During the Typographics conference you can use Twitter to ask questions to the Typographics speakers. Just tweet them to @TypographicsNYC, the main information channel for the conference, and add the #TypographicsQA hashtag to your tweet. So if you are following the conference via the livestream (or if you are very shy and dare not speak up from the audience) here is your chance to pick the brains of our wonderful speakers.
Swiss type designer and typographer Nina Stössinger is a rising star in the field of typeface design. After releasing FF Ernestine, she studied at the Type & Media post-graduate course for typeface design in the Netherlands. With a new typeface soon to be released by Monokrom, Nina works at the intersection of design and technology: she designs typefaces, typographic logos, books, and brochures, as well as writing code to support the production and presentation of fonts.
Her knowledge and willingness to share it is striking. With a rare mastery of both aesthetic and technical aspects of type design, this member of Alphabettes is a valued role model for young people entering the field.
I asked Nina about her experience as an attendee at last year’s inaugural edition of Typographics, and her expectations as a speaker for this year …
NS: I was very excited about the event last year, because — first of all — how is it possible that there was no recurring type conference in New York City? It seems like the place to host one. I also liked the concept of having a rather compact conference embedded in a longer event (or rather string of events) including walking tours, workshops, and so on. It’s a real treat for type nerds (a term I mean only in the best of ways), so I’m excited and honored to be part of the speaker line-up. I’m also curious to see what might change. Since last year was the first, I can imagine the organizers will strive to make the conference even better. In short, I’m really looking forward to Typographics.
YP: What kind of crowd are you expecting?
NS: Well, the conference is targeted quite explicitly at people who use type. The idea is that the speakers are type designers or typographers, and the audience are mostly art directors, graphic designers, web designers, and so on. This is so important — we’re at a point where we have to think very hard about bringing these two worlds together. So many exciting things are happening in type design and type technology right now. People who produce fonts are implementing concepts and features that can take digital type to new heights. But much of this work runs the risk of getting stuck somewhere before it can reach the eyes of readers. Many designers are not quite sure how to orient themselves and learn about the wealth of possibilities that type can offer, so we need to focus not only on advancing type itself, but also typography. Building bridges between people who make type and people who use type is really important, and I’m happy that Typographics is actively contributing to this effort.
NS: At the heart of it, my talk is a story about conventions, how we automatically follow them, and how it is possible to (fruitfully) challenge them. I use the example of a typeface I’ve been working on, which challenges one of the most basic conventions in Latin typeface design — namely that vertical strokes are heavier than horizontals — a relationship my typeface reverses. Of course other people have done this before; most often this was done to great effect, breaking expectations to make the letters eye-catching. I tried to go the other way, to see if this alternative contrast pattern can be made so subtle that it is actually productive and useful rather than calling attention to itself, and to evaluate what effect that has on the texture of text.
It’s been an interesting journey. I’ve been investigating the history of previous typefaces with reversed contrast, but also the theory and the mechanics of what actually happens when you distribute the weight differently. And it has made me re-evaluate what we take for granted and what we question when we design — the value of rules, the cost of breaking them, and having to come up with new ones. So while this is a specific story, it has a wide background, and broad implications for how we as designers approach our work.
YP: That sounds great. Thank you for the chat, and we’ll look forward to your talk.
The name badges for this year’s Typographics conference are being generated with randomized border combinations and dynamic type sizing based on the name of each attendee. Every badge has a unique combination of elements, constructed with ornaments and frames from the Eames type series. While the specific combinations are randomized, the overall layout remains relatively consistent between instances. Eames Century Modern was also used for attendee names, supported by Mallory for smaller company/organization names. Between the typefaces and the color scheme, the badges maintain a relationship with the overall 2016 Typographics branding despite their graphic variety.
The script for generating the badges — “BadgeBot 2016” — was created by type designer David Jonathan Ross based on designs by Mark Rossi and me. David used DrawBot, a Python-based graphics application, and borrowed various features from the previous BadgeBot script he prepared for Typographics last year.
We’re looking forward to seeing more than 500 unique badges on Typographics attendees later this week. Even with the double-sided badges featuring 2 variations each, we’ll still only produce about 13% of the 8000+ variations possible with the script.
If you’re interested in learning how to make your own DrawBot scripts like BadgeBot, check out Just van Rossum’s Python Programming with DrawBot for Beginners workshop, June 20–21, immediately following the Typographics conference.
