TYPO Berlin: highlights from day three

Grzegorz Laszuk kitted out his team in shiny silver space suits

An inspiring consensus is emerging for the Computer Arts team here at TYPO Berlin that transcends the different creative disciplines on show, and extends far beyond the official 'Roots' theme for the conference.

In different ways, both day one and day two at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt have been about finding your own path, and unique ways of approaching projects - whether that translates as studio culture, creative technique or something more abstract and conceptual.

With this sense of fierce individuality in mind, it's certainly fair to say that the final day of the conference started with a bang.

The day literally started with a bang

A bang from a glitter cannon, no less - just one small part of Grzegorz Laszuk's ultra-surreal, sci-fi-inspired opening session, which also featured silver space suits, a smoke machine and a video of Ken Garland reading out his First Things First manifesto while a live opera singer echoed his every word.

It looks like a rock concert but it's actually a typography conference

How do you follow that? Well, TYPO's third day was packed with so many great talks that picking just three highlights is a bit of a challenge. But that's our job, so here goes…

Rethinking publishing

Peter Bilak explained how thinking differently can carve a global niche

Following Laszuk's performance, it was the turn of Czech-born, Netherlands-based Peter Bilak to turn convention on its head.

Both graphic designer and type designer, Bil'ak also runs the magazine Works That Work - which features fascinating long-form articles exploring "unexpected creativity".

Works That Work has taken a fresh approach to magazine publishing

These have included a piece on the huge influence of the shipping container - "the box that shrank the world" - on global trade, and the story of the vast underground bunker in which nuclear waste would be sealed for 100,000 years, and the design challenge of communicating the danger to future generations who might not understand language or established symbols.

Questioning the established model of magazine publishing at a grass-roots level - from its reliance on advertising, to treatment of content, to distribution methods - Bil'ak delivered an inspirational lesson in how thinking differently can carve a global niche.

The magazine appears in multiple formats - the typeface being the only unifying factor

Despite its small circulation of just a few thousand, Works That Work is a truly multi-platform offering - print, web and various different phones and tablets - with the only unifying factor between formats being the typeface, which was of course developed by Bil'ak's own foundry Typotheque.

It's also completely global, thanks to a pioneering new 'social distribution' model that puts the power - and a profit share - in readers' hands.

If someone finds a local outlet prepared to sell the magazine, they can buy a stack of magazines at 50 per cent of the cover price, and sell it to the shop at 75 per cent. The supply chain is thus massively reduced, and everyone is a winner.

Fairytale of New York

Stefanie Weigler and David Heasty explained why New York City inspires them

The husband-and-wife studio Triboro punches considerably above its weight, with clients including GQ, Nike, Wired, HSBC and Stella Artois. In line with the Roots theme, the duo - Stefanie Weigler, German, and David Heasty, American - kicked off with why NYC inspires them and their work.

"New York is a candy store for designers," enthused Weigler. "Just when you're about to understand what it is, it starts to change. We try to identify little inspirations in the chaos." The fusion of particular styles, influences and architecture is unlike any other.

"We try to identify little inspirations in the chaos"

"Even though it's a wealthy city, much of the infrastructure is actually surprisingly run down," Heasty added, drawing particular attention to how "weathered, hand-painted signage" sits alongside "optimistic and future-focused" Art Deco design.

Like many of this year's TYPO speakers, Triboro believes in questioning the status quo - and there's no better example than the studio's self-initiated redesign of the New York subway map, driven by an envy of the clean, iconic design of its London counterpart.

Using Gotham (of course) Weigler and Heasty completely reinvented the map as a graphic, one-colour neon red poster.

The duo have completely reinvented the NY subway map as a one-colour neon poster

The standout project that the studio presented, however, was a brief from Nike to develop a NYC-specific logo for the brand.

"There are tons of typographic logos representing NYC, and we were wary of creating another," confessed Weigler. Focussing on the 'just do it' tagline, Triboro opted to explore a 'DIY' theme - until they found an effortlessly simple solution.

"There are tons of typographic logos representing NYC, and we were wary of creating another"

By blanking out parts of the Nike logo itself, it became NYC. Best of all, the 'hacked' Nike NYC logo spread across countless applications, from painting over adverts to unpicking the stitching on baseball caps, and everything in between.

A tale of four countries

Thomas Manss explained how his agency combines the best of four nations

Where the co-founders of Triboro had explored their roots on a city level, Thomas Manss began with an illustration showing the outlines of four countries, tessellated together as one: the UK, Germany, Brazil and Italy, each of which plays host to an outpost of Thomas Manss & Company.

"We have all the politeness of the British, the efficiency of the Germans, the rhythm of the Brazilians and the style of the Italians," grins Manss, himself from the small town of Gütersloh, where "five cars waiting at a red light equals a traffic jam."

"If the logo is the start of the story, corporate identity is the rest of it"

While walking through some of the agency's various identity projects, he introduced several enlightening quotations from iconic designers - starting with the late great Alan Fletcher, who once told Manss: "This is all about ideas. You don't want to be caught in typography." He also quoted Michael Wolff's belief that "processes don't produce ideas, people do."

As for his own perspective, Manss went on to explore the essence of what branding means. "If the logo is the start of the story, corporate identity is the rest of it - complete with a cast of characters," was his rather poetic way of putting it. Developing that story and describing what a company really stands for should be an agency's role.

The aim of branding is to describe what a company really stands for

"It's not our task to move graphic elements to and fro until they look pretty," he added, in a bold understatement that nicely sums up three days of incredible talks here in Berlin. From the Computer Arts team, over and out.