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TypeCon Reviewed

Waitress: So are you guys here for a convention?

Me: Yeah, it’s a typography convention

Waitress: (puzzled look, uncomfortable silence)

Me: (blank stare)

Waitress: Um, yeah, I don’t know what that means.

And that is the beauty of attending TypeCon: 340 typographic geeks together for a reason nobody understands. Star Trek conventions are more “normal” and we don’t even live in our parents’ basement (at least the majority). What follows is a review of my four days in Minneapolis for TypeCon2003. I hope that this little post can serve future TypeCon attendee-hopefuls get a better picture of what it is like to be in one of the friendliest conferences available

Also, be advised that this is an opinionated review, it’s not watered-down, it’s not sugar-coated and is far from being politically correct. It’s honest as hell.

I got to Minneapolis Thursday, July 17, around noonish and shuttled myself to the hotel. Met Chris May, my roomie for the weekend, at the lobby and headed for some lunch. I’ll spare you all the details and I’ll fast-forward to the day’s first event, An Evening with Matthew Carter and Andrew Blauvelt at the Walker Art Center. Matthew Carter talked about his Lauire Haycock Makela-commisioned typeface for the Walker (aptly named Walker) and how it has been applied for the museum. He also showed some examples of what other designers have done with the user-friendly Walker typeface. After Carter, Andrew Blauvelt (Design Director at the Walker) presented the amazing work that the in-house design department creates all year round, which is the only thing that saved this otherwise poor presentation. (Hey, I’m just telling it like I saw it). After that Chris and I headed to Rudolphs to meet fellow Midwestern Speak Up authors Brook Lorntson, Darrel Austin and Ben Kiel. Chris ate some bad Bison Jerky and had to leave early. Good food, bad service and excellent company. Stayed away from any partying and headed to bed.

Friday morning I got up early and found my way to the Minnesota Center for Book Arts for two workshops. The first one was Hooked on Classics: Learn Lettering from Traditional Type by extremely talented Ken Barber of House Industries fame. The workshop was very well prepared and imparted, we looked at how to create very expressive lettering starting from regular fonts. The only problem is that it reminded me how much my hand-skills suck (please refrain from any sexual jokes). My second workshop, Calligraphy: Using Alternative Tools for Type Development, was with another extremely talented person — calligrapher Michael Clark. Yet another instance where I realized how glad I am that the computer exists. The workshop was very informative and entertaining, even though there were no hands-on activities. It was a pleasure seeing Michael work his magic.

All this hand-crafted stuff was very exhausting so I went back to the hotel for some well-deserved rest. Went back out there to check the Type Gallery — an unjuried typeface showing — there was some really nice stuff in there along with the TDC2 2003 winning entries. Scoped out the necessary vendor area, nothing really exciting there,but it was nice to see them vendors support the conference. The next event for the night was another gathering at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts for some excellent, albeit cold in the end, pizza and mingling. There were some lectures too, but the auditorium was extremely hot and I couldn’t take it no more, so I stepped out for a few moments. The last event of the night was the Type Quiz by Allan Haley and Kent Lew — talk about type geeks! They had some really tough questions, I think I only got one right and it obviously had to do with Sagmeister (what’s his favorite typeface?). I can’t remember who won… once again I avoided any partying and went to bed.

Brand new day — first lecture at 8:30 am by Ken Barber, from the aforementioned house Industries, The Case for Craft: Lettering Lessons from American Signage. I have to say first, that I was very impressed by how well prepared Ken was for this lecture and his workshop, I was prejudiced and thought he would come in all lazy and unprepared and just show how cool he is for working at House. His presentation looked at signage found all over the US, obviously funny commentary abounded. Paired with some excellent examples of outdoor lettering, this was probably one of my favorite talks. One good link for all of you: American Sign Museum. Next up WAD and CHG: The Artist and the Engineer by Kent Lew, a look at the work of W.A. Dwiggins and his helpy helper dude C.H. Griffith. I really don’t have much to say about this one, because I dozed off a little, but it was great insight into the working methods of Dwiggins. By jickity!

One of the funnest presentations was Typeface Twin Cities: a new font for Minneapolis/St Paul where five or six, can’t remember… actually there is a much better preface for that talk on this page. The winners were the crazy duo of LettError Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum with an insanely large family of fonts. I think it was something like 16-20 weights ranging from Sans Serif to Serif and from Normal to Weird. There is no way that I can explain what they did because it is so unusual and innovative. They coded their own program that allows the end user to mix and match any of the styles available, that all in all account for over 50,000 characters. They can also control how the typeface — that will appear on a future web site — will look based on the Twin Cities’ weather, wind direction and traffic. To top it all off, the damn typeface reacts to sound, the louder the room got the Weirder the typeface became — I told you, there was no way I could logically explain this. I missed the following lectures, so there is nothing at all to report on those.

