TypeCon 2012 Conference Trip Report

In the last few months, I’ve spent a lot of time on artwork and design, both for Slanted Hall projects and dance related work. This included posters, programs, and tickets for Danse Libre‘s theatrical show Ghostlight Tango and a tribute presentation for dance historian Richard Powers. All of this design work, and seeing all the quality fonts by independent designers, reminded me how much I enjoyed the detail work and of my own typeface projects from the mid-to-late 1980s. One such project was a music symbol font, using Metafont during its early days, along with building tools to help the process. This and other typeface projects eventually were put aside while I focused on different things.

While I was researching new design resources, after having been away for 20+ years, I ran across TypeCon (@typecon). The feel of the conference, from descriptions and other past conference reports, reminded me of USENIX Conferences back in the early 1990s: small conferences with a regular group of folk who attended and became friends over the years. Early bird registration had been extended by a week, ending two days from when I found out about the conference. Perhaps that meant I should attend? So, at the beginning of August 2012, I attended TypeCon 2012: MKE Shift in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I also joined SOTA (The Society of Typographic Aficionados) @typesociety; they organize TypeCon each year.

My gut was correct. It was a great conference with lots of good folk and generally very welcoming. Thanks to David Sudweeks (@nondescriptes) of FontShop (@fontshop), I met a number of other bay area type folk. It didn’t occur to me to have that—meeting local type folk—as a goal. I’m glad he made the introductions. They’re all good folk and people I’d enjoy hanging out with. Thanks to all of them for letting me tag along (since I didn’t really know anyone, yet). I hope to keep in touch with the variety of folk (from all over the world) I met, and see them again, at least at TypeCon, next year.

Here are some highlights from the conference. I had originally hoped to post this trip report before a trip to Paris and Moscow for dance workshops in August and September, but my schedule was overly full. So, this narrative may be missing details more easily recalled closer to the event.

Since I had started playing with Glyphs (@glyphsapp) for typeface design, I attended Eric’s (@mekkablue) Wednesday workshop. It’s the program I plan to continue using while I work on some ideas.

On Thursday, instead of working on one typeface, whose initial purpose was solely to get used to working in Glyphs, I attended the Type & Design Education Forum. This was a great decision. Some random notes from the forum:

  • Dan Reynolds (@typeoff) gave an endorsement for Glyphs (@glyphsapp), saying that students find it easy to learn on their own. Even though he can’t offer help with using Glyphs, he feels that it’s okay for his students to use it. He teaches with FontLab (@fontlab) and RoboFont (@robofonteditor). I enjoyed his talk, Type Design 101: Creating a Design Based on Vernacular Lettering, describing one of his workshops in which students photograph old signage, then create sets of letters based on the images to use as a basis for new typefaces.
  • Bethany Armstrong (@bethanydesign) gave a very moving talk about teaching design at American University Kuwait.
  • John Downer thinks 100 years is the right number for typeface copyright. To also benefit designer’s children. Grandkids are on their own. His spacing exercise—using black duct tape to represent the letter shapes and set spacing—was quite fun. Results looked similar to the photo from Elizabeth Carey Smith’s tumblr post (@theoriginalecs) from a workshop of his at the Type@Cooper (@coopertype) program. You can see me in the background, working on this exercise, in the first photo of David Sudweek’s update about the Education Forum. In the link for John, above, there’s a video of him at work from 2005. There was also mention of his copyright essay; perhaps it was Call It What It Is on revivals and such.
  • Gerry Leonidas (@gerryleonidas) talked about a model for design education that focuses on designing complex documents, such as newspapers, for small screens. [presentation]

The opening keynote, Thursday night (2 August 2012), was by Christian Helms (@xianhelms). He talked about the work they did for the Declaration of Independence campaign for Jack Daniel’s. Check out the documentary about the design. It was also nice to hear about the work they did for Austin Beerworks and design for his own restaurant Frank. Paraphrased, re: getting things done, “Perfection—Get out of your own way and get something done. Not to say, don’t strive for greatness.”  Here’s an interview with him (August 2011) from Method & Craft.

Dan Rhatigan (@ultrasparky) of Monotype showed some of the great Monotype history. Many people drawing in the early days of Monotype were women. Around the 1930s-40s? While looking up info on Fritz Steltzer (who did many of the mechanical drawings at Monotype), I ran across the Rare Book School reading list that includes mention of some good books with short descriptions about each.

Vista Sans Wood Type project by Ashley John Pigford and Tricia Treacy (@pointedpress): using CNC machine to create wood type. 21 international artists printed the word “touch” using the type they created.

What’s Our Vector, Victor? by Steve Matteson. Talked about typefaces for cockpit navigation. Showed a 13% improvement using a humanist sans typeface. Air traffic folk considered just 2-3% improvement enough to consider going forward on the project. Also looked at vehicle dashboards. What typefaces were used? Does anyone have links to comparison images for the charts and other uses? [For those who may not recognize the title’s reference from the film Airplane!, here’s a clip.] There was mention on Co.Exist of the study released (25 Sep 2012) by the MIT AgeLab (@josephcoughlin) and New England University Transportation Center partnered with Monotype (@monotypeimaging).

