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TYPO Berlin 2013: Paul Barnes

Computer Arts: Tell us about the thinking behind your talk, and the way you approached theme of 'touch'?
Paul Barnes:
You go into these conferences, the organisers have put together a theme, and you find out a lot of people don't really respond to it. One of the things that interests me, in my work, is when you make typefaces or any piece of graphic design and look at how it relates to previous generations and what they've done. Maybe it's got something to do with my age: you get to a point where you start to look back.

It occurred to me when I was on holiday, in Cornwall, how much pleasure I got from going to church graveyards. It's not macabre. These thing are often joie de vivre. I looked at how they relate to doing a typeface for the National Trust. You can get things that are literal historical translations, and then you get things that take elements from history and rearrange it. The typeface I created for the National Trust has a historical base, but it's hidden in the forms of san serif, which we think of as a modern form. When you do these lectures, it's nice to show images that people haven't seen before. The majority of people here are German. They probably haven't seen English lettering of the 18th and 19th century, which is incredibly rich.

CA: There seemed to be some interesting conversations between you and the National Trust. Are clients more design savvy than they were at the beginnig of your career?
The National Trust is a charitable organisation with a huge number of volunteers. In size, it's a corporation and has a corporate identity. We worked on this project with the National Trust and branding agency Wolff Olins. There was so much of the brand we didn't need to change. The oak leaves, in terms of recognisability, would be 100%. I can't think of anything more recognisable in our iconography in Britain.

So I think the National Trust have always had an awareness of design. But I think, since I started my career, the Macintosh and personal computer have become dominant things. We've gone from a process of design being for designers who are over there and have the tools, to something where, in the National Trust, every individual property is going to have a computer and a laser printer and have the typeface and be able to do graphic design. And therefore having a typeface that's theirs, as opposed to Helvetica, allows them to do the whole corporate identity rollout a bit further. Yeah, we live in an even more design savvy world than we did when I started, 20 years ago. It's both good and bad.

CA: Why are events like TYPO Berlin 2013 so important to the design community? What do you learn from them?
: I work from home. Christian's [Schwartz, Barnes' partner at Commercial Type] in America. I don't work in a big studio. So, coming to an event like this and meeting hundreds of likeminded people is fantastic. I might sound like a clich, but these events reenergise you. You see lots of people doing things you do but in completely different ways. You meet interesting people, doing interesting work. There are people, here, from Russia and Poland that I otherwise wouldn't be aware of. The internet is great. But here you see things more directly than searching through blogs. I think that's the way most designers feel when they come to these things: they're reenergising.

Check out more from Paul Barnes (opens in new tab) and read our full coverage of TYPO Belrin 2013 in the next issue of Computer Arts.

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