TypeLab at Typo­graphics

The return of the original typographic hackathon

During the Typographics festival, a pop-up “TypeLab” and book store will occupy the storefront at 31 Third Avenue from June 11–15. Just a few doors away from the main conference venue at Cooper Union, the TypeLab will provide a space to explore the concept that typography today is as much about programming as it is about drawing. It will host a set of live, hands-on workshops, demos, and experiments – a multi-day hackathon for type and typography.

The idea of TypeLab was born in 1993, long before “hackathons” were a thing, when Petr van Blokland and David Berlow set up a kind of rogue DIY program in the lunchroom of the ATypI conference in Antwerp, Belgium. ATypI in those days was much more formal and stodgy, so TypeLab was organized – with very little preparation – as an alternate side program to shake things up. As Jan Middendorp describes it in Dutch Type:

TypeLab was set up as as an informal meeting where attendants could converse, compare notes, get hands-on experience of type design software, and jot down improvised typefaces. […] It hosted informal events such as lettering classes, demonstrations, and public interviews.

Images from TypeLab 1994

Images of TypeLab and its publications from 1994 , with appearances by Erik Spiekermann, Jeff Keedy, Fred Smeijers, David Berlow, and Erik & Petr van Blokland to name a few. Courtesy of Petr van Blokland.

There was much exploration of new tools for digital type and typography at the time. David Lemon’s distribution of the call for the first TypeLab event – “posted for Petr, who doesn’t have direct Internet access”, and amazingly still accessible online after 22 years(!) – set the tone:

All participants are requested to bring their opinions in order to use them. […] The tools change, the applications change, but writing, the basic principle of type design and typography, remains the same and is stimulated, not threatened, by new technological or social developments. Rather: Typography and type design seem to stimulate the development of technologies, not the other way around. The emergence of new technologies does not mean there is a crisis in the typographic tradition. It is just means more work: Typography has always been about applying itself to different technologies.

Throughout the TypeLab events, a newspaper was edited, designed, and published – with typefaces developed during the process – recounting the activities and providing a platform for pushing the limits of desktop publishing which was still a relatively novel concept at the time. The newspaper also published short essays, like an article by Robin Kinross describing the process of making Fred Smeijers’ book, Counterpunch.

The TypeLab idea was repeated for several years at ATypI until the two events were practically merged.

This year during Typographics, Petr van Blokland will lead another edition of TypeLab – this time with a focus on 21st-century type, technology, publishing methodologies, and design thinking. Many participants of the original TypeLabs will be on hand as well, including Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum. True to the original TypeLab it will be informal, experimental, and done by the seat of our pants. Programming may include (but isn’t limited to):

More information on the TypeLab events will be announced over the next several weeks, so follow @TypographicsNYC on Twitter or join the Typographics mailing list for the latest updates.

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