In the ensuing discussion on the ATypI mailing list I learned what was the main difference with last year’s conference in Helsinki. The Helsinki organisation enlisted student helpers not from the design faculty but from a different school, from an event management program. There were several advantages – the event management students would get credit for helping in the organisation of the conference, plus they could really concentrate on the management. In Lisbon the difference was clearly noticeable, as the graphic design student volunteers often were distracted by the conference content which made them lose track of what they were supposed to do. Completely understandable, but regrettable.
Saturday was off to another perfect start thanks to Verena Gerlach’s captivating presentation. Most of Verena’s type designs are inspired by Berlin, a city with a unique history which is marked by constant change, where images emerge and disappear at a stunning pace.
FF Karbid - inspiration for the lowercase ‘a’
FF Karbid - inspiration for the lowercase ‘g’ Her presentation started with the reunification of Berlin after the wall came down. Verena took us on a trip to that other, still unfamiliar part of the city, showing us numerous samples of lettering on walls, shop fronts, windows etc. She explained how she absorbed and synthesised all these influences, using them to create her FF Karbid type family, which in that respect can be considered a wonderful example of type archaeology.
Street signs in former West-Berlin...
... and in former East-Berlin. Another ‘archaeological’ project is the FF City Street Type family she designed with Ole Schäfer. The street signs in East-Berlin used a different type than the ones in West-Berlin. As the original signs were being gradually replaced Verena and Ole took it upon themselves to preserve these typical alphabets by researching and digitising them.
By explaining the context and genesis of both projects Verena succeeded in changing my perspective of these faces completely, and I think most of the audience who attended her talk will never again look at the type families with the same eyes. She also made a perfect case for type design as a means for preserving and transferring historical models, and in the process effortlessly invalidated Massimo’s stance from the previous day.
A declaration of love – eight stories high Yet the best part was still to come, as she concluded her presentation with her time at the Haus der Lehrers building and community, an important hub of the Berlin subculture at the turn of the millennium. A project Verena was involved in was turning the type on the doorman’s billboard – used to display the names of the tenants – in the community’s house face Tephe. The most spectacular though was the Blinkenlights, created by Germany’s Chaos Computer Club to celebrate its 20th anniversary in November 2001. From September 2001 to February 2002 the hackers turned the entire facade of the HdL into the world’s largest computer screen. It could be accessed by mobile phone and used to display text messages, simple animations or even play Pong. Or send out a message to the world...
For me personally this was arguably one of the best presentations I attended. It was informative, entertaining, well presented, enthralling and covered all the bases: history, research, context, design, personal involvement. Engrossing stuff.
Before starting his presentation Erik Brandt warned us that he was a conference virgin – something he needn't have because he did an excellent job. Although his lecture was more of the show-and-tell variety, what he did show was fascinating and his relaxed banter in between slides kept the presentation flowing along nicely.
Western Minimalism vs. the Eastern Decorative Tradition. This image is a perfect metaphor for the "conflict" of cultures, represented both by Knoll's simple mark and their own design philosophy, contrasted then with the more eccentric "Arab" style. Erik Brandt teaches typography and visual communication at Virginia Commonwealth University in Doha, Qatar – a city that has literally sprung from the desert in the last fifty years. As the city grows at an unprecedented rate, foreign typographic values are being imported in the form of advertising, branding campaigns and other instances of public typography. Erik discussed chiefly the state of the local vernacular and the importation of graphic and typographic influences, which can either benefit or flood the development of that vernacular.
Appropriation and adaptation of the Walt Disney logo for the Royal Toys store. The presentation included countless examples, a wealth of visual impressions. Of particular interest were the strategies used for incorporating the Western influences in the identity of the city in flux, and integrating them in the local graphic language, such as displaying the more subdued Latin characters in contrast with the intricate and exuberant Arabic script.
Note the model in the upper left corner, symbol for the Western lifestyle and luxury...
... who reappears in a entirely different context (right hand side on the display).
Transposing the Sixt logo to Arabic script...
... and appropriating it for a competing local car rental business.
After the coffee break I was off to Track Two to attend The Business of Type. I was under the impression that this would be a panel discussion moderated by Tiffany Wardle. In fact all three panellists took turns in presenting their business, leaving about twenty minutes at the end to ask questions.
The Business of Type panel: Carima El-Behairy, Veronika Elsner & Petra Weitz It was interesting to learn how all three businesses – FontShop International/FontFont, P22 Type Foundry and Elsner & Flake – originated from very different backgrounds and to what extent that influenced the way they do business. I must admit though that because the session didn’t correspond to my expectations I was feeling a little bemused at the end.