Nancy Sharon Collins (@thengravinglady) talked about engraving. Mentioned the Cyphers organization of engravers from the 1700s. While looking up info on that organization, I ran across the 1726 book titled A new book of cyphers, more compleat & regular than any ever publish’d. Wherein the whole alphabet (twice over) consisting of 600 cyphers, is variously chang’d, interwoven & revers’d.

Erin McLaughlin (@HindiRinny) of H&F-J (@H_FJ), and now on her own, talked about some of what went into creating the Landmark typeface family, based on the lettering on the Lever House building in NYC. When will the typeface be available? Update: As of 7 February 2013, the Landmark typeface family is available from Hoefler & Frere-Jones!

Info on the Lever House building:

Jean-Baptiste Levee (@opto) gave a great talk about what went into designing the typeface for Air Inuit, supporting both Latin and Inuit scripts. I remember reading about this project before TypeCon and was looking forward to it.

Ian Lynam talked about the life and work of Oz Cooper. Recommended reading the The Book of Oz Cooper.

The SOTA Catalyst Award was presented to Niko Skourtis (@niko_skourtis). For his undergraduate thesis, he created Typograph to visualize data from the Type Directors Club Annuals of the past 65 years. 

There was a sneak peek of The Sign Painter  documentary (@SignPainterDoc). Mostly interviews, at this early stage. I would’ve preferred to see more of the actual sign painting work happening. To be included during final film.

We also had a showing of Linotype: The Film (@linotypefilm)A fun documentary. I pre-ordered the DVD (Blu-ray hadn’t been decided upon, at that point). Release date is 16 October 2012. Here’s an article about the Linotype machine from The Atlantic, Celebrating Linotype, 125 Years Since Its Debut. Watch it online via Amazon Instant Video or get a DVD or Blu-ray disc directly from Linotypefilm.com.

Mark Jamra gave an interesting talk about learning about the Cherokee syllabary. He also maintains an educational resource at TypeCulture. He mentioned Cherokee Syllabary from Script to Print (abstract, PDF) by Ellen Cushman.

There was mention of the Monotype Mentoring Program. $3,000 financial assistance. For age 30 or younger. Looks like a great program. No strings. Though they would, of course, like to include typefaces designed as part of Monotype, it’s not necessary. Wish they had a program for folk over the age of 30. 😉 I’m getting back to type design after a 20+ year hiatus.

Amy Pampaelias (@fontnerd) talked about PersonaType, adding auditory and visible qualities to type.  She mentioned that Paul Shaw was a good resource. Tim LaSalle worked with her on the project and has an interest in moving type. I remember recently running across a new type foundry specializing in producing type for film titles, but can’t recall the name of it, right now.

Eric Vorhes (@erikvorhes) talked about the challenges webfonts present designers. [presentation] Some of the tools he mentioned included:

Jo De Baerdemaeker (@typojo) talked about Mongolian typefaces. Great to hear about his research and Mongolian script. He recommended Books of the Mongolian Nomads by György Kara.

Craig Eliason (@celiason) talked about his Daily Pangram (short text that includes each letter of the alphabet).

For the Kickstarter panel, I would’ve preferred more discussion about the pros and cons, alternatives, and dissenting opinion. The panel consisted of Jeremy Dooley (@ChaType), Marcelo Magalhães Pereira (@marcelommp), and Matt Griffin (@elefontpress), moderated by Thomas Phinney (@ThomasPhinney). Some of the (mostly typeface) projects mentioned were:

The SOTA Typography Award was presented to Mike Parker. Here’s a TDC Type Legends interview with Mike Parker from 2011.

TypeQuiz was actually fun. Scored a negligible 9.

Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum. Want to volunteer? Looking for corporate sponsorship. Wayzgoose 2012 (2-4 Nov 2012) is full.  Update: Hamilton is being forced to move and needs to raise $250,000 by early 2013.

Antonio Cavedoni (@verbosus) gave a great talk on Custom Stop. Now, I’m looking for custom versions of Aldo Novarese‘s Stop typeface everywhere I go. I think others are doing so, too. Post your finds on Antonio’s customstop flickr group.

Steve Ross (@steveross1956) gave a great talk on Mayan Writing Reform. Two million folk speak Mayan languages. Here’s his essay titled Yukatek: Reflection on Practise as part of the requirements for the University of Reading‘s MA in Typeface Design program. Some good tips in there. Check out the specimen for his Yukatek typeface.

TypeCrit was one of my favorite parts of the conference. Here’s the Type Crit poster by John Downer. Typography masters give a 10-minute critique and Q&A of typeface works-in-progress. Great mix of folk presenting their works-in-progress. Interesting to hear the quick questions and suggestions during the critique. David Sudweeks showed his great text typeface, in progress (photo of session by Leonardo Vazquez). Roger Black noted an increase in quality by new typeface designers in recent years; I responded that that’s one of the things that inspired me to revive some projects after 20+ years. A couple random and useful tips heard:

Small caps: Start with AWA pattern instead of typical …
Order for figuring out swashes: k K R Q
Critique by John Downer, Akira Kobayashi, and Roger Black (@rogerblack).