Douglas Riccardi’s upcoming Typographics talk, “A Culinary Abecedary”, is a logical extension of the designer’s work at his studio, Memo, specializing in culinary branding for restaurants, cook books, and other hospitality projects. The talk promises to be a Proustian journey through letterform/culinary associations, and how this type of thinking can inform the work of restaurant branding.
It is common knowledge that a scent, a song, a flavour can be the strongest trigger for a memory. I wondered if Douglas thinks a typeface or even a single letter form can have a similar effect?
DR: Sure, typography can trigger a memory. For the culinary traveler, the memories of vernacular signage from places like Paris, Venice, or London can bring us back to foods we enjoyed in those places: a colorful, decadent macaron, a seafood stew over soft polenta, or a simply perfect fish and chips. I, personally, can’t see a blackletter (especially one hand-rendered, perhaps even with a touch of a drop shadow) without recalling the first taco al pastor I had in the Condesa in Mexico City. There is such a deep tradition of the use of that style of lettering for store and restaurant signage all over Mexico and for me it is indelibly linked to the food I enjoyed there.
YP: People sometimes talk about “tasty” typefaces. When you design restaurants identities, how do you marry the voice of a typeface to a certain cuisine or flavor?
DR: Where possible, we start with typefaces that reference history or geography. But we also try to nuance those choices to make something more contemporary for today’s marketplace and to reflect a particular restaurant’s emphasis on flavor, service, and point of view. The combination of typefaces can work like a recipe — some add depth, some add spice. Others add boldness, others pure fluff. The magic comes from knowing the proportions of each to add to the mix.
YP: What is your favourite place to eat in New York City? Can you recommend an address (or two, or more)?
DR: Believe it or not, I don’t have one fave place. But I do have a few recommendations for the Typographics crowd …
OTTO Enoteca on 8th Street: Stand in the bar area for drinks and salumi.
The Odeon: Just because it has been there since when I worked with Tibor Kalman.
Finally, if you’re in town for a few days and want a real taste of NYC, make the trek out to Coney Island for beer and freshly shucked clams at Paul’s Daughter. The boardwalk, the people, the ocean, the hand-painted signs — it doesn’t get better than this on a summer evening. Follow it up with a ride on the historic Cyclone roller coaster if you dare.
YP: Thank you for these suggestions — I can’t wait to try some of them. It was nice chatting with you, Douglas.
Tobias Frere-Jones has built an impressive body of work, designing some of the most popular typefaces in the world — Interstate, Poynter Oldstyle, Retina, and Gotham to name but a few. This recipient of the 2006 Gerrit Noordzij Prize and the 2013 AIGA Medal has the uncanny ability to distill letterforms that are part of our collective consciousness into type families with high aesthetic and technical quality. In January 2015 he announced the birth of his highly-anticipated foundry Frere-Jones. Typographics adopted its maiden release, Mallory for most of this year’s festival materials.
Tobias didn’t attend the first Typographics last year, but he did sponsor the official tote bag, which was a big hit with attendees. I asked him about his expectations for this year …
TFJ: I’ve heard plenty from people who were there last year. I’m expecting something quite intense and lively this year because it’s a single-track conference. Which is a good thing — no one wants to miss anything — but that means the program is quite dense. I’m looking forward to that.
YP: Did you get the chance to check the schedule? Do you want to see anyone in particular speak?
TFJ: Honestly, I am looking forward to all of it. I think the organizers have done a great job at composing the roster. Not only did they manage to find a good balance between men and women, but also between people who are established like Stephen Doyle, and younger designers that I am less familiar with. I really want to discover what they are up to and what they are thinking about.
YP: You were born in Brooklyn, and still live and work there. Do you have any recommendations for people attending the conference who would like to visit?
TFJ: The first thing to keep in mind about Brooklyn is that it is very large. It used to be a city by itself. Whatever you might have seen in some movie or television show probably doesn’t exist anymore. And if it does, it can be miles away from where you might be. Brooklyn has so much variation in it. I like it because it has all the sophistication and all the potential of a big city, but it is more comfortable and not as overwhelming.
YP: After the conference people can join two lettering walks — through Coney Island with Dan Rhatigan and in Brooklyn with Alexander Tochilovsky. You photographically documented the architectural lettering of New York which led to the design of the Gotham type family, but didn’t you also guide a lettering tour some years ago?
YP: You are not guiding a walk this time, but if you would, do you think you could still do the same tour today? How fast does the typographic landscape evolve in New York?
TFJ: Actually I did that walk multiple times, and between the first and the second time I already had to change the course because some of the businesses and shop facades were gone. Change has been part of New York’s characterfor 300 years or so — it keeps knocking itself down and rebuilding, and that won’t be changing anytime soon. This makes it even more urgent to get out there and take pictures of the lettering: next time you’re in town they may have disappeared.
