Ken Garland, photo © Gerhard Kassner

With the conference halfway through one could easily predict that his talk on Word and Image would remain to be one of the memorable TYPO London moments. »This speaker needs no introduction« was a phrase often heard from the facilitators about this year’s experts on stage and it completely applies to Ken Garland. However, it needs to be pointed out that through his social and political engagement in the realm of graphic design and typography throughout his career, Garland naturally seemed to suggest himself as an ideal speaker for this year’s theme.

The speaker did not immediately take on his prepared presentation slides and instead decided to share some of his memories and thoughts of various design conferences he had attended in his long career (a complete list can be found here). Completely laid-back he took off his jacket and threw it behind him. He then sat down at the edge of the stage and began to tell some of his favorite anecdotes.

Among them was Garland’s first experience at a design conference at the New York University in 1967 titled Design for survival with several talks in foreign languages and an interrupting appeal to the audience that all should join a demonstration at the Pentagon. (Garland also suggested that the survival theme should be reintroduced at one of the following TYPO conferences.) Another story was about a BBDO commercial that earned scorn and complaints and another about Buckminster (»Bucky«) Fuller’s running gag of the earth being the universe’s largest spaceship.

Ken Garland then came down from the stage and began reading definitions of »social« from the Webster’s Dictionary of the American Language as he walked around and made contact with the audience. Not every speaker would have been legitimized to an interlude like this one, however, it seemed absolutely authentic and appropriate for a designer who looks back on such a remarkable career. And most and for all this casual introduction was a necessary transition to the speech that was about to follow.

photo © Gerhard Kassner

Following the talk’s title Garland went back on stage and began to read from his prepared script with images running on the screen behind him to illustrate the words. In the following minutes the audience witnessed a unique experience. Garland’s text had a very poetic rhythm to it and it was presented in a serious and melancholic tone. In short sequences he spoke of a social encounter; a small »fragile ultra light« air plane craft, that he navigated above the plains of Southern Alberta; a matchbox-size red London double decker as a gift and the end of a relationship. The last story is about a boy who plays ring and run at Garland’s house. His last words are: »At least I have these photos of a little boy in black.«

After the presentation Erik Spiekermann walked up on stage and said: »Now you know why he’s one of my heros.« No need to say more. If it wasn’t already the case, Ken Garland was everyone’s hero after this moving anthem on humanity.

By Ferdinand Ulrich