Stephen Coles (@stewf) on Chromeography: Cars. Lots of interesting history and images. He also manages Fonts In UseRemove mystery of why fonts were chosen and impact they have. Public contributions now accepted.  He also mentioned Kevin Kidney’s blog that includes some nice retro Disney images.

Indra Kupferschrift (@kupfers) gave a great history talk. She would like to see more variants in type families’ weights instead of simple interpolation.

Gerry Leonidas (@gerryleonidas & @typefacedesign) had invited me to tour the University of Reading archives during my Paris trip—it’s just a short jaunt away—but, I didn’t have time to make that excursion work with my schedule. Hopefully next time!

Here are some other posts about TypeCon 2012: 

Eventifier archive of TypeCon 2012 tweets and photos.
During the conference, the Adobe Source Sans Pro type family by Paul D. Hunt (@pauldhunt) was released by @adobetype as an open source project (on github).  Both it and the subsequent monospaced Source Code Pro typeface (on github) have received good attention. Check them out.

I picked up John D. Berry‘s (@johndberry) booklets. The only one I seem to have handy is Arranging fonts | it’s all about space; perhaps the others were misplaced during all my packing. His dot-font books all about design and all about fonts are available for free download.

Cyrus Highsmith‘s (@CyrusHighsmith) new book Inside Paragraphs: Typographic Fundamentals was released at TypeCon. Paul Shaw’s review in imprint has some good info on it, along with other resources. I picked up a copy. You can get yours from Amazon.

I had a lot of great conversations and met some fabulous folk. I believe Laura Worthington (@L_Worthington) is the one who had a nice, portable calligraphy pen; alas, I don’t recall the brand/model. It was great to hear comments from Tiffany Wardle (@typegirl) and Miguel de Sousa (@forcebold) on David Sudweeks’ work-in-progress text typeface. And have nice conversations with Christopher Slye (@ChristopherSlye) of Adobe and his wife Christy; Christopher was also unanimously elected as chair of the SOTA board of directors last month.

I wish there had been an attendee list since I didn’t remember to write down all the names of folk with whom I had nice conversations; and, two months later, it’s more difficult to recall. 😉  I was lucky enough to have some lovely conversations with Crystal Kluge (@tartworkshop & her recent MyFonts Creative Characters interview)Laura Serra (@laureola), and Jessica Hische (@jessicahische), who all do nice lettering and illustration. Next time, I may find out details about the jam session and practice sessions beforehand from Jim Wasco (@JimWasco) who also has a latin/funk band, Zona Blu). On the last night, I stopped by The Safe House to see folk before departing. I even got a little dancing (salsa, blues, swing mix) in with Emily Lime (@EmilyLimeDesign) and Daniela Betancourt of MyFonts.

I know I’m leaving out a bunch of other great folk I met. I’d be happy to hear from you all.

I wish I had been able to attend ATypI in Hong Kong (@ATypI), 10-14 October 2012. Last time I visited Hong Kong was before the new airport and while it was still under British rule. Here are some detailed live blog ATypI notes from Dave Crossland (@davelab6) of Understanding Fonts (@fontworkshop):


And a flickr group for ATypI Hong Kong 2012.

Please let me know if any corrections are needed, as I may have missed something in my notes while trying to recall 2+ months later after traveling to two countries, attending 4 dance workshops, meeting a ton of other folk, and yet another conference. I look forward to TypeCon 2013 (Portland, OR, 21-25 August 2013) and TYPO SF (@TYPOSF), 11-12 April 2013.

—Jeff Kellem (@composerjk / @slantedhall)

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8 Responses to TypeCon 2012 Conference Trip Report

  1. Rob Keller says:

    Jeff! Wow, this is probably the most extensive writeup of a conference ever. Unlike you, I don’t have the memory, energy, or motivation to say so much – especially after so long. It’s easier when it’s fresher… Nice work though! See you there again next year 🙂

    • slantedhall says:

      Thanks! I normally would prefer to include more detail (instead of just saying “a great talk”), but I like to have the trip reports written, so I have a reference mainly for myself and to share with colleagues. I just didn’t have time before Paris and Moscow. I should’ve taken more notes. Dave Crossland’s live blog notes are more extensive since he’s typing quickly and posting his raw notes each day. 🙂 Thanks for your own report. See you next year!

  2. This is a great report jam packed with great links, thank you! I, too, was amazed with the great group of people at TypeCon, the quality of speakers, and the fantastic TypeCrit that sent me out with such helpful feedback on my first type design project. Looking forward to next year’s conference—

  3. Scott Boms says:

    Obviously I missed chatting with you this year Jeff, but here’s the link to the talk I gave on McLuhan, Fuller and Fiore and the Information Age books from the late 60’s/early 70’s. TypeCon is definitely one of a rare kind of conference which I look forward to every year – this was my third TypeCon and second year speaking. Looking forward to seeing you next year 🙂

  4. Pingback: TYPOSF 2013 Conference Trip Report | Slanted Hall

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