What are we doing here?

A quick explanation of the thinking behind the Typographics festival

I like conferences. A good conference is the right mix of learning interesting stuff you didn’t know about, and meeting people you are glad to know. And of course hearing a few things that confirm your opinions, and seeing some old friends you’d been meaning to get in touch with.

So here I find myself helping Cara Di Edwardo and Sasha Tochilovsky and other good people at Cooper Union (Type@Cooper and the Herb Lubalin Center) on a conference about typography.

Stop me if you’ve heard me say this, but we seem to have a lot of graphic design confabs and several good shows about type design, but few about designing-with-type. That is, typography. There is the Kerning conference in Faenza, Italy just the week before Typographics. We actually moved the dates when we found out their timing, so that true typography fanatics could attend both. Like Bruno Maag, who is speaking at both.

Over the years I’ve learned a bit about what makes a good conference,by actually getting involved in planning them. There was Type 1987 in New York, sponsored by TDC, where Neville Brody gave his first talk in the US, and Adrian Frutiger was on hand to accept the TDC medal.

In 1990, I pushed ATypI to turn their dry annual congress into a big conference, and we set it up in Oxford, England, at the behest of the great Robert Norton, who’s office had moved there. A young Jonathan Hoefler did the logo. Some 700 people showed up. The lectures were excellent, assembling an amazing group, with the new stars of digital typography and type design. But what I remember most are the things that happened outside the halls. A crazy font-building session sponsored by Apple, fueled by beer, where Jim Parkinson showed the stuff he is made of by finishing a perfect glyph. Then there was the night in Christ Church (with its Christopher Wren tower) hosted by Georgiana Greenwood, who thought she was breaking a curfew, and the stern reprimand I got from the college rector about the sound system.

Never mind the fending off of the swan attack while punting with Patricia Bradbury down the Thames. Or, later, learning the Macarena – at the beach bonfire party during the 1996 SPD conference in Monterey, CA – from Mariana Ochs, months before it came to New York.

A great conference is more than an intellectual pursuit. It’s tribal bonding. Those of us who like type, who’ve based our work on typography, are small group, compared to, say, auto insurance reps. We’re happy to be in a place where there are a lot of people like us, where you don’t have to explain what an Aldine octavo is, or the meaning of CSS.

We started planning an intensive two-day conference, June 12-13. Then Cara Di Edwardo, the doyen of Type@Cooper, thought it would be good to surround the conference with with two weeks of in-depth workshops, where you can learn directly from some modern masters. And she did! she has arranged tours, led by experts in typographic history, design, and coding.

Then nearby, in a storefront at 31 Third Ave., there is Typographics Lab. Organized by Petr van Blokland, this is a “happening” space, open to all participants and anyone else who registers in advance. It will be part hackathon, part Hyde Park corner, with informal workshops, design critiques by speakers and workshop leaders, impromptu presentations and debates, an exhibit – and games. Volunteers are planning some live blogging and a print publication. If you want to get involved, registration and contact details will be published soon.

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At the beginning of April, I got to do a dress rehearsal of the conference part of Typographics, in Washington at the Society for News Design convention. It was a one-day event, instead of two. We had a total of twelve 25-minute slots, and no breaks! (The idea is if you have to leave the hall to make a call or something, you can just sneak out.) And there was a long break for lunch.

Putting everyone in the same hall instead of dividing up into tracks made for a more interesting, faster-paced event. There was coffee outside, if you couldn’t stand it any more, but most people were fascinated and stayed through every minute.

Typographics has a broader range than “news type”, and so the program will be more varied, and more entertaining. We’ll be looking at type from every angle. Historically, and parametrically. From the inside perspective of a type designer, to the outside view of some celebrated practitioners.

You can see the whole program, with links to descriptions and speaker bios here. And here’s a list of all the speakers, workshop leaders and lab participants to date (alphabetically by first name, like iOS would do it):

One thing we’re copying from SND is speaker lunches. Each day, participants can sign up to go to a local restaurant with one of the speakers. Look for the sign-up sheets at the registration desk. (It’s Dutch-treat, which doesn’t mean that Erik van Blokland is picking up the tab.)

And of course, there’s a big party on Friday night, nearby at the historic De Vinne Press building, where Theodore Low De Vinne pioneered modern printing technology for books and magazines – 130 years ago. If you register, you’re invited!

Typographics is shaping up to be one of the great design conferences. See you there!

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