At 4:00 PM, the real fun was about to get started. Stephen Coles from Typographica, Jared Benson and Joe Pemberton from Typophile, Jon Coltz from Daidala and me were preparing to take the unsuspecting crowd by storm. Our panel was moderated by Si Daniels of Microsoft Typography. First of all, let me share some slides that accompanied our presentation, these are only the ones for Speak Up (click on each one to go to the next), everybody had their own set and they all looped constantly on the background. It all started rather civil, with everybody explaining what each of their on-line communities was; sharing our motives, experiences, lack of funds and other tall tales of blogging. For some strange, unknown reason and totally not on purpose I mentioned that we like to swear on Speak Up. A lot. I even managed to anger a high-powered executive at the Type Directors Club (don’t worry, we patched things up later in the evening). We had some great interaction with the audience, they got really involved and all seemed to reflect the energy and excitement of all of us first-time speakers. It was extremely great and exciting, I really wish all loyal Speak Up readers would have been there to cheer us on. There is a video being prepared by the Typophile folks who taped the discussion, I’ll let you know when that is ready. I think Matthew Carter spoke again after our panel, but I couldn’t pay much attention. Later in the evening, there was an auction of rare type specimens, old magazines, hand-lettered signs and anything else that a type geek would spend more money than necessary. The highlight of the night was an awesome striptease by world renowned sign painter and typographer John Downer, who was cheaply trying to raise the price of his self-designed T-shirt. Nonetheless, it was a moment to remember — apparently, this is a trend, he also took of his shirt at ATypI in Rome. To keep the tradition alive, I did no partying.

Sunday at 8:30 am is probably not the best slot for any speaker but James Montalbano proved everybody wrong with a stellar presentation. Both informative and entertaining You Can’t Get There From Here: Designing Type for Federal Highways was based on James’ typeface design (Clearview) for Federal Highways including all the not-so-little nuisances of working with the government and with some damn big signs. I missed the next discussion panel on education and came back for Craig Kroeger’s (of Miniml) Proalias: Miniml Typography, not much on the presentation side, lots of ums and ams that did not allow for a straight sentence (no offense Craig, just work on your presentation skills man!). It was good on the content and information and his bitmap fonts are some of the best available on the web. After that, came one of my favorite presentations by none other than the Aesthetic Apparatus, yessir! It was absolutely insane, funny, entertaining and off-the-wall weird. Dan Ibarra and Michael Byzewski are the best pairing since Punk and Art Chantry. One bad thing I do have to say, is that in a few years they will need to come up with some great and influential presentations other than standing on stage and showing their posters. The excitement could wear off soon and easily. But enough about deep critique, AA is one of the best things happening right now in design and in the end we got some (in their words) Free Shit! by a guy in a moose costume. Had lunch with Nick Shinn. Came back to hear Allan Haley’s Non-Font Typography, or, Look Out Helvetica, Here Come the Green M&Ms which looked at good uses of, um, not using fonts. It was a good presentation with some cool stuff to see on the projector, but by God! Mr. Haley needs to get off the caffeine, I almost had a seizure. The man knows his stuff though. Peter Bilak was next on the roster, he presented Type and Reading. A very interesting look at his approach to design, reading and teaching. We got treated to some amazingly beautiful Quicktime movies of his typefaces dancing the night away. Talented, talented young man.

Everybody who knows me or came across the first version of Speak Up knows my feelings about trendy, little, eye candy places like K10K and Surfstation, so you can imagine I was very prejudiced when I saw that Mike Cina from WWFT (and K10K contributor) and Jemma Gura (Surfstation contributor as well) were going to be in a panel representing “Design” and entitled There is more than one “i” in Design along with Joe Kral of Test Pilot Collective and Florian Fangohr of Gura-Fangor. It was “moderated” by Joachim M�ller-Lancé of Kame Design who did little moderating and much talking. I hate to say more bad things about this presentation because I have already outgrown my eye-candy-pushers hate phase, so I’ll just say that I wish they would have had a better structure to their presentation (Mike Cina had less than five minutes to present). Also that, if they were up there representing “Design,” they would have shown how their exhorbitant amount of talent can be applied to our profession. Last on the event schedule were Jim Parkinson and Dave Farey with a schooling in typographic know-how. They were the only presenters who used an actual, noisy, projector with real slides and everything — showing some of their typeface design and “Letter Repairing” works. Masters of their craft, these two class-acts put the gold seal on what was a great conference.

