ATypI 2013 Day 3

These are live blog notes from the ATypI 2013 conference in Amsterdam Day 3

Usual disclaimer for live blogging: These are informal notes taken by me, Dave Crossland, at the event, and may or may not be similar to what was said by the people who spoke on these topics. Probably if something here is incorrect it is because I mistyped it or misunderstood, and if anyone wants corrections, they should email me ( – or post a comment. Thanks!

In fact I didn’t even read this document once before posting it, so its probably FULL of errors. What do you want for free? bahaha

[ 5 mins late ]

We need people who value knowledge more than things. that uncertainty and doubt is valuable in a company.

what do we need?

Education for people to create and solve the problems we face at any level of complexity. what do we educate? how can we teach things that will be relevant in 10 years?

what skills should they have?

how can they educate THEMSELVES in their professional life?

we need design skills with classes for research, and appreciation for the knowledge of making, who ask for more instead of ‘do we really need to know all this?’

we need explorers much more than design students who stay on the beach using Facebook

scripting and programming is a formal way to describe design decisions. better to write a conditional program than do it in your head to create a photoshop image

thinking in algorithms is the only way designers will survive. like lego or pantone colours of typefaces. reduce an infinite amount of choices to a manageable range.

devel the skills and doing research are seen as opposites. skills and research are x and y axes, that together mean making things. you can plot in a 2×2 grid these things.

such a graph is a model, a simplification of thought to understand the unthinkable.

the name of a font is a model to represent the ideas in the type.

the outline of a font is a model.

the programme of this conference is a model, a prediction of time.

the map of amsterdam is a model is a model thatreturs you safely home from the red light district

a model is an amount of relevant details. what is a sketch meant to do?

text as used is commonly understood symbols.

design is the management of details.

a useful definition, popular with students and clients. this simplified communication.

designers create models. many to choose and many ways to choose. models can be abstract. based on insutioin – i feel this is the right way – but some approach with cultivate opportunism. we pretend we can do it in a given amount of time, even thought thats not true.

there are models for making models. i like recursion.

tools are models that understand the task to be done. we need design tools

where is the python powered indesign? why were designers unable to prove adobe that would improve their production of pages? how was it possible to adde python to fontgorpahy many years ago while properiaty page layout tools still didn’t do it.

InD, Ill, PS, SketchUP are not design tools.

RoboFont is. The 150 tickets for RoboThon are sold out in 1 hour. Why not python script all the things?

Designers don’t ask for this.

They think doing repetitive labour work is a great accomplishment, and programming is not design.

we need web tools going beyond HTML/CSS/JS.

Check Bret Victor’s future of programming. I give away the secret, its a recent lecture, he talks like its 1973, and you see how stupid the future has become. CHECK IT OUT!

So we need web tools that are beyond assembler, postscript and css. we need CSS3, SASS, HTMl5 to be better. Watch Bret Victor.

We need designers that know the difference between idea space and tool space. You’ve seen Erik’s drawing, and most designers live on the crowded beach of known tools. Those who escape built their own ideas islands, and can do what they want.

we need tools with a single source. what is that?

replace files with databases. you all work with files. its stupid.

working in the cloud is a good start, but far from adequate.

anyone seen a dropbox file disappear because a friend dragged it to their desktop? dropbox is a stupid program.

we need applications that solve the versioning of design work.

where is the type design eversion of git? programmers solved it for themselves. even working on the same source file. we need programmers to solve the problem for the rest of theowrld.

designers think they are ok copy and pasting. heir little gated immunity, theyr well secured office.

but we need with testers, hinters, programmers and marketers use the same source. to make the same type we need.

this is the landing pattern of type. desirer requirements, then generate all fonts from a central set of sources.

we need designers who can understand ‘kinds of’ not ‘a single one’ – make algorithms that can design.

we need AI. there’s not enough design capacity for human designers to do all the work. how to design programs that design?

few designers know that. where did they learn? what tools do they use?

processing, prolog, python?

the solution is in studying multiple things at the same time. combine things in interesting ways.

this is true for any area. even if they appear too remote at first glance.

is butte rick a lawyer with a knowledge of design, or a designer who knows copyright?

is frederik baerlan a designing programmer or a programming designer? their combinations makes the unique in the world by picking 2 remote specialisms.

