Kate Vasey Article By Kate

The Northern Block's First ATypI Conference


Back in September, Malcolm, Mariya, Scott and myself were fortunate enough to attend the ATypI 2018 conference on behalf of The Northern Block. ATypI 2018 was held in Antwerp this year, which is the second biggest city in Belgium. Home to a big port and wonderful architecture as well as being a home and city of importance to the baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens.

Antwerpen Centraal, Grote Markt & Brabo Fountain and Cathedral of Our Lady

What We Saw

During our time here, we were able to take in some of the sites of the city. A personal favourite of mine was the Cathedral of our lady, a Roman Catholic cathedral in a Gothic style which one stage ended in 1521 but the other side has been left ‘unfinished’ which is something I quite liked about it. It also looked wonderful all lit up at night. A few others I enjoyed were the Antwerpen-Centraal railway station and the Grote Markt and Brabo fountain. There is also the Plantin-Moretus Museum which is ideal for typographers to admire the printing works of Christophe Plantin and Jan Moretus.

What Is ATypI?

For those who may not have heard of ATypI before or the Association Typographique Internationale as it is formally known as, it is a non-profit organisation that was founded in 1957 by Charles Peignot with himself and a group of representatives from type manufacturing companies. It is run democratically by an elected Board and is catered to both individuals and organisations in both the type and design community. It provides opportunities for those in the industry and community to come together to meet and discuss typography and type design around the world. Every year it is hosted somewhere different in the world which I think is brilliant to keep it fresh and diverse. Previous years have seen it held at Hong Kong, Warsaw, Sao Paolo, Montreal to name but a few. This year it was held in Antwerp, Belgium. Here are some of things they do:

  • promote contemporary digital fonts

  • encourage outstanding typography and typographic design

  • campaign for the protection of typeface designs

  • influence legislators around the world

  • run conferences


They also hold an award ceremony called the Prix Charles Peignot award for Excellence in Type Design, named after the founder and first president of ATypI, the award is given to a designer under the age of 35 who has made an outstanding contribution to type design. This year it is was David Jonathan Ross who received the 10th award. Mariya particularly enjoyed this part of the conference as she liked David’s views, his work practice and his passion for type design as well as his business model which she thought was very interesting.

The first three days of the conference focused on workshops whilst the other half of the week focused primarily on the talks and presentations and ending with the closing party on the Saturday evening.

What We Got Up To

Mariya and Malcolm headed over to Antwerp at the beginning of the week to take part in the workshops. One of the workshops that stood out to Malcolm was Dave Crossland’s Fontbakery workshop which he thought was very engaging and informative in how it showed what a versatile tool this font quality assurance software has become.

Dave Crossland presenting his Fontbakery workshop, ATypI 2018

Myself and Scott joined them during the week when the talks and presentations were beginning. Although we missed out on the workshops, Scott was able to meet one of the workshop hosts, Taekyeom Lee, who had a modified 3D printer which he thought was brilliant.

Video of Taekyeom Lee's modified 3D printing machine (Source)

We met up and headed over to the Arenberg Theatre to see the keynote speaker of that evening which was Matthew Carter who did his talk ‘Over The Top’ which was both ne of Malcolm’s and Mariya’s personal favourites for being brilliant, very informative as well as entertaining.

Matthew Carter presenting ‘Over The Top’, ATypI 2018

Most Memorable Talks

Throughout the rest of the week there were many talks during the conference. For Malcolm, a favourite of his was ‘The German Sharp S’ with Bruno Maag and Rainer Erich Scheichelbauer where they battled over the German sharp S which he found thought-provoking and entertaining. Mariya enjoyed the ‘Adidas variable fonts’ with Jeremy Mickel and Leon Imas where the Adidas creative director talked about the process of commission, design and the use of their brand variable typeface. Another favourite of Malcolm’s was ‘Women in type’ with Fiona Ross and Alice Savoie which he found interesting to him because he was at Monotype working with a number of the people that were mentioned during the presentation.

