August 15, 2006


Posted in typography at 1:22 am by India

Looking back over the TypeCon program, it’s amazing to me how many sessions I missed. But, you know, the weather was beautiful, and I’m not much of a morning person. Or an evening person—I also blew off all the parties and field trips. (But I’m a regular ace at “Break for lunch on your own.”)

Of the talks I did attend, only one was so boring that I really fell asleep. But that one—woo! It was a doozy. I’ll just say that it cured me of any desire, however slight, ever to attend RISD. Then there were a couple of borderline presentations that were mostly interesting but a bit of a challenge to sit through in a dark, too-cool room. In most of these, it was a matter of quantity: twenty-five minutes would have been perfect; forty minutes was about thirty minutes too much. For example, I didn’t know jack about “The Wonderful World of William Addison Dwiggins” and enjoyed the first two presentations thereon pretty thoroughly. But approximately 237 pieces of fascinating ephemera into the third segment, I just had to stagger out. Couldn’t. Stay. Awake. Fortunately, when I got to the hang-out area, there were cookies! And tea!

Suggestion to organizers for next year: Have the tea trolleys roll up and down the aisles during the talks, for less attrition.

My favorite presentation was among the most frivolous:

A curious obsession

vintage typewriter ribbon tins and automobile type. Typewriter ribbons tins (remember typewriters?) and vintage automobiles displayed exquisite examples of typography and hand lettering. Gain inspiration as Brian Sooy shares these miniature works of advertising art and examples of “moving type” found on classic and vintage automobiles.

Gorgeous things, for just twenty minutes. Even a nondesigner could have appreciated this. And it really was inspiring, as advertised.

Nondesigners probably could not have sat through the two Sunday sessions I attended—

Personal Form: Expressionistic Writing and the Cultivated Accident in Type Design and Letterform Education

This presentation begins by looking at the ideas and teachings of the German writing master Martin Andersch (1921–1994). A few heads in the US were turned when his first book was translated and introduced here in 1989; it is clearly not the Zapf/Hoefer/Reynolds-inspired approach to calligraphy prevalent in the United States. His interpretive writing is not widely known in North America, and this presentation will provide the audience with a brief look at it and then show examples of work from Andersch’s evening classes and typefaces that have been influenced by this approach. This session will also look at work from the type/letterform design classes at Maine College of Art, which have also been inspired by Andersch’s method.

Creating “Williams Caslon”: A Digital Interpretation of Caslon Old Face

Caslon was the first typeface ever to be revived, and has probably been the most often revived. It has been praised by printers as having a unique combination of qualities: highly readable, unpretentious, and authoritative. “When in doubt, use Caslon,” it’s said. But Caslon has also been criticized by designers as a collection of mistakes, incoherent, pedestrian, and sloppy. In addition, for over a century, Caslon revivals have been accompanied by claims of authenticity, whereas in fact all have included varied and questionable “improvements.” William will describe the unique challenge of reviving Caslon in light of his experience developing Williams Caslon, a face designed to better capture the readability, friendliness, and authority of Caslon for modern presses and readers.

Wakefulness was touch and go for me at various points during both, but they made a nice back-to-back pair. In the first, Mark Jamra explained Andersch’s teaching method and how he (Jamra) uses it to teach type design to art students. Then he showed some of the typefaces his students had made in a seven-week period for their final projects. It made creating a (very basic) typeface look fun and rewarding. In the second, William Berkson explained why and how he set about making a new digital version of Caslon, showing slide after slide of comparisons between the many faces that bear that name, pointing out nitpicky differences in size and shape. It made creating a digital typeface seem absolutely impossible, insane, futile, and perverse. And also fun and rewarding, for a certain kind of person.

“Demystifying Font Management in OS X” didn’t. It sounded promising—

Featuring Peter Lofting, Apple Computer, Halstead York, Extensis, Bruno Steinert, Linotype, Stephen Coles, FontShop/Typographica, and moderator Kent Lew [and a different guy from Linotype, and a guy from the company that makes FontAgent Pro]
This panel discussion explores the state of font management in the latest incarnation of the Macintosh operating system. These experts in developing font management tools and the use and critique thereof will discuss best practices and other aspects of this often-tricky part of the production process. Audience participation is welcome and encouraged.

