TYPO Berlin 2014 “Roots”

The frustrating thing about reporting from TYPO conferences is that you feel like you are continuously running out of time. There is so much to see, so many presentations to attend and people to meet that – by the time you have had (very late) dinner and are back in your hotel room – all you can think of is going to sleep to be well rested for the next day. There just doesn’t seem to be any time to sit down, compose your thoughts and mould them into a somewhat decent review.


Keep Calm and Carry On from Studiocanoe on Vimeo.

This is why Holm Friebe’ keynote The stone strategy – The art of doing nothing was oddly appropriate. True to the topic he presented in a relaxed and laid-back (yet still professional) manner. Friebe opened his presentation by asking the audience how many felt that time flies too fast and technology evolves at too quick a pace. He introduced us to his “stone strategy” as opposed to the common business theories that refer to busy little critters like mice and squirrels and so on. The stone strategy promotes a wait-and-see attitude, offering a sensible alternative to the bias of action. Friebe explained that if you move, you need to know where; if you don’t move, you need to know why. Simply keeping busy for its own sake is useless, because Parkinson’s law dictates that work will always expand so as to fill the time available for its completion. The old adage that the early bird gets the worm ignores it is the second mouse that gets the cheese. One should also be skeptical for the tyranny of the new, as some argue that nothing truly useful is being invented anymore. In that respect mindlessly chasing new fads and pursuing the newest technologies is a folly. Friebe ended by drawing an analogy with the resurgence and popularity of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters. The fact that he used a typeface derived from those posters throughout his presentation was a nice and surprising final reveal.

TYPO Hall: Daniel Gjøde at TYPO Berlin 2014 “Roots”. Photo © Gerhard Kassner

Daniel Gjøde gave the audience a list of thirteen Stupid tips based on his personal experience in Out of our minds – How to achieve everything we have … in a much shorter time. Running his studio in different configurations, large and small, hiring employees and collaborating with freelancers, working with different types of customers, taught Gjøde quite a few lessons he was willing to share with the audience. These ranged from well-meaning commonplaces to genuinely valuable insights, but I guess the tips were primarily aimed at the many students and beginning professionals in the audience. A lively and inspirational presentation by a congenial speaker.

TYPO Stage: Frank Grießhammer at TYPO Berlin 2014 “Roots”. Photo © Nina Stössinger

I am not sure what I expected when I left TYPO Hall to see Frank Grießhammer on TYPO Stage. I guess the title 25 years of digital type, without all the experience had me believe it would be about Frank’s own experiences in type design when working for the Adobe Type Team or something like that, but it certainly was not this. To mark the 25th anniversary of the Adobe Originals Type Library and its 100th release – Frank Grießhammer’s own Source Serif, the newest OpenSource free font family from Adobe – he took us on a discovery trip through the lesser-known Adobe Originals. While fun, the presentation was short (Frank only had a twenty minute-slot) and light on content. I hate to say this because I really like Frank and he is a great young voice in type design – check his terrific FF Quixo or the slightly insane HWT Tuscan for example – but his talk felt superficial and left me a bit disappointed.

TYPO Show: David Lemon at TYPO Berlin 2014 “Roots”. Photo by Frank Grießhammer

Then it was on to TYPO Show where that same 25th anniversary also was the focus of the next presentation. David Lemon recounted the history of the Adobe Type Team from its very beginning to the current day in Type Design at Adobe. As I remember most of the milestones firsthand from working for FontShop BeNeLux in the early nineties this was a fascinating journey, full of nuggets and unexpected finds. At some points it slightly veered towards the obligatory sponsor presentation, yet David Lemon managed to keep the right balance.

I was really torn after this – either go back to TYPO Stage to see pretty pictures of Polish Cold War Neon from the Neon Muzeum Warsaw, or stick around and watch Vitaly Friedman talk about Rerooting: real-life responsive web design. I eventually decided to go for content over style. The editor-in-chief of influential web magazine Smashing Magazine is an enthusiastic speaker who manages to make even complex topics intelligible. Although some of the more technical aspects went a little over my head, Vitaly’s tips and tricks for optimising specific processes were eye-opening, especially in consideration of performance and speed.