YP: Does the current retro trend result in many new signs that are hand-painted the traditional way? Do they manage to maintain that authenticity?
TFJ: I find a lot of the new signs are actually quite good. You can often see many new restaurants hired a professional to do the painting and gilding and so on. It’s reassuring to see this can still happen if someone knows what the possibilities are, and bothers to take the time to find a sign painter. There is no good reason to not do it well.
YP: Indeed. Thank you for the chat, and I hope to find the time to pop over and discover a little of Brooklyn.
As part of a series of micro-interviews with speakers for the upcoming Typographics conference, I sat down with Indra Kupferschmid to talk about her expectations as a speaker at this year’s event. This German typographer, author, and professor at HBKsaar switches topics from obscure pre-war German type foundries to onscreen rendering of fonts and type licensing in the digital age with astonishing ease.
Last autumn she initiated Alphabettes.org in collaboration with Amy Papaelias. It is both a platform for supporting and promoting the work of all women in lettering, typography, and type design — the collective voice of an impressive group of creators — and a loose network currently counting 150 members from around the world.
The first thing I asked Indra was if she attended the first edition of Typographics last year …
IK: No, I didn’t go to Typographics. I did watch the videos from home and totally appreciated that the talks were live-streamed. So actually you could argue I was kind of at Typographics.
YP: You mean virtually, like an out-of-body experience?
YP: You are a true conference-hopper, having attended and spoken at so many different events. What would you say is the unique appeal of Typographics?
IK: Well, I think it’s still unique for the US, since there aren’t as many typography conferences in North America other than Typecon. What I gathered from the Typographics conference schedule is that it’s fast-paced, with shorter talks on widely varying topics. This always creates a good energy and vibe. What I really love is the concept of TypeLab — that there are different activities around the main conference, where people can participate in less-formal presentations, workshops, demonstrations, the lettering walks, etc. Most people think of Typographics as just the main conference, but I appreciate all the other pieces that make it a bigger design festival.
YP: Your talk, “Using Type in the Digital Realm”, deals with choosing typefaces for digital platforms. What kind of audience are you expecting, and will this influence the focus in your presentation?
IK: My talk is mostly about typeface selection and will take a professional approach. It won’t be the classic introductory talk. I will probably focus on type on screen because I want to get some of the traditional print designers a little more excited about that topic.
YP: Sounds interesting! Thanks for the chat, and I am looking forward to your talk on Saturday.
This year Typographics will host another edition of the TypeLab — a series of live, hands-on workshops, demos, and experiments organized by Petr van Blokland. A preliminary listing of the TypeLab events is now live, but please note that — according to TypeLab tradition — the schedule is subject to change at any moment.
Following a long history of informal and experimental events, TypeLab this year (made possible with a generous sponsorship from Klim Type Foundry) promises to be as fun and interesting as it was at Typographics last year.
The TypeLab will be open June 15–20, 10am–5pm, in room LL-101 at 41 Cooper Square, just across the street from the Great Hall where the main Typographics conference is taking place, and right next door to the Typographics Book Fair.
Typographics conference attendees are welcome at any time. The general public is also welcome with a free RSVP except on Friday & Saturday (RSVP separately for Wednesday & Thursday and/or Sunday & Monday).
This year at Typographics we’ll be hosting the first Typographics Book Fair, offering publications for sale about typography, lettering, design, and related subjects. We’re very excited to have some of our favorite booksellers involved, including …
Oak Knoll Books is one of the most prominent sellers of “books about books” in the world. Founded in 1976, they carry about 23,000 titles on typography, lettering, graphic design, type specimens, and much more. They’ll be making the trek up to Typographics from their home in New Castle, Delaware. @oakknollbooks
Letterform Archive, based in San Francisco, is a nonprofit library and museum dedicated to the letter arts. They hold a collection of 30,000 items related to lettering, typography, calligraphy, and graphic design, spanning 2,000 years of history. They are also home to Type@Cooper West, an educational collaboration with The Cooper Union. They’ll be selling duplicate pieces of type foundry ephemera from their collection. @lett_arc
Display is an occasional bookstore offering carefully selected and hard-to-find graphic design books, periodicals and ephemera. From the rational to the experimental to the playful, their inventory represents a distinct point of view about modern (c. 1940–1970) graphic design and typography from the United States and beyond. @kindcompany
New Metaphor Books is an online bookshop offering a curated collection of exceptional rare, out of print, and unusual books on graphic design, typography, art, architecture, fashion, and film. The Typographics Book Fair will be a rare chance to browse their material in person. @NewMetaphorBks
Between these sellers, there will be a wide diversity of material available, from rare antiquarian type specimens to contemporary titles on modern graphic design.
