ATypI 2010 Dublin: The Word – Presentations
What!? Another post about the most recent ATypI conference, over three months after it took place? Well, you must know that a while ago I received an e-mail from editor, typographer, and current ATypI president John D. Berry who pertinently reminded me of the final sentence in my last ATypI review.
Next episode, the rest of the presentations.
Then, yesterday night I had a chat with French type designer, foundry owner, and former ATypI president Jean François Porchez who also asked me if I ever completed my series of reviews, or if he missed the last instalment. Now if there is one rule I abide by in life, it is that if two presidents ask me the exact same thing I listen and oblige. And so, as per by presidential request, here is the long overdue final chapter of my ATypI 2010: The Word series. You can all stop laughing now.
It doesn’t make make that much sense for me to give a complete run-down of the presentations I attended, like I originally planned to do. Post-conference coverage tends to be rather ephemeral, and I frankly don’t think anyone gives a medium-sized, long-tailed rodent’s posterior anymore. In the past I have noticed that I always started out very enthusiastically, but lost steam halfway through and never managed to finish the whole damn series. It simply is too much work, other work starts interfering, and if you really wanted to know everything about it you should have attended the event in the first place anyway. Instead I will give my opinion on what I think worked and didn’t work regarding presentations, so these can also serve as general observations that apply to more than just this one conference. For this purpose I will discuss a couple of talks that fit together in how they were presented instead of sticking to chronology.
What I like so much about ATypI conferences is that the presentations usually tackle a great and varied mix of topics. One moment you are geeking out during a detailed presentation on a very specific topic, and the next you are laughing out loud at some amusing anecdotal talk. This year the aforementioned short presentations added some extra variety. Unfortunately not everyone handled those twenty minute talks equally well. For example I walked in on Nadine Chahine’s Reading Arabic: psycholinguistics and type design after Paul Stiff’s amazing Material texts – Typography and reading in everyday life which I discussed in the previous ATypI 2010 Dublin post. Now I have heard Nadine talk before – amongst others at Shapeshifters – and know she is a great presenter. She is very lively and knowledgeable, with a firm grasp on her subject matter, and is always willing to embark on an interesting diversion or to tell a funny anecdote. Yet here I had the impression she was trying to cram in as much information as was humanly possible into her measly time slot, turning “lively” into more like “talkingsofastitwasoftenquitehardtofollow”.
Others however handled the time restriction better, mainly because their topic was better suited for this. It goes without saying the more anecdotal talks worked well within the twenty minutes time limit. I remember really enjoying Cathy Gale’s mix of facts and fun As sure as eggs is eggs: the curious case of X, and loved Lisa Godson’s historical Business buys a new background – Chromatic fantasy and typographic nightlife in New York, 1924–1938. As a fan of Mad Men I was delighted to hear Emily Luce talk about Easy marks – The hobo’s code.
However some serious topics also lent themselves very well to these short presentations. I was intrigued by the meaning and socio-political context of the pieces shown by Pascal Zoghbi in his Urban Arabic Graffiti within Political Arab Crisis, and impressed by the dedication and thorough scientific research displayed in Priscila L. Farias’ Replicating architectonic epigraphs – Capturing dimensional aspects of urban lettering. Lynn Fleming’s and Nicole Killian’s The New Aesthetics of Authenticity was nothing short of an eye-opener, and the historic facts in Jo De Baerdemaeker‘s fantastic overview The Javanese typefaces of Johannes Enschedé en Zonen and Lettergieterij Amsterdam voorheen N. Tetterode were fascinating. Jo has become an undisputed authority in his field of expertise, and judging from the line waiting to get in the second track it was obvious he should have been in the main hall.
One of the main concerns for any presenter is of course: “To read or not to read?” Generally speaking only a happy few can get away with an entirely written out presentation, and almost all of them are seasoned teachers. Perfect examples are Paul Stiff, discussed last episode, and James Mosley. Even though the latter’s delivery of The Types of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was very subdued, as was his interaction with the audience, the entire room was enthralled by his gripping account. Yet although Phil Baines and Catherine Dixon also have extensive teaching and speaking experience – their fabulous Type and Lettering Walks are testimony to this – their presentation Cultural crossroads – Lettering for the Pozza Palace, Dubrovnik was saved by the material, because here I must say Phil and Catherine reading their text made the talk less engaging.
For some however reading their presentation proved problematic. I think his initial intention may have been to appear friendly and relaxed, but seeing Frank Cartledge slouched against the speaking desk, monotonously reading off the printed text of I accept the terms and conditions stated herein he nonchalantly held in his hand, he came across as uninvolved and a little arrogant. And it was very disconcerting to see one of the presenters of The appeal of the past – Retro type and typography obsessively fixate the ceiling every single time she was not looking at her text. Dan Rhatigan summed it up perfectly on Twitter, asking the presenters to stop reading and actually talk to the audience.
One person that used to read most of his presentations is former Adobe Product Manager for Fonts & Global Typography and OpenType guru Thomas Phinney, who currently works acts as Senior Product Manager of font management products for Extensis. I was overjoyed to experience him au naturel in his comprehensive overview of the Foundries and the business of web fonts. He was knowledgeable and candid, and had very interesting things to say on the topic of web fonts. Here as well Thomas should have been in the main hall, because the place was absolutely packed, and some people had to listen outside the open doors.
On Saturday afternoon a special session about collaborative type design was scheduled. It started with the panel discussion Managing multiplicity – The Pitfalls and Pleasures of Collaborative Typeface Design. Ideally moderator Hrant Papazian should have quickly introduced each of the participants, after which the panel could then have engaged in a Q&A session with the audience. Alas everyone was invited to introduce him or herself and the project they were working on, and by the time the first question could have been asked time had run out. I’ve seen this happen before, and I think moderators of such panels have a crucial role to play. They should be well aware of the pitfalls of this kind of sessions.
In this session the two last presentations really stood out. First Martin Majoor and Jos Buivenga, both looking like bona fide rock stars, waltzed us through their Questa Project. During this talk Martin Majoor casually explained his brilliant theories about sans serif italics, proving what a great theorist on type design he is. Every single time I am amazed at how clear, logical, and self-evident his point of view is.
Then came Underware‘s Bas Jacobs, and boy did he do a terrific job. Let’s suffer together, his account of the concept, design, and painstaking production of the Book of War, Mortification and Love, the Fakir specimen printed in the author’s blood was simply glorious. His wit and energy, his relaxed manner on stage, and the countless facts and anecdotes littering the presentation made it a truly memorable one, easily one of the very best of this edition of ATypI.
I do hope this post earns the Presidents’ approval. ; ) I am done here.
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