It was an almost flawless conference and I feel honored to have been part of it. Many, many mad props to Rich Kegler, Tamye Riggs and all the folk over at S{o}TA who put their heart and souls into this event.


PS. Here are some more picture that I couldn’t fit into the review.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Jul.21.2003 BY Armin
Tracy’s comment is:

woo hoo!

can't wait for the review!

On Jul.21.2003 at 03:09 PM
Joe Pemberton’s comment is:

Armin, it was a pleasure meeting you. See you at TypeCon04 in San Francisco?

Joe Pemberton


On Jul.21.2003 at 04:44 PM
Jon Coltz’s comment is:

We will get Armin and Christopher back by force if necessary...!

On Jul.21.2003 at 04:51 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Yeah, it was great to meet you too Joe, and Jared as well. Obviously, Jon Coltz, you too. And Se�or Coles, a pleasure.

>See you at TypeCon04 in San Francisco?

I hope so.

On Jul.21.2003 at 06:51 PM
Jared Benson’s comment is:

My, who's that Jared Benson guy? What a handsome devil.

I was up late the night before our panel, prepping our slides, so I slept through the Twin Cities presentation. That's got to be my biggest regret of the weekend.

It was a pleasure to meet you all, and I enjoyed your review, Armin. Our "Jerry Springer" moment will go down in TypeCon history. Hope to see you here in our hometown next year! At least we'll know which restaurants to hit, and I'm not talking about "Chipotle."

On Jul.21.2003 at 07:17 PM
Joe Pemberton’s comment is:

The entire PowerPoint presentation Armin referred to, (that played during our panel discussion) is available for download at Typophile / Downloads. (Beware, it weighs 4 MB).

On Jul.21.2003 at 07:40 PM
Joe Pemberton’s comment is:

Linkie no workie. Try this?


On Jul.21.2003 at 07:45 PM
Bob’s comment is:

Great review! Felt like I was there, wish I was.

On Jul.22.2003 at 09:35 AM
KM’s comment is:

Armin, that was quite enjoyable. Wish I could have made it! Maybe next time...

On Jul.22.2003 at 02:52 PM
Kristin Dooley’s comment is:

It was great to meet you, if only for a moment, Armin!

I'm so glad you got a chance to come and talk about this new creature -- the on-line typography community. Although I may know Coles (who doesn't?), I was completely unaware of how much your website has grown as a resource and a community. You should be proud of your efforts!

I also very much appreciate your opinionated review -- I'm sure it will be of great help to the committee that gathers to plan TypeCon2004. We did quite a lot with the wonderful resources available here in Mpls, but there's always room for improvement and no offense will be taken for any suggestions or complaints people care to pass on.

On Jul.22.2003 at 04:02 PM
Keith Tam’s comment is:

Armin: great review. Couldn't have done it better myself. Nice to have met you in Minneapolis. I promise I'll hang out here more often. Great job for an incredibly content-rich website, and great design too. Well done. Oh, Ben Kiel showed me the Speak up card... beautiful. Can I have one?

On Jul.22.2003 at 05:49 PM
Si’s comment is:

Mr Vit,

A great write up. It was a pleasure working with you. I'm definitely adding SpeakUp to my watchlist.

Cheers, Si

On Jul.22.2003 at 06:41 PM
Mark’s comment is:

Nice job, Armin. We didn't get to talk much at the confrence, even though we sort of had lunch together the first day. Frankly, I felt rather embarrassed that I didn't know more about your wonderful site here. I need to hang out here more.

On Jul.22.2003 at 08:22 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Kristin: I am very fucking proud ; )

Keith: I thought I hooked you up with a business card. Email me your address and I'll send you some when I get back from vacation (aug 1).

Si: Mr.? C'mon! I'm no Mr. Vit.

Mark: I guess we were all a bit embarrased of meeting each other. We'll break the ice sooner next year.

Off to the caribbean!

On Jul.22.2003 at 08:46 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Oh, one more thing, if you post here (or any of my posts) you will get an autoresponder saying I'm out of town, just so you don't freak. And the subject line is "armin"... Can't figure that one out... damn world wide interweb.