take these 6 extremes. concepts for AI, but perfect for designing any process. values in left col are easy to solve.


fully observable. all pieces can be seen. its deterministic, no dice. its sequential, can’t go back to change past moved. static, rules don’t change. discrete, one meaning. and it has multiple agents.

design a page with no grid?

can see it, no dice, episodic not sequential – designer can go back and recontinue. dynamic, client can call any time to change the rules. no grid so element positions si continuous. and usually a single designer does it.

adding a grid changes it from continuous to diskette. designing a page with a grid is easier.

making a car drive through traffic on its own is hard. all the right hand side col items apply. where did google think about what if a door from a 747 falls down? their car program doesn’t have that explicitly.

we need devices with quality type. we need osx, iphoenn ,i podad, design, android, windows, print.

css is not a design language, because i can’t tell it what i want more or less, i have to be exact. and remember all brewer differences. making websites work well on many platforms is like magic.

we need tools to hide the legacy from view.

think the unthinkable. watch bret victor explain this in his videos.

why isn’t everything an application, interactive?

tap and erik and just made a library of tools that todays type design students use to their advantage. this is all based on open source python, by guido, just’s brother.

txx is used by EVERYONE, the cottage industry and the big corporations. what would the world be like without this tool?

there is vanilla and woof and robofont and the GN cube and superpoatro.

we need more programs like eriks superpoaltor.

we need people who are not satisfied with these tools.

we need people who can jump in and improve the existing code and make it even better.

there are many important areas that we did not talk about.

we didn’t mention print.

setting up accompany. architecture, art.

you must explore yourself.

we need atypic, where this all happens.

its good to see the paper proposals, but the chats between the lectures are very valuable too.

lets go outside the landscape we habit in. what needs to be solved? what can be solved with type?

i wish you an interesting time here.


Q: what do you mean by AI if not computers who think for themselves?

A: there are levels of AI. the problem is that its a loaded idea. 40 years ago they said in 10 years we’d have robots doing housekeeping. it didn’t work out. they found simple stuff is hard to program. making something behave like a person naturally is very complex. otoh, google does a good job selecting adverts. its a learning system. we’d like something that you can train. you can train it by writing it yourself. you can imagine an application and the program says ‘this is the thing you may want to do so lets put that at the top of my suggestions’. the problem is exponential growth. you can not foresee everything that happens. if you go to the 6th or 7th level of chess, its more moves than a computer can calculate. but chess is some 24-30 moves. you can’t say ‘if they do this, you do that’. its fuzzy logic. design is too fuzzy. but you can get somewhere, applying ai tree search techniques to what designers can do.

Q: are you arguing for design to be contingent? i mean, something that is without having to be so. design presented as an ontology?

A: i don’t have a definition… i use for students, the management of details. another is, if you don’t do it it won’t be there, if you do, it probably will, and if you do it again, it will be better. its vague. or, is design everything you do for the first time? second, hmm. 3rd, well. 4th, either hire someone or write a program. then its production, not design. when you give it to a person, they do a lot of design too. even the printer who adjusts the ink to respond to the paper. again, making the choice of what to design is design.

* * *

1335 Don’t Design Web Fonts | Cyrus Highsmith, David Jonathan Ross

[ 10 mins late ]

I use serif for html text and sans for tags.

a coding typeface family for coding typography.

responsive design can change the type based on the window size, e.g. changing the drop cap font with different levels of complexity. we can make the borders change.


I’ve been thinking about the theory of things. you can look at my sketchbook on the slides if you’re bored wit theory. at RISD i saw typography shrink as strategy design and programming and writing classes crowd in. this is good for preparing students for careers as graphic designers.

risd has held on longer than most schools to typography. michael beirut from pentagram said he would take someone who can read over someone who can draw to become a graphic designer.

lexical skills are more important than visual skills to design now. knowing the structure of a text is more important than knowing how to make nice balanced white space.

like many type designers i taught myself at the start. in the lsat 10 years, the type courses at cooper, reading, kabk, and type design electives are now as part of graphic design programs all over the place.

its very popular lately. at RISD i used to do 2 classes, basic type, ‘type 1’, and then in spring, type design elective. i put a lot into the type 1 curriculum, it needed updating. a couple years ago, the dept head said that not enough seats available int he type design elective. so i should teach the class twice, in the fall for another group of students.

i agreed to teach just type design; not basic typography any more. i was happy to do that, but it makes me wonder why. why as general typographic education is in decline is type design so popular?

many reason. one might be the changing relationship between type designer and typography.

