Type News

Global, Local, Social: ATypI Barcelona 2014 (Part 4)

December 30, 2014 by
Sonja Knecht
Sonja Knecht

One could say some of the Typographic Dialogues at ATypI were of a rather corporate nature, and some of them even became heated discussions, especially those between representatives of big companies and designers. If you want to dip into the technical aspects first, please read Part 1 of my ATypI review. For a focus on teaching type read Part 2. In Part 3 you will find striking intercultural aspects. With Part 4 we try to understand some corporate issues, by examining history too.

Stencil makers all over the place! Erik Kindel on a discovery tour in eighteenth-century Paris.
Stencil makers all over the place! Erik Kindel on a discovery tour in eighteenth-century Paris.

Hardcore practical type history – and a ray of hope

Many lectures at ATypI Barcelona were hardcore practical; you could even say a lot of them were quite nerdy stuff. One of my favourite talks combining history and research talks was given by Eric Kindel, the editor of Typeform dialogues. He thoroughly investigated the work of Early Stencil Makers in Europe, mainly in eighteenth-century France. Eric brilliantly and obsessively retraced their personalities, their homes, their daily lives – paradoxically laying bare that we know next to nothing about this important aspect of the development of type in comparison to handwriting, calligraphy, typography, and typesetting. Well, more accurately “knew”. Now we have a better understanding after discovering the roots of stencil engraving, and the typographic community is starting to take it seriously.

Indra Kupferschmid explores how Wagner & Schmidt typefaces expanded type history.
Indra Kupferschmid explores how Wagner & Schmidt typefaces expanded type history.

Indra Kupferschmid investigated Wagner & Schmidt, a Leipzig punch cutting and engraving company from around 1900, and explored how they “complicated type history”. Wagner & Schmidt were famous for selling matrices to other foundries to cast their own variants of a typeface, for instance Edel Grotesk, also known as Aurora, Cairoli, or Normal-Grotesk (see the bold extended style above). Because Wagner and his sons founded several other type companies of similar names it is not easy to trace the histories nor the contributing protagonists. It goes without saying Indra took us along on her road to discovery – if you want to find out more on the history of German grotesk typefaces, read her notes on Akzidenz-Grotesk or I had never loved Helvetica.

Gerard Unger shows the wide-reaching influence of Trajan/Romanesque capitals on graphic design.
Gerard Unger shows the wide-reaching influence of Trajan/Romanesque capitals on graphic design.

Gerard Unger – as usual the best-dressed man on stage – examined “echoes from the Middle Ages”, exploring the Trajan capitals and their “somewhat overrated” influence on graphic design. He taught the audience that Romanesque capitals are an influence of similar import, but offer much more “freedom” (an apt keyword these days), descending from further north and “truly European”. Gerard gave us an overview of type designs inspired by medieval letter forms ranging from 1400 to 2014.

It looks like Gotham is the new darling of movie poster designers.
It looks like Gotham is the new darling of movie poster designers.

From there Yves Peters took over, showing how Trajan became the most used typeface in movie posters. He ended with “a shimmer of hope” that this might change. It looks like Gotham is taking over the film world, a trend started with the Obama campaign. Maybe this could be the start of a new collection? So let’s see what next US elections will bring – more freedom and hope or more … Okay, no politics.

Albert-Jan Pool tracks down the one-eyed ‘a’ and retraces its influence on typeface design, starting much earlier than Futura.
Albert-Jan Pool tracks down the one-eyed ‘a’ and retraces its influence on typeface design, starting much earlier than Futura.

Albert-Jan Pool restricted his research to one letter. Obviously the “one-eyed a“ had not been examined in depth before. It is interesting to map type design trends by looking at just one glyph. You may encounter nice anecdotes – and Albert-Jan did find many – like the one about German writer Stefan George who in 1904 had a typeface designed especially for his book of poems. Stefan George wanted the typeface to be as close as possible to his own handwriting – so there it was, the one-eyed a, also called one-storey a, 20 years before Futura.

Start-up with a story

Not really hardcore practical, but still hardcore interesting and up-to-date, in a way, was Daniel Rhatigan’s investigation about the “infancy of Monotype” in the UK. The type director at Monotype examined their UK branch which was founded in 1897. Barely anything is known about their first 10 years of operations. Back then Monotype UK was an ambitious and very successful start-up that innovated at an extreme speed – not the corporate powerhouse we know today.

Dan established an early Monotype timeline based on the rare original pictures and notes he could find.
Dan established an early Monotype timeline based on the rare original pictures and notes he could find.

The speed at which the fledgling company developed during those early years apparently made it impossible to even think of keeping records. Almost no documents have been preserved. Still, Dan discovered some amazing facts. A name that appeared on several contracts and significant documents is that of a certain Max Steltzer. Apparently he was an important figure in the early days Monotype and beyond – possible even the most important – but he mysteriously disappeared from the company’s legacy.