TYPO Hall: Hamish Muir & Paul McNeil at TYPO Berlin 2014 “Roots”. Photo © Gerhard Kassner

For me personally the high point of the first day was the duo presentation by Paul McNeil and Hamish Muir. With Machine tools they presented their conceptual typography work. Their relaxed and confident onstage banter was very amusing. Paul McNeil’s quest to design the most neutral typeface possible and his experiments in transforming the alphabet through manipulations like mirroring were utterly engrossing. He also praised Kai Bernau for Neutral which was recently re-releasd by Typotheque. Hamish Muir started by showing his fabulous work with 8vo. Muir is the living proof for my thesis that Helvetica only works when you have intimate knowledge of what exactly makes those character shapes shine. The beauty of the colourful ultra-modernist spreads floored me, now just as much as when 8vo magazine originally was published. McNeil and Muir also showed recent work, amongst others their series of 200 poster designs for the Wim Crouwel exhibition in Design Museum three years ago and their fascinating generative typeface FF ThreeSix. By making the important decisions very early on in the design process and then let the computer do the legwork, they manage to create superb generative work. While the end result of highly conceptual design experiments sometimes can be lacking, their posters and other designs are simply gorgeous. I feel very lucky that afterwards I ran into them in the speakers’ room and exchanged some ideas about typography and type design.

TYPO Hall: SNASK at TYPO Berlin 2014 “Roots”. Photo © Gerhard Kassner

My original review on Twitter of SNASK’s presentation may sound a little cavalier, so please allow me to elaborate. The Swedish design agency specialised in branding and film brought out the big guns for Make Enemies & Gain Fans – The inspirational show about creative entrepreneurship – also the title of the book they released one year ago. Magnus Berg and Fredrik Öst (the guy with the tambourine) were introduced by what I think were the remaining three members of the design agency, dressed as two cardinals and a dog and playing rootsy rock on guitar, bass and drums. This set the tone for a rowdy, expletive-laden presentation with attitude to spare. Unfortunately they focused too much on telling the audience how cool and cutting edge they are and how they manage to irritate their enemies, instead of letting their work and ideas speak for themselves so the audience could make up their own minds and decide whether they are indeed worthy of their excessive self-praise. Rob Keller summarised it perfectly. SNASK may be doing fabulous and mind-blowing design work, but a great design agency does not automatically a great presentation make.

TYPO Show: Yanone at TYPO Berlin 2014 “Roots”. Photo by Jens Kutílek

No, if I wanted genuine intent and interesting content, all I needed to do was go to Yanone’s presentation of his interdisciplinary Antithesis project, the final talk of the day in TYPO Show. The multi-talented artist never had any need for swear words nor adolescent misbehaving to quietly turn into a cult figure in our little world. It was unfortunate that FontShop already started their 25th anniversary celebration by distributing their “1.000 free beers”. As a result attendance in TYPO Show was rather disappointing.

Yanone is a gem, one of those designers who are just as much artist. He guided the audience through the genesis of Antithesis, starting with the creation of the smallest super family ever. The presence of Luc(as) de Groot in the audience – designer of Thesis which was the largest super family when it originally was released by FontFont, and probably still is – added a special cachet to the presentation. Then Yanone showed some of his early film work, and expanded upon the underlying concept of the Antithesis movie, and how it relates to the typeface and the whole frickin’ universe. What I love about Yanone is that he blows not just the audience’s, but sometimes also his own mind while explaining the wild concepts that inform his work. This results in endearing bouts of youthful enthusiasm and even bemusement. If you are prepared to follow him down the rabbit hole, the journey always is an exciting one. Yanone ended his presentation with screening the much anticipated (and excellent) Antithesis dance film, which was very well received. It was the perfect way to finish an exciting first day at TYPO Berlin “Roots”.

Header image: Typographic composition on the TYPO Show stage with neon letters on loan from Buchstabenmuseum.