David Jonathan Ross:

technical reasons. instead of setting a font at a size, the range of fonts at a range o fsizes for a range of devices.


right. so no one is using less type. yet. typography is more complicated. the thinking skills you need to make typography, the type designer and the typeface has to do more and more.

like open type features. built into a font are dozens of choices about when to use an altnerate. the type design becomes the typography. is this emergent, or started 20 years ago?

the more the graphic designer understands about what type works than by experiencing type design yourself. I’m not suggesting to replace typography classes with type design. but i realised i could teach typography from the type designer’s point of view.

my book sees typography as a collaboration of the typography and type designer. that made the most sense to me. there is a broad potential in this strategy.

what about web fonts?

this past year, the similar trajectory. web developers weren’t used to sophisticated typography.

type design was an extension of typography. this is the heart of type design.

imaging typography and figuring out parts to express it. david and i and others talk about this. we make web fonts and we show them, we push the possibilities we can do with them. we have a hard time imagining type on screen.

type on screen is limited. we practice things. so its hard to make things interesting. when tech is limited, its a funnel which makes things the same.

as much as i’d like to embrace the limitations. i’d like screen typography to be stupidifying.

its had to have perspective on something you’re in the middle of. we are figuring out web fonts.

we are in a tricky time. right now. web fonts are right now.

i found a quote of Elements of Lettering by John Benson: “you can’t expect good work without knowing your materials nature…..”

He talked about wood or stone or bronze, and they aren’t my materials. not paper and ink, now its ixels and electrons. maybe i stretch it too far. i have an abstract interpretation.

a type designer’s material is typography. a willingness to work with it, and type designers must imagine typography. that is our material.

the good news is that the supply is infinite. is this a perfect storm?

is this the end of tyrpophray?

in fact I’m optimistic for th efuture of typography. DO DRAW web fonts. our title was a joke.

we two here will do!

but lets not limit what we can do, lets make smart web fonts.

Q: you taught type design only, did you get type design students who never took a typography class?

A: No, type 1, 2 and 3 are core, and my class is elective. they have a background in typography. i might get a sharp student who didn’t set type who wants to take my class. they don’t get out of my class as much as they should.

Q: what does it mean for typography to be the type designer’s material?

Cyrus A: I’m being poetic. its what we imagine. you make the type to express that idea.

Q: you’re saying thats how all type designers start?

Cyrus A: I’m saying thats where we 2 start, and the best way to start.

Q: Isn’t that like saying alcohol exists to make you drunk?

David A: I don’t understand that. I don’t drink…. 😉

Gerry Q: Commednation, thanks for raising the idea to raise a type use before drawing; people talk about tools but type must be used to have a meaning. correction, please stop talking of matd and kabk as where type is taught, its taught around the world in mexico and argentina, at least 30 places where it is taught, so please lets be less eurocentric. my comment: the way type design used to be made, it was done by expert typographers. it was big industrial stuff with much business risk. with the marginal risk of the next typeface trends to zero, people who have insufficient typographic education comes along. people who know how complex typography works are not the whole room here, even. i was at w3c workshop on ebooks, and it was like web font early days, when type designers met web browsers and there was a big conversation about different interests and finding common interests. there are bigger industries. we must change our attitude to the big business of making books, newspapers and educational materials. we must tell what our quality perspective is. the quality language gets very wooly and imprecise. we need to do more of this as teachers. i worry we are a smaller discipline and more people are making typographically structured content. in the end we are left in our own room complaining to no one but ourselves. sorry i silenced the room.

martin major q: thanks, interesting lecture. when people say they want to be a type designer, i think you must be a graphic designer as well. must i also become a web designer?

daivd; for us it has, yes. i spent as much time drawing as looking at how MSIE renders it compared to Firefox. does a graphic designer expect their typography given to them by specialists?

Roger black q: it sounds like type foundries should do a better job of putting out specimens, showing the typography intended for the best cases for real typography. we are not doing a good job of that.

daivid a: i show the vertical borders to show its not just the font, but the CSS and JS to implemetng the gyproaphy. because the thinking inside and outside the font must be used together.

* * *

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