYPO San Francisco, and she has hosted workshops and special events in the United States and abroad. Over the years, her studio, Graphic Design for Love (+$), has been recognized in numerous publications and competitions. Kali currently serves on the CalArts Alumni Council and is the Arts Commissioner at Large for the City of Inglewood. For more information go to her Instagram account @knikitas
Stephen Coles

Stephen Coles

Writer, Typographer (Oakland, California)

Stephen Coles is an editor and typographer living in Oakland and Berlin. He publishes Fonts In Use and Typographica, consults with type foundries on editorial content and with various organizations on typeface selection and licensing. Stephen is author of the book The Anatomy of Type (The Geometry of Type in the UK), and serves on the board of the Letterform Archive. He was formerly a creative director at FontShop and a member of the FontFont TypeBoard.
Johannes Erler

Johannes Erler

Graphic Designer, Art Director, Founder (Hamburg)

Erler, born in 1965, studied communications design in Kiel and worked for Lo Breier, Erik Spiekermann, and Neville Brody before co-founding Factor Design in 1993; he has since become one of Germany's top designers. In 2010, he left Factor Design to found EST ErlerSkibbeTönsmann with Henning Skibbe and Christian Tönsmann. The company does corporate, editorial, and type design for corporations, institutions, and publishing houses in Germany and abroad. One of their areas of expertise is the overall look and image of theatres in Hamburg, Berlin, Dresden, Bremen, Düsseldorf, and Stuttgart, among other places. Erler was also the art director of the German newsweekly Stern from 2012 to 2014. He has written and/or published various books on design (including a monograph on Erik Spiekermann) and is a columnist for the design magazine Page. Erler also speaks at design conferences and universities, and is a member of a number of design juries. He lives with his wife, two sons, and dog in Hamburg.  
Indra Kupferschmid © Marc Eckardt

Indra Kupferschmid

Typographer, Professor for Typography at HBK Saar (Saarbrücken)

Indra Kupferschmid is a freelance typographer and professor at HBKsaar, University of Arts Saarbrücken. Fueled by specimen books, she is occupied with type around the clock in all its incarnations – webfonts, bitmap fonts, other fonts, type history, DIN committees, writing, design work, and any combination of this. She is co-author of Helvetica Forever by Lars Müller Publishers and wrote Buchstaben kommen selten allein, a typographic reference book (Niggli). She consults for the type and design industry and other clients who need help choosing fonts, as well as writing for several different magazines and blogs.