Excellent First Kerning Conference Brings (Web) Typography to Southern Europe

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News | Yves Peters | July 6, 2013

If you are into typography and were anywhere near Faenza, Italy two months ago yet didn’t go to Kerning Conference, you seriously missed out. The inaugural edition of this local event with an international scope was of such high quality it elicited this remark from Richard Rutter:

If this year’s @ampersandconf is as good as @kerningconf I will deem it a huge success. Congrats guys—it was a really good day #keming

It is no coincidence that Richard compared Kerning to his own Ampersand – both are one-day conferences dedicated solely to typography and web type, and both attract international speakers (and even an international audience). Their geographic remoteness yet proximity in time makes them perfectly complementary events. Theoretically Europe should be more than able to sustain several of these events, each serving a number of neighbouring countries and offering a roster of sought-after speakers. After attending and speaking at the excellent first edition I approached co-organiser Matteo Balocco for a post-conference interview.


Simone Wolf introduces the conference, which took place in the lovely and cose red-mlush-and-gold Cinema Teatro Sarti. Note the tongue-in-cheek conference Twitter hashtag on the screen.

Kerning was organised by a “band of six” passionate about typography – Matteo Balocco, Francesco Fullone, Nicolò Volpato, Luca Salvini, Enrico Stradaioli and Cristiano Rastelli.

Matteo Balocco | “We are spread out between England and Northern Italy, with various skills ranging from PHP programming to UX design, rather than from visual design to brand identity. The truth is, none of us can be considered to be real experts in typography. Yet we all share a passion for typography which informs how we approach our everyday jobs. Francesco and Luca already managed other conferences for web professionals such as From the Front, PHPDay, and JSDay. When the idea for ​​a typography conference popped up, we quickly switched from words to action. I think the formula for success was organising ourselves as a team where each of us could bring complementary skills to the table and accomplish different tasks.”


Type designer Luc(as) de Groot – the best-dressed rock star geek in the type business – opened Kerning with his keynote. In his signature fast-paced, self-deprecating style he gave the audience a guided tour with many humorous sidesteps through the production of digital typefaces. The mix of dry wit and impressive expertise had the usual exhilarating effect on the listeners.


Nina Stössinger’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Typography introduced the audience to micro- and macro-typography from a traditional “print” point of view, in ways that could be applied to web typography. By using clever analogies she managed to make new concepts easy to understand.

Matteo was – together with Luca and Nicolò – in charge of drafting the speaker lineup for the conference, which was pretty impressive for a first edition.

Matteo Balocco | “From the onset we wanted to attract speakers that you cannot easily meet in Italy; people who are highly competent in their field and who also know how to entertain an audience. The composition of the lineup was largely affected by the personalities and competences of the initial speakers who confirmed their participation (you were one them!). We then contacted people who could “fill in the gaps” and balance out the topics, in order to give the audience a clear idea of how typography permeates every aspect of our daily lives. I would like to use the opportunity to thank again all the speakers – and of course the sponsors too – for trusting us and help make this very first edition such a success!”


Richard Rutter’s Inspiring Web Typography You Can Do Now dove into the nitty-gritty of web typography. The many examples of code to improve the typography of web pages proved to be valuable and immediate takeaways for the audience.


Marko Dugonjić’s Responsive Web Typography looked at the context in which web typography is presented to the reader. His talk touched upon a variety of subjects like devices and their screen sizes, reading distance, text size and line breaks, and so on.

Why no Italian speakers?

Matteo Balocco | “Like I mentioned we wanted to organise something different. There are some conferences devoted to typography in Italy, but these have a mainly academic approach and rarely host foreign speakers or deal with issues related to the web. We wanted to offer something new on the national scene. With that in mind, and even though having no Italian speakers for this first edition was intentional, we all agreed that we would look more closely at the rich cultural heritage of our country in the future.”


I basically had to keep the audience from dozing off after the delicious lunch with Two Decades of Trajan in Movie Posters, possibly the most fun and entertaining of my talks which I keep adding to and perfecting.


Aral Balkan stressed the importance of design as the way things work instead of what things look like in Content Out Design. His presentation touched upon the importance of taking the initiative and collaborating, on working in an open source environment and shaping your own tools.

The schedule and order of the speakers seemed very well thought out.

Matteo Balocco | “The drafting of the schedule was not a linear process but rather a progressive one. Once we knew the abstract of each talk and the characteristics of each speaker, Luca and I worked on various assumptions, debating the pros and cons of each proposal. Eventually we defined an itinerary similar to a relay race, in which each speaker carries a metaphorical baton, passing it on to the next speaker. Luc set the stage with his keynote, then Nina broached the overall subject, after which Rich and Marko dealt with the technical stuff. You were the entertainer just after lunch, Aral focused on design, Bas reminded us of all the hard work invested in a font, and Chris wrapped up the day beautifully. Simone Wolf was a great moderator who expertly connected all the talks. We were very satisfied with the end result, because the attendees really liked it.”


Like Luc(as), Bas Jacobs is another type design geek who combines a fun stage presence with quirky humour, but in a more subdued way. Tea is the new coffee. The book is the new LP. Hinting is the new kerning. Doing is the new thinking. basically explained why it takes Underware comparatively long to release new type families (hint: it involves an insane obsession with design and technical quality and constantly striving towards perfection). The talk included a live kerning session. Of the audience. Fer realz.


Chris Murphy perfectly concluded the conference with These go to eleven…, situating typography in both its historical background and a broader context, and providing the audience with loads of helpful information for studying and further reading.

The organisers are cautiously considering to replicate the experience and make Kerning a regular fixture on the international type scene. Nevertheless this kind of conference – especially since it is a non-profit event – requires a lot of effort and dedication, so it is still to early to confirm anything.

Matteo Balocco | “If we do a new edition we want to guarantee the same quality standards of the first edition, or even improve on them, while keeping ticket prices affordable. One thing we would like is to include other typography-related fields such as calligraphy and content management/strategy for example. Kerning was my very first experience in conference management. As I attended a lot of well-organized conferences before, such as Ampersand, dConstruct, From the Front and New Adventures, my expectations were set high and I was really nervous on the conference day. Fortunately the team work paid off and apart from a small incident with a microphone everything went just fine. I enjoyed the spontaneous approach, such as the official twitter hashtag (#keming) or the minimal set up of the stage, which made Kerning a serious not-so-serious conference. But most of all, I’m delighted with the high quality delivered by our guests and the great feedback we received from the attendees and our sponsors. I think that’s the best indication for us to move forward.”

All images © Alessio Carone. Discover the complete Set on Flickr.

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