I recently attended the AtypI Conference in Montréal, thanks to a bursary from the Gold Coast Tourism Corporation.

Day one was devoted entirely to workshops, and possibly talks that didn’t make it to the big stage. The morning session I attended brought together three type designers: Jordan Bell from Hoefler & Co., Émilie Rigaud from A is for Apple and Lucas Sharp from Sharp Type.

Jordan Bell

Jordan discussed his explorations into the areas of type design. He asked the question “what is a typeface family?” He also discussed his interest in how handwriting reveals authorship, whereas typefaces have their own intrinsic personality. These two lines of enquiry led to the development of an eclectic typeface Bell has spent the last two years developing with Jonathan Hoefler called Inkwell.

Inkwell evolved from Hoefler’s handwritten labels on his wedding map. Typesetting was considered too formal when combined with an illustration and a calligraphic solution was too “Lord of the Rings” and so Inkwell was born. A delicious combination of handwritten serifs, sans serifs, black letter, open capitals and italics, all “written” using the same pen. Designed to fit together in a “sketch notes” fashion, it’s the hand writing you wish you had. Try it out for yourself here.

Émilie Rigaud

Émilie spoke next about her design process. She took us through the development of eight fonts in her foundry and the thinking behind each one. She’s a graphic designer as well as a font designer and this means she can road-test fonts as she uses them, refining as she goes. She also argued you need to be fluent in the language in order to design for it, citing diacritics as an example.

Her foundry name is A is for Apple and this attracted some unwanted attention from a certain computer company’s lawyers and so she channelled this David and Goliath encounter into a lovely type specimen for her typeface David. The small and large are contrasted throughout the booklet, doing typographic battle, with the small eventually winning.

Lucas Sharp

The third speaker was Lucas Sharp who spoke at length about the power of networks. He profiled his mentors and creative collaborators, which is a really interesting way to present a talk about your work. As well as creative networks, Lucas also took the audience through his design process and almost encyclopedic knowledge of type and lettering history. His work is either inspired by a lettering style or form, or an existing design which he re-works.

His digital interpretation of Herb Lubalin’s Avant Garde culminated in a font called Sharp Sans which was then adapted for Hillary Clinton and her recent campaign collateral.

One thing that struck me from all three talks, is that no matter your personality, inspiration, or philosophy, as a type designer, you need to be prepared to get nerdy. An in-depth knowledge of type and lettering in all its forms is the foundation, but to create a successful typeface requires an obsessive commitment to process and refinement.

If you’re ever unsure as to why someone would pay money for foundry font, when there are so many typefaces freely available, you would do well to listen to someone talk about spending two years refining a full set of weights for a font family, ensuring they’ll work seamlessly together for a greater purpose. It was an eye-opening and thoroughly enjoyable set of talks.

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