—but I’ve seen much more useful presentations on the subject at InDesign User Group, and it was just sad how the Q&A broke down into inchoate expressions of rage. Don’t get me wrong—I, too, could have feelingly smacked half the guys on that panel with a wet serif—but I don’t think that would have been the kind of audience participation they had in mind. It was not a constructive discussion.

The twenty-minute “typography in gaming” presentation was meaningless to me—couldn’t tell what was the game part of the games, didn’t really need to know how they were made—but the boy in the necktie was adorable, and had there been room in my swag bag, I would have taken him home.

And “Typography in Publications,” which sounded dangerously overcorporatespeaked—

Featuring Ronn Campisi, Ronn Campisi Design, Matthew Carter, Carter and Cone, James Montalbano, Terminal Design, David Berlow, Font Bureau, and moderator John D. Berry, John D. Berry Design
This panel discussion delves into the art and science of producing and using type and typography for publications. These leaders in the field will explore custom type for magazines and newspapers and the challenges facing type designers, type buyers, and end users involved in visual mass communications.

—turned out to be not half as “yeah, duh” as I’d feared. It was just the right length—or even ten minutes too short—and I’m sure I had some brilliant insights afterward, though I don’t remember at all what they were.

The best thing in the swag bag (given the omission of the young geek with the necktie) might have been Rookledge’s International Directory of Type Designers, except that somebody had already unloaded a spare copy on me more than a year ago. You can’t give these things away, apparently. And then there was the little flash drive from Adobe, but I already have one flash drive I never use, and I’ve heard that trying to get the stupid Adobe OpenType presentation off the drive can hose your computer, so I’m a bit reluctant to plug it in. So that leaves . . . the magazines? the pen? I dunno. I’ll have to dig through it all again. Come to think of it, I still haven’t emptied out my swag bag from last year’s TypeCon. Maybe none of it is useful.

All I really wanted from the store was a KERN jacket, but it seemed stupid to buy such a thing for $70 when I can make one for myself, and in a color I might actually wear (it only comes in navy, which I have positively no use for). In the gallery, however, I wanted everything. And that, most of all, is what TypeCon means to me: an opportunity to see dozens of gorgeous typefaces that either aren’t yet available for purchase or that, if they are, cost more than I can justify paying, given the half-assedness of my supposed freelance activities. Some samples I saw and coveted:

And there was a sample in the swag bag of the costingest typeface I covet: Sabon Next.

So. It was interesting, I’m glad I went, it was cool meeting Sparky!, and it’s an endearing conference, but almost none of it applies to the working designer in the trench. I probably won’t go again unless I start designing typefaces of my own.


  1. Margaret said,

    Typography in Publications sounds like it was interesting (Matthew Carter’s the only one I recognize from the bunch). And Dwiggins! And typewriters! Oh my.

    As far as typefaces go, Siquot Antigua appeals to me. I think it’s goth. And for the record: Odile=punk, Loreto=goth, Romance=punk without apologies, Nix Rift=goth. Typecon06 . . . goth? Tea tray= so so punk. /dorkiness /silly post

  2. India Amos said,

    Yes, Odile is definitely punk, and I must have those ornaments. Oooh, shivers. But I’m not sure about the rest. Most tea and tea-related paraphernalia are goth, I feel, except for the Burnt Tire tea, which is, obviously, punk.

  3. jack said,

    this would maybe be the same dwiggins that created that terrific batch of marionettes i seen in a fat old book exactly who can remember how long ago?

  4. India Amos said,

    Yes, the very same. He was a very busy man, apparently.

  5. Derek said,

    I, too, covet Sabon Next. I covet it with the heat of many suns. I believe M’sieur Porchez is working on an OpenType version of it, joy of joys – maybe by the time it’s out I’ll be able to afford it. (Yeah, right.)

  6. India Amos said,

    Ouais, c’est vrai. I tell myself that when the OT version is released, I will buy it.

    But I probably will not. I could get several really lovely typefaces for that amount of money, and lately I haven’t been doing any freelance design, so I can’t justify the expense. I suppose if I sought out more freelance work, I would both earn more font money and have more opportunities in which to use them, but I just don’t like giving up my evenings and weekends. I’d much rather sit here hitting reload, reload, reload on my stats page than do something lucrative and challenging.

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