Fiona Ross and Alice Savoie presenting ‘Women in type’, ATypI 2018

For me, there were three talks that particularly stood out. One of which was the ‘Cultural roads between Arabic and Latin’ with Bahman Eslami. From our recently released type family Loew Next Arabic, it was interesting to learn the history of the non-Latin script and how it compares to Latin. Arabic appearing more calligraphic and Latin being more constructed and discovering the fundamentals of Arabic type design which Bahman explained in a very engaging way and with great visuals. I remember he also used an analogy by referencing the Indian fable ‘The Partridge and The Crow’ which is a story of a raven that was fascinated by how a partridge walks and how it studied it’s every move and tried to imitate it which led it to be completely dysfunctional as it had completely lost its own ability to walk. He went on to compare that story to when he first studied in graphic design and how he wanted to create an Arabic typeface that would be like Arial typeface.

Bahman Eslami presenting ‘Cultural roads between Latin and Arabic’, ATypI 2018

Another that stuck with me was ‘God is in the details’ by Keitaro Sakamoto, particularly the video demonstration of the drawing of the Kanji word for ‘eternity’ by hand which completely blew me away at the level of skill that was shown. To draw so accurately by hand without any mistakes or having to go over a section was fascinating to watch.

Keitaro Sakamoto presenting ‘God is in the details’, ATypI 2018

One of Scott’s favourite talks was ‘Heavy metal type’ with Sergio Trujillo, he enjoyed listening to Sergio going through the history and understanding his perception of the changes. It helped that the topic is something that personally resonates with Scott too. He also thought Sergio made the talk really fun to listen to, and considered it a little more ‘light-hearted’ compared with other technical talks that were on.

The final talk that really stood out to me and was also another favourite of Scott’s too, was ‘The relationship between stroke weight and letter width’ with Sofie Beier. Reason being, not only for the in depth research she put into her work and the interesting results from the research teamed with good visuals but she also stood out among the others for being the only person who didn’t talk behind the plinth and moved around the stage freely and speaking so articulately whilst doing so. A few people I spoke to also picked up on that and found her confidence admirable.

Sofie Beier presenting ‘The relationship between stroke weight and letter width’,
ATypI 2018

It wasn’t just all talks and workshops at ATypI. There was also many social aspects of it, plenty of opportunities to mingle with those in the industry during coffee breaks and lunch breaks, fun demonstrations and mini workshops, there was also a book signing for Gerard Unger’s “Theory of type design” which Mariya was able to get her copy signed by the author. There was evening meals in local restaurants and visiting nearby bars, a cocktail reception that was held at the Arenberg Theatre where the conference talks were held, the cocktail party that was held at Saint James Church and the closing party for end of the conference which was celebrated with a evening out over at Kavka Zappa which was hosted by Adobe which featured some of the ATypI members performing as a band on stage to the crowd. It was great to meet and catch up with many of those that attended.

Trying out the Belgium beers with Malcolm, Scott & Mariya and the delicious waffles at Désiré De Lille. 

Final Thoughts

Overall I really enjoyed my first visit to the type conference. As someone who attended from a non-designer point of view, I did feel that the conference wasn’t particularly catered to my role as someone who works for a type foundry but not in a design based role, it would be good to see more of a mix of other talks like the business and distribution part of the industry alongside the academic side. However, being a non-designer attendee did provoke interesting conversations with designers I did meet and being able to discuss the different aspects of the industry was a good learning experience for me.

Despite it feeling more academic, it was fun to discover different cultures of type and non-latin scripts as someone who is still learning about this industry. Although I found the history of Latin interesting, I found myself more drawn to the talks that delved into the history and culture of non-latin languages, maybe that is the travel bug in me that finds discovering other languages and cultures fascinating and that it is reflected in the talks I enjoyed the most.

Scott and myself having lunch with Aoife Mooney and Joanna Correia.

Scott with Edwina, Grace, Andrew and Jeff (behind the camera) from Arphic.

Due to some of the team working more remotely than others, it was also great to meet up and spend more time together with the team, our collaborators, friends we’ve made in the industry and getting to meet those we’ve worked with on projects before.

All of which made me really enjoy the experience that I had both with the team and at the conference and look forward to more in the future.
If you want to see what we got up to at ATypI, I was able to document the majority of our time over on The Northern Block’s Instagram page, where I created an Instagram story specifically to show what we got up to. You can view it here.

For more information on ATypI, you can visit their website here.
You can also watch the playlist here of the different talks that were on this year.

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