Earlier this summer, fellow UDG Board Member and designer extraordinaire, Mike Sulick, met up with me and hundreds of fellow typophiles for a deep dive into the pool of contemporary typography at the 2018 Typographics Festival at The Cooper Union, NYC.
Sulick and Fileti take a selfie. Check out the hairlines in the background.
I suppose it would be more surprising if a design festival didn’t embrace their own branding, but it still must be noted that 2018 Typographics rocked this especially hard. The recurring visual theme of black backgrounds and radiating white outlines was elegantly deployed through every possible visual avenue; from small wayfinding cues to the entire side of a building. The attention to detail was staggering and seamless. The energy of the design language being used, readily invites animation, which was thoughtfully included throughout the festival, their website, and the pre-festival promotion.
The branding was in full force in the swag bag.
Part of the facade of the original Cooper Union building
I think it’s especially important to call out the conference badges. This is one of those design challenges that leads to even the most original designers sacrificing brand guidelines, creating a hint of a background, and setting the most boring type you can imagine. The challenge is to create something visually interesting and on brand, that is modified with hundreds of names (of varying length, plus inclusive of all diacritics), and it must be easily implemented for last minute additions. Now, keep that brief in mind while you take a moment to observe the Typographics’ Badges.
Beth’s name badge for the conference
Now, imagine what your workflow is and how you would go about implementing this design for that type of production. The magic behind the curtain is the Python programming language and a (Free!) application called DrawBot. By designing the badges through code, the festival was able to fully embrace their own brand guidelines and create truly unique Name Badges. Now, were these badges great for that quick glance after already forgetting the name of someone you were introduced to only moments ago? Not especially. However, what they may have sacrificed in readability, they more than made up for in conversation (and isn’t that preferred?)
While the festival was comprised of workshops, tours, and events throughout the week, the main course was two days of lectures on type design, typography, branding, emojis, and more.
The conference started off with a lovely presentation by Mike Essl on the remarkable through lines The Cooper Union has weaved not only through his own personal design history but through the larger cultural history, as well. It was the perfect way to set the tone for the festival; the audience was immediately at ease to embrace their own personal unabashed love for written visual language on a personal level, while the diversity of lectures invited one to observe the use of typography from a broader perspective.
Silas Munro, sharing some of W.E.B. Dubois’ Data Visualizations
Each lecture was interesting (and videotaped!Keep an eye out for updates) but for brevity’s sake, I’ll highlight just a few. After first presenting a different approach to outlining design history, Silas Munro shared some of his research on W.E.B. DuBois’ data visualizations. (Some of his writing on the subject will be more widely available when this book comes out.) DuBois worked with a small team to create a series of beautiful hand-drawn infographics for display at the 1900 Paris Exposition, as part of “The American Negro Exhibit”, for which he was awarded a gold medal at the exposition. Silas gave a carefully curated presentation of beautiful forms and informative context. If you ever see he is speaking somewhere, do yourself a favor and grab a seat.
Another highlight was Ken Barber’s loving tribute to Rich Roat, founder of House Industries, who passed away late last year. He showcased some of the incredible work that Rich contributed to House and to the design community. Rich’s work knew no bounds and it was incredible to see the lengths to which he pushed his ideas into any number of fields. Hearing about the passion and care that Rich brought to his work, to his life, and to his interests left me full of humble admiration. Ken’s presentation was a beautiful reminder that “Collaboration is more rewarding than sheer competition.”
Ken Barber sharing stories about Rich Roat.
Additionally, I very much enjoyed Lance Wyman’s presentation on the 1968 Mexican Olympics identity, Bahia Shehab’s A Thousand Times No project, and Jennifer Daniel’s presentation (Hot Take?) on Emojis.
Herb Lubalin Typography wall AKA Beth’s living room goal.
Outside of the main lectures, Typographics was a whirlwind of activity. With a book fair, a beautiful Herb Lubalin Typography wall, live calligraphy demos and impromptu spotlight speeches. One of the most arresting moments came when Erik van Blokland stood up to give an impromptu spotlight speech, in which he was given just a few minutes to share some thoughts on type. He began by slowly tracing for us the path of a photon as it leaves a star, misses celestial interference to find our planet and continues to avoid clouds, umbrellas, and obstacles. He described the particle of light reaching a page, finding a letter and reflecting back upwards. Then, after missing the blink of an eyelid, it reaches with some finality the interior of his own eye. This photon has taken over four years to reach us, to allow this experience to take place. He went on to recommend that “…poetry and literature should be read in starlight. Newspapers should be read in sunlight, outside. That light is only 8 ½ minutes old.” It was a poetic summation of what we all do, and what we often take for granted. He rounded his thoughts out by sharing that he doesn’t know if thinking about this makes him a better designer, but that he enjoyed thinking about it regardless.
Perhaps this is the simplest take-away from 2018 Typographics, the “design festival for people who use type”. I don’t know that the two days I was able to spend thinking and learning about how others are using type has made me a better designer, but I have enjoyed the thinking regardless.
Final send-off. Be on the look-out for next year’s Blind Bird Tickets as soon as they are available.