We’re here at the University of London for the first-ever TYPO London design conference. It’s a three-day event gathering together some of the world’s leading experts in design to present their personal insights into the theme ‘Places’ – and with speakers including Neville Brody, Pentagram partner Michael Bierut, Airside's Nat Hunter, conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner and more, it promises to be an inspiring few days.
So far that’s certainly been the case. The interpretations of the theme have been widely varied, all incredibly personal, with few sticking directly to the brief…
One of the main highlights of day one was Nat Hunter’s hugely inspirational talk on user experience and the importance of storytelling. The Airside creative director used a diverse range of projects to illustrate how information with narrative creates powerful communication – we’ll be following this up in more detail soon.
Storytelling proved to be a recurring theme during the first day, with Michael Bierut touching on the theme in his talk, ‘The Only Important Decision’. He took listeners on a journey to 10 locations, exploring 10 projects in which important typographic decisions were made.
From signage systems to logo design to public lettering, we were guided through the unique challenges of working with type, whether commissioning a custom font or designing a large display for the side of a building.
Bierut was extremely honest about the issue of work being rejected. He traced the development of a logo for the New World Symphony, talking candidly of how difficult it was to nail the brief. He recalled the client rejecting a large selection of different ideas and his growing frustration before arriving at the perfect mark inspired by the movement of a conductor.
Spin's Tony Brook provided one of the more amusing talks of the day, offering a humorous exploration into the “northern mafia” (designers born "north of the Watford gap"), before reciting Philip Larkin’s ‘This Be The Verse’ and bursting into song at the end. The self-confessed obsessive’s recollection of stalking his hero Wim Crouwel proved particularly memorable.
Equally fascinating – if not bizarre – was Jonathan Ellery’s journey into where his work comes from and what it’s about. With regular reference back to women (from his mum to his ex-wife and current girlfriend), he provided an insight into the importance of working in the “here and now”. Projects ranged from impressive bronze works in his Theory of Neo-conservative Creationism exhibition, to a women undressing to a drum-beat narrative.
Other speakers took a more direct approach to the theme. Typographer Titus Nemeth and senior creative director at the BBC World Service Kutlu anliogl explained the unique challenges involved in translating the principles behind the BBC’s new Global Experience Language (GEL) into the design of news services across 27 languages and scripts.
Nemeth described how he created a custom version of Nassim, painstakingly optimising the typeface for screen and web, and paving the way for better Arabic typography.
The extremely talented Eva-Lotta Lamm sketched the talks as they happened – check it out:
Typography legend Eric Spiekermann facilitated the event with graphic designer Adrian Shaughnessy and design journalist Lynda Relph-Knight. A recurring theme between the organisers was that of the cultural drives for design, with Shaughnessy observing an increasing interest in social issues as a motivation among students:
“Graphic design has become a tool people use to create change. The motivation is social issues – the desire to see a better world – rather than the fetishisation of graphic design,” he said, referencing students who would rather look at the way ambulances work than design logos for fashion labels.
After a thoroughly interesting first day we’re looking forward to the rest of the show. We’ll bring you more on the event as it unfolds.