The fair will be held in the gallery space at 41 Cooper Square, just across the street from the Great Hall where the main conference will be taking place. Details about the schedule for each seller and access to the fair are as follows:
Thu, June 16
Open to Typographics attendees and the public with free RSVP.
Before the advent of cheap vinyl lettering and the sign departments at FedEx Office, there were professional sign painters. Show cards, banners, window gilding, and giant advertisements on the sides of buildings were painted by craftspeople with an innate understanding of letters and letterforms. John Downer was, and still is, one of those people with decades of experience and hard-earned skills.
To try your own hand at the craft, Typographics is running two workshops with Downer this month: Sign Painting from Monday–Thursday, June 13–16, and then Half-Full-Bevel-Mock from Monday–Tuesday, June 20–21.
If you have ever met John Downer, you would likely remember him. He is opinionated, strong willed, and eager to share his thoughts on anything lettering-related. With a direct and candid style of delivery and critique, he cannot be accused of lacking passion for his craft. John has been a professional sign painter and type designer for more than 30 years, starting with a sign painting apprenticeship in 1969 after 3 years of brush lettering education in public school. He became a journeyman sign painter in 1973 and received his first commission to design a commercial text typeface in 1983. You may not have seen his signs advertising potatoes or meat, but you might know typefaces that he has designed including Brothers, Roxy, and Iowan Old Style.
Hand-painted signage shows the artistic skill of lettering but Downer is adamant that his skills are not art and are exercised only in the service of commerce. He states, “It is a production process. We are simply tradespeople doing our job — we are not ‘artistes’. It is distinct from purely academic pursuits in that it only serves business and not society. We are simply trying to sell goods”.
Downer compares the contrasting views of sign painting as commerce versus art like so:
It’s the difference between a lowbrow display ad in a newspaper and a Titian painting — there is a big difference. As sign painters, we are basically scribes. We are not part of a contrived, fanciful, imaginary Post-modern art movement. Andy Warhol tried to span the gap and turn product illustration into art. But, to me, a soup can is a soup can.
This is not to say that Downer’s work is without artistic measure or skill. His ability to render letterforms from memory without reference is impressive and shows his years of experience. He strongly believes that, “sign painters who learned in the 1970s or before are a different breed than those who did not. Today, self-taught sign painters tend to commit a lot of rookie errors. They are now middle-aged and cannot go back and fix the bad habits they picked up in their early years. As wannabe teachers, they are even worse because they unwittingly preach poor technique. Some of these people are frauds … like witch doctors pretending they have earned their MDs”.
Along with being a type designer, Downer keeps busy with sign painting and teaching sign painting workshops. Additionally, he spends a few weeks of the year in the Pacific Northwest, occasionally painting window signs for weekly specials at his family’s grocery store in Ocean Park, Washington. The store is considered the oldest continuously-running retail business in the state of Washington, which helps reinforce his opinion about sign painting: “Art?! No! It’s just an ad!”
Mark Jamra is someone who understands the importance of letters. He is not only a typeface designer with impressive language support experience (see his typeface Phoreus created for the Native American Cherokee language), he is also a graphic designer and educator with an understanding of what makes letterforms work together to form a distinctive word mark.
A wordmark has different typographic needs than a typeface, and Jamra will lead a two-day Wordmarks Workshop on Tuesday–Wednesday, June 14–15, to help other designers understand what those needs are.
The terms “logo” and “wordmark” are often thrown around as the same thing, but Jamra says “a logo is more of a symbol, whereas a wordmark is more of a readable configuration of letters. Unlike the Nike swoosh, which is a logo in itself, wordmarks are most often language-dependent”. Jamra sees a distinct difference and advantage in creating a custom wordmark rather than simply relying on a stock typeface for a logo. “There is a right way and a wrong way to modify existing fonts. Anyone can make a wordmark by setting a word in a font, but there are things that can be done to make the wordmark unique”.
Jamra says wordmarks have their own “typographic DNA” that shows how every element speaks to the other elements of the whole. With a wordmark, it is important to find the commonality of the elements. Setting a wordmark in a stock font can give you part of what you need, but there is much more possible if you start from scratch. “If done right, you have shapes, moments, and gestures that speak to each other across the wordmark. You sense that there is something in each letterform that is addressing the other forms and making a better whole.”