On Jul.22.2003 at 08:49 PM
Nick’s comment is:

The panel was very entertaining. (Almost) all the personalities in the flesh, and the Powerpoint slides had some interesting facts.

But on reflection I'm missing one important thing that I really like about the panelists' sites - Speak Up and Typographica in particular - which was literally brought home by the lovely Speak Up card Armin gave me (letterpress pixels!) - and that's something about their design.

So I'm mentioning this while it's fresh, and hope we can remember it as a possible topic for next year's conference: critical analysis of the look, structure, and typography of site(s) like this.

To start with, what is that "vertical italic" typeface? - old Fred would have approved!

On Jul.22.2003 at 11:24 PM
James Stone’s comment is:

Hi... I'd never heard of the conference until yesterday when a nice man from Microsoft called Simon Daniels rung us up and said he'd heard about the typography fight we'd built.

He pointed us in the right direction about who actually developed arial, which we had mistakenly attributed to Microsoft...

Much appreciated. Might have to make the San Fran one next year.

On Jul.23.2003 at 03:20 AM
Stephen Coles’s comment is:

Hey Nick. The font is Underware's Unibody. They just reissued it and it's free. Drawing vertical stems is an excellent way to solve the problem of pixelated italics. The Morning News also puts it to fine use.

What happened to you Sunday night? Our card game was one Torontan short.

On Jul.23.2003 at 04:57 AM
eddie hofmeister design’s comment is:

As a graphic designer - and type user - who attended the conference, I have to say it was great! I learned so much and look forward to attending another TypeCon in the future!

On Jul.23.2003 at 11:09 AM
Hrant’s comment is:

Armin, great write-up! But you really to become more type-geeky.

> Drawing vertical stems is an excellent way

> to solve the problem of pixelated italics.

My bunghole. As far as the all-important reader is concerned, the essential attribute of an italic is its slant. The GN-ers with their ideological claptrap can eat me!


On Jul.23.2003 at 05:22 PM
Davin’s comment is:

I really liked last year's Typecon which was held here in Toronto. I was on the "new media" panel and took in some great talks and purchased some fine stuff from the vendors (okay I did all my purchasing from the Underware table).

Wish I could have come to this year's 'con.

On Jul.23.2003 at 08:47 PM
Stephen’s comment is:

I won't get into an argument about the essential attributes of italics, but the essential attribute of emphasis is contrast without distraction. Unibody's itals fit that bill.

But we're digressing too far from this article's subject. TypeCon was the finest of the three I've attended. The presentations were generally deeper and more entertaining, logistics ran smoother than usual, and the attendance represented a broader range of ages, disciplines and interest levels.

I also received a free Aesthetic Apparatus tee from a mad, freebie-flinging man in a reindeer costume, so I'll be hard pressed to find disappointment in my weekend.

On Jul.23.2003 at 08:54 PM
Jemma’s comment is:

Hi. It was an engaging conference, and I walked away with more knowledge, new friends, and alot of shwag.

Admittedly, I thought your review of our little "panel" may have been more unfair... considering 3 of us are related to these damn "eye candy" portals... but that's another topic.

I can only say, our intent was to show work as introduction, then kick off with some conversation/dialog/maybe even a little debate on this "more than one i in design" topic. unfortunately, we had a bit less time than slotted... and like you said, Mike had barely 5 minutes to introduce his work.

Good review overall, Armin. Hope to see everyone next year.

On Jul.23.2003 at 09:05 PM
Colin’s comment is:

Great meeting and chatting with you folks. I had a great time.

As a newbie, I could definitely tell that this conference is still in its infancy. There were a lot of rough spots in the presentations. (I tend to enjoy the more technical/process-oriented presentations rather than the vanity-fests, with the Dave and Jim's presentation being the notable exception.) I hope to see presenters get a little more organized next year, maybe plan the presentations a little more so they fit the alloted time and such. You really can do a lot in an hour, as many presenters demonstrated.

On a whole, this was an incredibly inspiring experience for me, and this is primarily because of the people that were there.

On Jul.23.2003 at 11:39 PM
Nick’s comment is:

>What happened to you Sunday night? Our card game was one Torontan short.

i was beat, man. it was a long day, started at 8:30 am and left the bar at 2 am, which was pretty much my schedule for the previous 3 days.

On Jul.24.2003 at 01:52 AM
Nick’s comment is:

>the essential attribute of an italic is its slant.

