Robothon audience | photo by Laure Afchain Robothon09 is the first technically oriented type conference I have ever attended. Dan Reynolds – TDC2 2009 winner; read the second part of the overview soon on The FontFeed – once invited me on behalf of his colleagues at Linotype to TypoTechnica 2007 in Frankfurt as a member of the press. Unfortunately this coincided with a trip abroad. And at the ATypI conferences I’ve always skipped the preceding TypeTech/TypeTools Forums. Of course lot of this has a lot to do with me being a bewildered bystander with no hands-on experience whatsoever in type design nor production. Nonetheless I have a general notion about many of its aspects. As I was attending the Gerrit Noordzij Award 2009 and the subsequent seminar organised at this occasion, I thought I’d give it a go anyway.
This is why I showed up at the KABK Thursday noon, March 5th, just in time for the lunch break. Because I couldn’t leave the preceding day I unfortunately missed two presentations. The introduction to making, importing and exporting, and installing UFO, and to the API, was presented by Erik van Blokland, Paul van der Laan, and Tal Leming. And Miguel Sousa introduced the Adobe Font Development Kit for OpenType, and talked about the new features in version 2.5. The AFDKO is a set of tools used by the Adobe Type Department to make OpenType fonts. No way am I going to pretend to know more than I actually do, so click the link to learn more. What I do know is that many type designers and developers are grateful to Adobe for making available the AFDKO to the general public.
Paul van der Laan (right) throwing typo-gang signs | photo by Benjamin Hickethier Robothon09 was – very well – organised by Erik van Blokland and Paul van der Laan, with valuable assistance from Tal Leming and Jan Willem Stas, co-ordinator of Type and Media. Paul stressed that they would’ve been nowhere without the generosity of the KABK and the relentless help of the Type and Media students. The sixteen presentations over the two days moved along at a brisk pace; at one point we were even ahead of schedule. All of them were podcast simultaneously over the KABK website. Those 12+ hours of video registrations will also be published as vodcasts in due time. By the way, this must be the first conference I attend where one of the organisers – Erik himself – took care of the tech support at the speakers’ desk.
The catering was top notch, with 540 deliciously creative sandwiches, 30 cakes and 330 (chocolate) cookies provided by Zo served at the lunches and coffee breaks.
This edition sold out much faster than the organisers expected. When near the end of january 40 registrations were made in a mere two days, they were forced to set up a waiting list. Initially the organisation had forecast an attendance of about 60 people, speakers included. After negotiating with the KABK the conference was moved to the auditorium and an additional 50 admissions were secured. Yet only two weeks later the conference was fully booked again. Eventually 110 people from over ten different nationalities attended the conference. This was more than twice the attendance of the previous edition, Robothon06, and almost 25% of the total were students – including a large delegation of the University of Reading and a couple of Leipzig alumni. Even if some may argue that it was a relatively small scale type event, this doesn’t diminish the fact that it was one of the most enjoyable and best organised ones I attended, together with ATypI Helsinki.
Type and Media student volunteers | photo by Erik van Blokland We all know that part of the appeal of conferences – besides the actual content and presentations – is that they are social occasions where you get to meet old friends and new acquaintances. And best of all you get to talk to people that speak the same language. This one was no different. As soon as I entered the room where the lunch break was held I was overwhelmed and excited to see so many familiar faces. I ended up spending the better part of the two days (re)connecting with loads of people, talking about, you know, mostly type. How often can you do that?
As far as I understood the difference with the previous edition was that Robothon06 primarily focused on the ”naked” UFO format and actual scripting. Although (beta) versions of programs like Prepolator and Metrics Machine were showcased, to put it irreverently it was more “nerdy”. Robothon09 however was very accessible, with presentations of finished scripts and applications that can be used “out of the box”. What struck me about most tools was the clarity of presentation, the straightforward and good-looking interface, and the responsiveness. I was particularly impressed with results being rendered on the fly. It almost looked like playing – moving either sliders or parts of characters produced immediate results.
... and Robothon now (2009) | photo by Abi Huynh I am not the best person to judge, but I have the impression we may be at the verge of the next step in type design and production. What I saw at Robothon were a bunch of scary smart type designers that were frustrated with the shortcomings of the currently available font production software (FontLab, the revived Fontographer, FontForge, what else?). Instead of patiently waiting for these issues to be resolved they decided to tend to them by developing various scripts and applications. The main difference with the aforementioned software packages is that these are very specialised tools. They perform only one or at the most a couple of tasks, but do that extremely well. Why? Because their developers are type designers first and foremost, so they know exactly what needs to be done, and why. For example Tal Leming explained that his incentive for writing Metrics Machine was “I hate kerning more than you do”. And Frederik Berlaen developed roundingUFO because he has first-hand experience in how long it takes to design a series of test characters with rounded corners of different diameters. Their solutions are met with excitement and enthousiasm by the type community. Testimony to this were several spontaneous outbursts of applause in the middle of presentations.
So what may be that next step? Judging from what was shown at Robothon, it looks like type designers now have a collection of high-performance stand-alone applications and scripts that work with FontLab. Unless I really have it all wrong I think we are only a couple of apps and scripts short of FontLab becoming obsolete. An incident during the presentation of one of Tal’s tools corroborates my theory – at some point Erik shouted from the audience: “Can you edit your glyphs with it as well?”. Like someone said, the tanks are at the border. This is the very reason why I think Georg Seifert may be overreaching with his font editor: it tries to do too many things. There’s some nifty ideas in there, but I’m pretty sure the future looks like a cloud of specialised mini-apps and scripts that work together. But what do I know?
There's a bit more to come -- I rushed this one out because I had lost three days due to my illness.
11.03.2009 - 23.22.07
Posted by Yves Peters a.k.a. Unzipper
Oh, well done! This is an excellent recap. It really captures the spirit of the conference.
12.03.2009 - 10.05.22
Posted by Dan Reynolds
Yves is a bit harsh on Georg Seifert's work in my opinion. I think Georg's app actually has a modest brief, as far as features are concerned. Perhaps the demo didn't go as smooth as the other presentations at Robothon, but remember that some of these apps have been around for years, have been tested and rewritten many times before going public. Georg deserves all the help and positive feedback we can give him. Cheers.
13.03.2009 - 18.07.49
Posted by Erik van Blokland
It is indeed possible that my opinion was infuenced by the weird happenings during the demo. Maybe it?s not such a good idea that "a bewildered bystander with no hands-on experience whatsoever in type design nor production" gives his opinion on what was presented. ;)
13.03.2009 - 18.33.48
Posted by Yves Peters a.k.a. Unzipper
I second Erik's remarks. The betaness of Georg's glyph editor (Glyphs) is a non-issue. It indeed needs significant work before it is ready for real-world use, but it has a great deal of potential. It is certainly on track to fit into this group of mini-apps*... the drawing component is one of the most complex (so far it is not bloated at all). But, we have to wait to see what Georg's plan for it is.
* Yes, there are many great mini-apps out there now! Maybe Glyphs will turn out to be the missing link between all of them, and that, I think,could really give FontLab a run for its money!
16.03.2009 - 09.19.56
Posted by Rob Keller
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