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22 October 2012

Erik Kessels: Strong Ideas Allow You To Blur

Erik Kessels, photo © Gerhard Kassner

Seeing such a visibly public name such as KesselsKramer at a conference, there is the worry that the work is already over-exposed, and you’ve seen everything. Thankfully, with this talk there was the right balance of plenty of context added to the familiar, and showing some of their more obscure projects.

Erik talked about how a strong idea could carry across both a high and low budget, allowing that freedom to ‘blur’ at the top. And starting with the lowest of the low was the Hans Brinker Hotel in Amsterdam. This was one of KK’s first clients and Erik described it as “the biggest shithole … I’ve ever seen in my life”. The owner of the hotel was not interesting in improving the conditions for the guest, he just wanted less complaints. So, with that cue they began their campaign of bold, unflinching honesty – promoting all the downsides as if they were desirable features: “Now More Rooms Without a Window!” and “Now Even More Dog Shit in the Entrance!”. All were illustrated by fellow Typo speaker Anthony Burrill with his recognisably stark and witty style. The dog shit, apparently a common sight in Amsterdam, allowed another marketing idea – carefully planting small flags in each pile, to entice new guests. This not only worked, but was quickly copied by other budget hotels in the area. Over each year, the campaign developed along different themes, still with that strong concept at it’s heart: from Eco design to boutique design to pathetic improvements and my favourite – ‘everything not included’. Perhaps, what is most startling about this whole story is, not that complaints stopped (the assumption is that visitor’s expectations were lowered so much), but visitor numbers rocketed and continue to rise. It is now something of a tourist attraction amongst the younger visitors to Amsterdam.

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21 October 2012

Ken Garland: Word and Image

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.

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21 October 2012

Hjalti Karlsson: 135 Months and Counting

Hjalti Karlsson, photo © Gerhard Kassner


Hjalti Karlsson showed with bright maps how he, an Icelander, met German Jan Wilker in New York and started a company. Zoomed in on NY, on their office, inside their office. This is where 95% of their work happens. But now he talks about the other 5%.

Once they were called by a Serbian who asked them to make a calendar. His idea was that karlssonwilker would google Serbia and design the calendar with what they found. Hmmm. They thought it better to come to visit. Twelve days for the twelve months. With some extra budget agreed on, they arrived at the airport where they got into a madhouse: they were greeted by a group of singing children and a folk dance group. Their portraits hung along the streets! ‘This is when we understood we had been underestimating this project.’ They had to give one tv, radio and print interview after another. A one and a half hour documentary was made of their visit! The first three days there, they got a veritable crash course on Serbia. And then they started designing. Nice stuff, but needless to say the event was the hero in this project.

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21 October 2012

Henrik Kubel: A2/SW/HK + A2-TYPE

TYPO London 2012: Henrik Kubel

Henrik Kubel at TYPO 2012, photo by Jason Wen

Henrik Kubel from A2/SW/HK keeps himself and the audience excited by not scripting his talks. We caught that excitement even more since the schedule had run late so that Henrik had to rush through his slides in ten minutes less than planned with little words but with even more sympathy of everyone that was listening.

Together with Scott Williams, who he met at his studies at the Royal College of Art, he formed design studio A2/SW/HK as well as the type foundry A2-TYPE. Henrik describes their studio as a a fantastic collaboration, business and friendship.

Henrik draws type for 98% of their work. He describes his type work as “the glue that binds everything together”. Drawing custom type for all of their projects is an integral part to distinguish their studio’s design work from other practices in the industry as well as giving the clients a unique voice. Looking back, Henrik admits drawing type is quite hard, time intensive labour. “It doesn’t just happen over night” he says, at the same time encourages us, “over time you get better”.

Showing his amazing sketches, he underlines, that to him drawing type means drawing type by hand. It is quite impressive when Henrik presents us one of his projects for Toronto Life magazine where he customised the title in graffiti style. Graffiti is also his first contact with type design. He used to spray letters from the early age of 11. ‘You don’t do graffiti in Photoshop’, so he conceived the real thing three meters in height.

A long time close collaborator and source of inspiration is Margaret Calvert who is well known for her type design of the British transport signage. Additionally she was Henrik’s former tutor at the Royal College. Henrik worked closely with Margaret on digitising Rail Alphabet, now; New Rail Alphabet – A2-TYPE’s first commercial typeface. The team have just delivered a new version of the Transport typeface, especially designed for screen (GDS Transport) to the UK Government – for use in all official government web sites.

Henrik finishes his presentation with a short clip where he draws the words as he speaks: “Drawing type by hand is in my nature, I am doing it all the time. This is my contribution to the next generation of designers.”

Every project Henrik showed us was outstanding, beautiful and extraordinary. Thank you Henrik Kubel for sharing your deep passion for type with us, we feel very inspired.

20 October 2012

Freda Sack: Types of Expression

Photo © Jason Wen

Freda Sack from Foundry types started her career designing typefaces for Letraset. Today she is the director of ISTD and well known for her outstanding skill to cut curves.

For her everything in design is SOCIAL. As designers we are communicating all the time and we are trying to draw people in. A good designer is a good typographer. Collaborating with other creatives opens up new ways of working which also enables different point of views. 

To Freda typography is a passion. Typefaces become alive when one is using it. You can use it in various ways, expressing different things with one and the same typeface. Type is a visual expression. 