Actually, many of the Unibody letters ARE slanted. It's just kind of clever the way the design also incorporates vertical stems. Another "Italicism": it's narrower than the accomanying roman, which has several wide letter-forms (eg "t"). Also, it

On Jul.24.2003 at 02:03 AM
Pablo Medill’s comment is:

I am nott a type geek but I move to Burlingame near San Franciso and kinda have a thing for fonts.I feel dumb asking.

>>old Fred would have approved!

Who Fred?

>>The GN-ers

Who they?

>>My bunghole.

What da heck is that? I heard of piehole but never heard bunghole. Thanks a bunch.

Pablo Medill.

On Jul.24.2003 at 03:25 AM
Glutton’s comment is:

I had a great time too... I wish I had a chance to chat with you, Armin -- we were in the Clark workshop together. (That's my shoulder right next to Clark, opposite Tiffany)

But good write-up.

On Jul.24.2003 at 06:52 AM
Hrant’s comment is:

GN: Gerrit Noordzij. GN-er: a disciple of his.


So, see you guys at TypeCon2004? Say yes, or else... ;-)


On Jul.24.2003 at 12:10 PM
Nick Shinn’s comment is:

>Who Fred?

Fred Goudy. Produced many italics with not much of a slant.

Burlingame: 10 letters, 4 vowels, no repeated characters, ascender, descender, - great name for a typeface!

"Bunghole" has, I suspect, something to do with Armin's famous dream... Also a good candidate for a font name.

On Jul.24.2003 at 02:12 PM
fish’s comment is:

yo, typecon2003 rocked my personal face. armin vit rules the school. do scope some pics from that biznass over at univers57... the john downer striptease is in fact captured therein so caveat emptor. word.


On Jul.24.2003 at 03:04 PM
Hrant’s comment is:

> Fred Goudy. Produced many italics with not much of a slant.

That's interesting - I've never heard anybody say that before. But looking at his stuff, I guess it's true in the context of his contemporaries.

Generally the slightest slant (like in the work of Gill, Unger and van Krimpen) is about 3 degrees. Anything less (like in Seria) and you're asking for trouble.

> Armin's famous dream


BTW, credit for "bunghole" goes to Beavis, of course. The greatest American ever. I maintain that Homer Simpson doesn't deserve that honor:



On Jul.24.2003 at 06:06 PM
Miss Wardle’s comment is:

typecon was amazing. i met a few more people (few=100s). i am now already counting down to the next. and i now have a few more blogs that i feel as i should visit daily.

thanks everyone on the SOTA board (and all else) for making it a truly excellent adventure.

hrant, you are wrong. beavis and butthead. c'mon! ren & stimpy!

On Jul.25.2003 at 01:28 PM
James Montalbano’s comment is:

Armin, good meeting you and sharing a drink. I enjoyed your review and I'm glad you liked the Fed Highway presentation, but "gayly"?

On Jul.25.2003 at 04:16 PM
Amy Conger’s comment is:

Armin, I had a very similar experience at the con, many of the same highs and lows, but you saw a few things I now wish that I had skipped a couple naps for!

Colin, I so agree about "vanity-fests". Some people seemed to go on a bit about their own work, rather than sticking to the subject of the presentation. The majority of the presenters did just fine, though.

See everyone when you come to my neck of the woods next year!

On Jul.27.2003 at 03:23 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>but "gayly"?

I meant it as in a "gay old time" and "happily". No implications were intended on your sexual preferences.

On Jul.31.2003 at 06:57 PM
Joachim M�ller-Lancé’s comment is:

hello Armin, your critique of the panel i hosted is fair and to the point, as for the result.

- yet, as for the background preps leading to it, i need to explain a few things:

i was asked to fill in to host this event, while the panelists were chosen beforehand.

it was the first panel i ever moderated, and many things went awkward.

to prepare, i tried to start email discussion with all, proposing ideas etc, but received NO answers.

the panelists put their pieces together 1-2 hours before the show. i simply had no time to develop any common umbrella theme/paradigm with them; we were just tossed together.

yes, i probably ended up talking too much, embarassed and trying to put some glue between these chunks.

as for timing, i'm real sorry for the rushed ending -- i had no idea how much talking each panelist would spend "per picture". cutting people off onstage is too awful a task.

so all in all, i was not comfortable with this situation, and wouldn't want anything similar again. thank you for your clean review.


On Aug.15.2003 at 07:21 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Hey Joachim,

Thanks for the background information. Too bad all that happened because it could have been an entertaining panel.

On Aug.15.2003 at 10:50 AM