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TypeCon’s top talks

A preview of the most interesting presentations at the 20th annual TypeCon

TypeCon starts in a week, and its program might be the most interesting in the conference’s 20-year history. Most internet-faring typographers have probably heard about TypeCon’s highlights—keynotes by Louise Fili, Nina Stössinger, and Lauren Hom, and a “special presentation” by Gemma O’Brien—so instead of elaborating on those, our digital editor, Lucas Czarnecki, shared his picks for the ten most interesting regular program talks. “These presentations might not be receiving high levels of fanfare, but if you’re making the trip to Portland next week, you will not want to miss them.”

FEMINAE: Typographic Voices of Women, by Women

Friday, 10:10 am

One of the program’s most engaging speakers, Gloria Kondrup, takes the stage early in the conference to present FEMINAE, an exhibition and forthcoming catalog. The collection includes half a century of political posters from the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, touching on everything from gender to war.

Gloria co-led a provocative discussion on the intersection of language and gender at Typographics in 2017—it was one of the conference’s best events. Combining her fervor with the content of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics means FEMINAE will be something special.

Neon: Letters from the Night Sky

Friday, 10:30 am

A survey of the “neon sign survivors and lost icons in the Western states,” that charts the cultural and visual story of neon: the once-modern marvel’s rise and decline. Randall Ann Homan and Al Barna’s presentation includes “historic photos and cinematic clips” to show neon in all its varieties and uses, both commercial and artistic.

Neon signs walk a series of tightropes: they are not type, but they are not illustration; they are signs, but they are not sign-painted; they are artistic in form, but they are technical in execution. With neon as a topic, it’s hard to go wrong.

Renaissance Wood Type & The Grammar of Ornament

Friday, 2:20 pm

The earliest European wood type—dating so far back as 1470—offers a glimpse into both the focus and the fashion of the era, complete with “historical figures, mythical beasts, biblical scenes, and demonic characters.”  Bill and Jim Moran present one of the “largest extent collections of ornamental capitals known to exist”

The visuals and stories contained within the grain of Renaissance wood type should deliver a heavy dose of intrigue; moreover, for anyone who has tried to cut their own type, the craftsmanship alone makes the talk a home-run.

Hello My Name Is… Most Likely Not Futura

Friday, 2:40 pm

A font-forensics adventure that begins with “a routine inventory review” and ends with… most likely not Futura. Amy Redmond shares her experience researching and identifying the true names of the type found in Stern & Faye Printer’s cases of (presumed) Futura, illuminating her methods and revelations along the way.

Everyone loves a good mystery, and when the mystery involves Futura imposters—the audience wins twice.

Language, Culture, Emoji

Saturday, 9:30 am

TypeCon’s second day starts off with a mix of light-hearted culture and academic discourse as Paul Hunt tries to answer: is emoji a language? Contrasting two approaches to the problem of emoji, this presentation examines “the evolution of writing, from hieroglyphics to our modern text+emoji hybrid system.”

Perhaps the emoji question is not today’s most pressing, but as culture evolves, those little images have begun taking on an ever-important role. (They even got a feature-length Hollywood film!) Plus, it sounds like a fun way to start Saturday.

Heavy Metal Type

Saturday, 2:20 pm

Sergio Trujillo takes the audience through the graphic history of heavy metal music—the genre known for extreme gothic calligraphy. (So extreme, in fact, that the type itself often looks devilish.) From the past and present, though, Trujillo paints a picture of the future: enabled by new variable fonts, heavy metal designs will enjoy a “plethora of hauntingly beautiful possibilities.”

The heavy metal genre conjures a more specific aesthetic than, say, pop, rap, or even electronic. While it has a style all its own, nuance and ingenuity have allowed for a quietly robust “creative playground,” with a future that’s even scarier than the past… and that’s a good thing.

Typography in Exhibition Design: Designing, Typesetting, and Producing Type for Museums

Saturday, 4:30 pm

Typographer-gone-exhibit-designer Irina Koryagina explains the processes and balances required when designing museum exhibit type. The copy, often written by someone better suited for “text books,” poses the first problem—then comes issues of legibility, accessibility, and overall experience. Koryagina shares how to make exhibition type “work hard, but also look good.”

Environmental graphic design books touch on typography, but the same rules don’t apply to street signs as to museum type—then again, neither do the rules of book design. This talk will explain how “designing, typesetting, and making typography for exhibitions different from working on screens or paper.”

Writing Systems of the World

Saturday, 4:50 pm

With so much attention on bringing laptops and internet to the far corners of the Earth, few have stopped to ask: how will one read the contents of the internet, if her native script is not supported or unavailable? Zachary Scheuren tackles this problem with “an overview of world scripts and the common problems that keep some scripts from being used.”

As modern life shifts from a focus on our physical surroundings to our digital ones, the responsibility of graphic designers has grown to resemble that of architects—but some audiences have been left outside. Even if Scheuren’s solutions don’t apply to everyone, the discussion does.

Yes, but can Variable Fonts do this?

Sunday, 10:30 am

Rainer Erich Scheichelbauer of Glyphs and Schriftlabor gives an update on his 2015 TypeCon talk in Denver—the one where he showed fonts that play tic-tac-toe and other games using nothing but OpenType features. This time around, Scheichelbauer turns to variable fonts, showing how you can “have fun with them too.”

Like his previous talk, Scheichelbauer will bring no slides. “All typing will be done live.” It will be raucous, exciting, and—for those interested in variable fonts—enlightening.

To learn more about these talks and see the full TypeCon lineup, see their program page.

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