It is interesting that for her as a type designer one can be more creative the stricter the parameters are. It is more difficult to answer a very open brief where possibilities are endless. Her inspiration comes mainly from architecture. The use of structure and space is similar in both disciplines. That is why she is passionate about walking through the streets finding lettering on buildings and signage, structures and grids.

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20 October 2012

Rick Banks: My Social Network


© Jason Wen

Rick Banks
a freelance designer typographer, aged 26.  The question he raised was pretty straightforward: how did I build my social network?

Rick started his presentation with an anecdote, which already takes us toward a creative journey. When he was eight years old, his mother gave him the football shirt of legendary goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel as a present. Alas, the typography was not to Rick’s taste. This event set up his future career.

He graduated in 2006 and started networking through friends and designers that he interviewed. Living in an expensive flat he couldn’t really afford, he initiated a typographic car cards project, called Type Trump, met with Marc Vialli from Magma Books and got published. Rick is all about being creative and pro-active to build a flourishing network, and he seems to do it very well.

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20 October 2012

Rian Hughes: Device Fonts

Rian Hughes, photo © Jason Wen

Rian Hughes is a man of many sides. Comic book artist of 2000AD fame, accomplished illustrator, graphic designer, type designer, “prolific rummager” and most recently author of a book entitled “Cult-ure: Ideas Can Be Dangerous”. Hughes’ talk today at TYPO focused on the later, offering a thought-provoking 45 minutes on the concept of culture, and how (for better or worse) it shapes our perception of the world.

Interestingly, the motivation to produce of the book was born out of a close brush with fate aboard a flight on route from Moscow. After the hydraulics on the plane failed, Hughes, contemplating his own mortality, thought “… what was that project I never got around to?”. An hour and a half later when safely on the ground, the seed for ‘Cult-ure’ was born. Drawing from a vast collection of scribbles and notes in his box of Moleskines, Hughes started work on the book.

Visually, Hughes described the book’s design as a reference to a manifesto, bible or other “source of authority”; using gilded edges and an authoritative typographic style. Beginning with the quote, “culture is roughly anything we do and monkeys don’t”, Hughes took the audience through a selection of topics from the book. Ranging from the simplification of symbols, to the theme of resonant objects (the idea of an object having it’s own meaning, plus it’s cultural baggage), to the human skill / need for pattern recognition (Hughes provided the example of the famous ‘face on Mars’), the talk was fantastically thought-provoking. Perhaps the best snippet from the talk, was Hughes concluding response to the question “How do you kill an idea?”. The answer? “Have a better one”.

By Paul Woods

20 October 2012

Matthew Butterick: Rebuilding the Typographic Society

Photo © Gerhard Kassner

Matthew Butterick’s
philosophy is about taking risks and making things happen.

Graduated from Harvard, being a typographer, a writer (‘Typography for Lawyers’) and a lawyer, he clearly and accurately raised the importance of the written word, within the graphic design industry. He asks us two main questions: what makes typography valuable and how can we rebuild the typographic society?

Written ideas have made communication far easier, it has also had a huge emphasis on our storage cultural system; we teach children to read and write. Typography is not only about ‘making things pretty’ but it is also about social interaction, where the best writing embeds the best human values. Matthew Butterick is not talking about social media such as Twitter and Facebook, which are only here to reinforce our ego and for marketing reasons, but it is about a face to face interaction.

The writer William Zinsser perfectly expresses this thought about typography in his book ‘’On Writing Well’: ‘Writing is visual, it catches the eye before it has the chance to catch the brain’.

Nevertheless, nowadays technology is taking over, we’re not in the 1920’s anymore, where fonts were only about crafts and inspiration. Almost as a challenge for the public, Matthew Butterick compares technology to Godzilla, who would burn the creative industry, but would also give the opportunity to rebuild.

So how can we give back social values to typography?

He offers us four principles he stands for: ‘sell possibilities’, ‘recruit typographers’, ‘practice what you preach’ and finally, ‘create difficult projects, but do it well’.

Don’t be afraid, believe and experience, and things will come to you.

By Héloise Jutteau 

20 October 2012

Vaughan Oliver: Visceral Pleasures

photo © Gerhard Kassner

Vaughan Oliver, designer and art director spoke yesterday at TYPO London of a career spanning 30 years in 30 minutes. Oliver is perhaps best known for (but certainly not limited to) his record cover work with various photographers under the names 23 Envelope and v23, producing iconic artwork for artists such as Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, Lush, UVS, Pixies, The Breeders, Bush, TV on the Radio, Bon Iver, Zomby and more recently David Lynch.

Oliver’s speech was filled with hilarious (and highly-Tweetable) quotes, including my favourites: “I was never caught with Michael Jackson under my arm”, “it ain’t art, don’t marginalise it” and the much re-tweeted “You know that feeling when you love a girl so much the only thing you want to do is to shave her hair off”.

Perhaps the quote that resonated most with me was this one: “(my work) isn’t art. It’s graphic design. Words and pictures. Visual communication”. This was a sentiment echoed through many of the speakers talks over the course of the day – the conversational and social power of design, as opposed to the one way broadcast of art or ‘traditional’ branding. And given the ‘Social’ theme of this year’s TYPO London, this statement feels very appropriate.

By Paul Woods

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