To make a good custom wordmark, Jamra says it is far more than simply sketching up a few letters on paper or on screen. “It’s not just making the letters — it is also about the space around the letters. It is the white and black working together. It is yin and yang. We tend to see the object and not the background — but it is the background that helps make the object”.
Jamra makes a strong distinction between creating letters for a wordmark verses letters for a typeface. With a custom wordmark, you have the flexibility to modify letters without having to worry about how those shapes would work in a full typeface. For example, a designer can create unusual ligatures, make a letter taller to bring a “bounce” into the word, or even remove the dot of a lowercase “i” to make the wordmark more unique. “There is a sort of chemistry with making wordmarks because they only have to live with the other letters in a lock up and not as a full typeface”. This ability to modify a wordmark allows it to be unique and stand apart which is more important than ever in a visually-competitive marketplace.
Most people reading this know that designing a good typeface is a challenge. Like an onion, the more you peel back the layers and look into the nuances of typeface design, the more layers you discover. Also like an onion, these additional layers might make you cry.
As Kiel will attest, much of what makes a typeface more usable and attractive to a world-wide audience is not the intriguing visual parts such as ball terminals or slab serifs, but rather the kerning, spacing, accent marks (or to be more precise: diacritics), and other less-obvious features – what he describes as the “typographic fit and finish”.
Focusing additional time on diacritics, kerning, and spacing will allow a type designer to make a face more usable and marketable. Any designer or agency doing work outside of English-speaking countries will require typefaces with good-quality diacritics that have broad language support. Kiel suggests that at the very minimum, a type designer should cover Central European languages, which require diacritics.
Diacritics, like the languages that use them, have many subtle quirks and requirements that often only native-speakers may know. For example, the French language prefers comparatively steep acute and grave marks while other languages may have diacritics colliding with other characters in a word if you are not careful. Knowing how to properly design these small details will allow a typeface to be used in more than just English-speaking countries.
Another important aspect of a quality design is the kerning and spacing of the typeface. Kiel says, “it used to be that good typesetters and designers would do kerning individually, but that doesn’t happen anymore. No one wants to buy a typeface that makes you do more work. You want to create a pleasant experience for the user of your typeface”.
When asked how someone can avoid going insane while kerning their typeface, Kiel laughs and says, “there is no ‘push-button kerning’ but there are ways to be smart about it”. Tools such as MetricsMachine can help remove some of the pain by streamlining the process of kerning and proofing but it still takes time, patience, and a good eye. One last note to remember, Kiel says, “you can’t sell kerning, but it can only enhance your reputation”.
Last year, for the first Typographics festival, potential attendees were asked to take a leap of faith that the event would be great based on the speakers and location. Master-of-ceremonies Roger Black shared some thoughts about what he and the other organizers had in mind, but this year we can refer to the videos and articles from the first festival to give everyone a taste of what Typographics is all about.
Nevertheless, Roger and fellow organizer Alexander Tochilovsky want to make sure this year’s Typographics will be even more vital. I spoke to Roger about what they looked for in the speakers this summer:
For Typographics, we just want really interesting people. We looked for people with two things: good work or something significant to say. Also, they had to be able to do a good job talking.
We’re asking the speakers about what’s on their minds these days, to capture what’s in the air, what designers who care about type want to hear about.
The broad themes are pretty obvious. One is that everyone is going global so we need to focus on multilingual typography. Another thing is that type is increasingly the core of many company brands, for products, movies, etc. The third big theme is that that type is everywhere. First it was for printing or books, then publications, then advertising and some other stuff in publications. Now every website, sign, software interface, and everything else uses type consciously. A lot of new typographic problems are not taught traditionally that need to be solved.
When I talked with Alexander, he spoke to the importance of having speakers that are not only interesting themselves, but who can also bring a wide range of interesting ideas:
The most important thing we talked about last year, and that we’re also thinking about this year, is having a nice variety of speakers and topics, representing different fields and disciplines. By having a diverse mix, we hope that people who are familiar with speakers in their own industries will come to hear designers they already respect, but also get a really interesting perspective on other things they’re not familiar with, like responsive web design for someone working in print, for instance. This cross-pollination can happen in a very natural way in an environment like this.
To help us do this we asked for referrals from people we know and trust, starting with all the speakers from last year, to get a better sense of what they’re seeing out there. It’s helping us identify certain things that are further off our radar.
With the full schedule for this year’s conference now finalized (and a few last-minute surprises for other events during the festival yet to be announced), we’re looking forward to another great event this year. We hope you’ll join us!
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