TypeCon 2010

§ Typography · Conferences

TypeCon2010 in Los Angeles was my first typography conference. It felt good. I was made welcome, made new friends and renewed old acquaintances. I was there to soak up what’s happening now in typography, and to represent Fontdeck, who were very pleased to be a sponsor of the conference.

Luke, Ale, Grant & Corey
Luke Dorny, Ale Paul, Grant Hutchinson & Corey Holms

TypeCon felt like a tiny SxSW with far prettier schwag. As in Austin, the conference was as much about the corridor talk as the presentations, although 400 people (as opposed to 14,000) lent itself to a far more intimate atmosphere, but there was the same vibe of being allowed to geek out among like-minded souls. Unlike SxSW the presentations were of a consistently high quality. Sure some were rather academic and a bit beyond me, but the great thing about being fascinated by a field away from your day-to-day job is that there is lots to learn, and learn I did.

The scope of the presentations was incredibly varied, within the field of typography obviously. The ones I especially enjoyed were the shows and tells from type designers – I love getting an insight into talented people’s processes. Kris Sowersby of Klim was amusingly engaging as he spoke of the Typographic Magpie. With self-deprecating Kiwi wit, Kris regaled us with a potted history of design in New Zealand followed by his process of stealing and borrowing aspects of typefaces from elsewhere in history and the world in order to fit the design brief.

Another show and tell of particular interest was Jean François Porchez in which he gave us detailed histories of some of his best known fonts (such as Parisine) but most fascinating was his process for creating five completely different typefaces which needed to work in harmony. The faces in question were commissioned by Conqueror Papers and are free to download when you register.

One of the most impressive presentations of the whole conference, at least in terms of the story it told, was the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Type by Alexandra Korolkova of ParaType. In this Alexandra spoke about the creation of PT Sans, a typeface in 8 styles commissioned by the Russian Federation to enable the peoples of Russia to read and write in their native languages. This resulted in a character set in Latin and Cyrillic, encompassing all required glyphs from across Europe and Russia. Just the research required is astonishing enough, with 78 officially recognised written languages in Russia, resulting in a set of 697 characters.

The eight styles of PT Sans

On top of all this, the result is a very usable humanist sans-serif manually hinted for black & white rendering, greyscale smoothing and ClearType. The decision to create a narrow and caption set (for economic and small setting respectively) alongside the normal set of four styles was an interesting choice (the initial thoughts being two more weights instead). Did I mention its free to download? It’s also free to use through Fontdeck, including a subsetted version without the Cyrillic characters.

Doyald Young signing my book

One final show and tell was that of Doyald Young, a veteran logotype designer held in high regard by the audience, and it wasn’t hard to see why. I bought his wonderful book, Fonts & Logos, which Doyald was kind enough to sign.

Other notable talks, highlighting the diversity of Typecon included:

  • Title Man: Harold Adler by Jill Bell, which highlighted the work of Harold Adler who was responsible for much of the beautiful hand lettering featured in the title sequences of Saul Bass.
  • West Coast “Cholo” Style Graffiti by Chaz Bojórquez was a history and expose of Mexican American Los Angeles graffiti art and lettering from one of its originators, some of which is astonishingly complex and beautiful.
  • We saw the Typography of Disneyland presented by Sean Adams, which showed how Disney doesn’t use a corporate typeface for the park (there’s none of the expected pink VAG Rounded with glossy highlights) but instead the type changes to fit in with the journey around the park; even signs to the exit and the loo fit in with their surroundings. And the choice of typeface is not one of historical accuracy but more cleverly designed to match our perceptions and preconceptions of the history (and future).
  • Sam Anvari spoke about P-English – transliterated Farsi by which chat and email users use Roman English characters to convey messages in Persian language. The problems encountered were fascinating, not least of all that transliterations of even city names differ wildly in spelling (even on local official signs). Although major operating systems do support Persian, many users prefer to type in P-English and not to deal with the hassles of setting up their computers and labelling their keyboards.

A particularly memorable presentation was Arabic Calligraphy and Dance by Nadine Chahine in which she discussed and demonstrated the links between Arabic calligraphy and belly dancing. Sadly no live belly dancing by Nadine, but we were treated to video clips supporting her hypothesis.

Nadine Chahine by checkofoto
Nadine Chahine by checkofoto

Finally, much of the talk was about web fonts. At least much of what I talked about was. The programme included a series of 10 minutes talks introducing the W3C process, WOFF and Typekit’s Tim Brown on font metrics and the web, which had everyone scratching their heads, especially the type designers.

This was followed a monster 14-person panel discussion on web fonts. Other than the general positivity there was not much new here for web designers. A more detailed canvas of opinion can be found in Michael Dooley’s write-up The Future of Web Fonts Is Sooner Than It Used To Be

14 person panel
That biggest discussion panel I have ever seen

On the Saturday evening we were treated to a preview of Making Faces a film by Richard Kegler about the late Jim Rimmer and his unique approach to type design and manufacture. I’m privileged to be credited as an executive producer.

Trailer for Making Faces

The following morning I got to have breakfast with Matthew Carter, a charming man who feels he is hated by web designers for Georgia and Verdana. I tried to persuade him otherwise – many people I know rate Georgia among their favourite typefaces, including me.

The final evening was a party in a printing museum: now that’s rock n’ roll! Actually with the best food (Mexican) of the week and a fine selection of artisan beers it wasn’t far off. The venue was the amazing International Printing Museum, which gave us the chance to see Linotype machines in action, mould our own slugs of type, peruse a fantastic little type library, have a go at letterpress and play with a replica of Gutenberg’s press. All in all pretty bloody awesome.

Linotype keyboard

So that was TypeCon2010 Los Angeles. Next up is ATypI in Dublin, where this time I will be speaking on Why web typography doesn’t have to suck. Maybe see you there?