The Steltzer mystery

You could say Max Steltzer was that time’s equivalent of the head of the design department today. In 1913 Monotype started developing their first original type designs, adapting typefaces from several other foundries. Steltzer was responsible for adapting them for the Monotype system and developed the letter forms for production, making him de facto in charge of the entire process. Steltzer made the design decisions and taught the ladies in the drawing offices how to work out the structure. Thus originated the Monotype style of typeface design and of setting text in Monotype fonts.

A Monotype document with the somewhat hazy yet readable signature of Max Steltzer.
A Monotype document with the somewhat hazy yet readable signature of Max Steltzer.

Original Steltzer drawings of around 1900 were used as prototype master designs at Monotype even until the 1950s. So Max Steltzer should definitely be remembered and recognised as being most influential in Monotype’s success.

If you have any information or insights concerning Monotype’s history, specifically the early years in UK, please contact dan@monotype.com.
If you have any information or insights concerning Monotype’s history, specifically the early years in UK, please contact dan@monotype.com.

Dan Rhatigan concluded “We lack a history of those early years for understanding the history of the company“. For the benefit of Monotype Dan will continue investigating what he calls “the Steltzer mystery”.

For more information about Monotype contributing to this year’s ATypI please see the press release Monotype to Present Several Type Topics at ATypI Barcelona 2014. German readers might be interested in my evaluation of the latest developments as well as the Monotype acquisition of FontShop and the upheaval around it.

Building The Perfect What? panel discussion: Martina Flor, Nadine Chahine (far left) et al. being interviewed by David Berlow (far right).
Building The Perfect What? panel discussion: Martina Flor, Nadine Chahine (far left) et al. being interviewed by David Berlow (far right).

And there were many more corporate presentations and discussions at ATypI Barcelona. Adobe’s David Lemon weighed in on the pros and cons of OpenSource and cooperating with Google. There were talks by Paul Hunt of Adobe, Simon Daniels of Microsoft, David Kuettel of Google Fonts, and David Berlow who moderated a panel discussion with the aforementionned, plus Martina Flor (see part 2 of my review) and Nadine Chahine.

People might think we are strange

At this point a passionate discussion erupted about the wishes of type designers and users not being fulfilled by the industry. Nadine Chahine and Yves Peters became the ambassadors of this new-born initiative. You can find more details about the OpenType UI movement on I Love Typography, and find out about the first results on the Typekit blog.

I would like to summarise the corporate portions of ATypI Barcelona with something beautiful Morisawa’s Keitaro Sakamoto said, referring to typefaces (ideally) bridging cultures: “People might think we are strange, exotic. But we are only shy”. Maybe we are.

Also visit CJK also. But beware of those really huge glyph collections …
Also visit CJK also. But beware of those really huge glyph collections …

Collaborative processes – to be continued

We got great impressions in Barcelona, great in every sense of the word. It is almost impossible to sum them all up. After the conference I noticed I missed out on great presentations that explicitly encouraged cross-cultural communication. One such talk was by Haytham Nawar, an artist-designer-researcher living in Hong Kong. He explores pictographic communication and possibilities to universally convey information “in order to bridge linguistic and cultural gaps” towards more multiculturalism. How beautiful would this be?

No wonder the conference was completely sold out – for the first time, as José Scaglione proudly let us know. And you know what was an additional pleasure? Just in case it did not yet come across: type designers tend to be capriciously stylish people.

Type people tend to be fashion-conscious: Alice Savoie with a picture of Charles Peignot…
Type people tend to be fashion-conscious: Alice Savoie with a picture of Charles Peignot…

… the notorious Adam Twardoch with socks of mismatched colours standing next his partner Juri Yarmola at the Fontlab presentation, …
… the notorious Adam Twardoch with socks of mismatched colours standing next his partner Juri Yarmola at the Fontlab presentation, …

… Juri with Lucas de Groot, …
… Juri with Lucas de Groot, …

… and of course t-shirts (meaning “type-shirts”) all over the place.
… and of course t-shirts (meaning “type-shirts”) all over the place.

Look at the bandanna – he himself would have called it a “neckerchief” – Charles Peignot wore – not to mention Alice Savoie’s stylish presence on stage. Alice gave a survey about the transition of type from metal to phototypesetting, and how this created new opportunities in typeface design. Her talk was peppered with historical images and details about the habits and manners of contributors like Adrian Frutiger, Mike Parker and Matthew Carter. Alice’s aim is – and the same goes for most ATypI members and conference visitors – to promote an ongoing dialogue “between designers, type manufacturers and other actors in the collaborative process”. Now with the digital technologies and with companies growing bigger, to say the least, this seems to be more essential than ever.

Have a look at the ATYpI website to find further tips for exploration – and be pulled to participate in one of their next conferences.