Elisabeth Irgens

I used to be scared of typography

Kerning is a web typography conference in Faenza and I had an absolute blast attending this year. So, how did I end up at this conference in Italy if I used to find the topic so intimidating? Here are some thoughts on entering an unknown world and how to start feeling at home in new areas.

Missing out on all the fun

For a lot of years, I was quite convinced typography was a specialization for other graphic designers, but not for me. It seemed like an intimidating world, surrounded by unscalable walls. And where the locals were quick to laugh and point at visitors for their mistakes. I made sure to stay on safe roads and shied away from both adventures and learning anything new.

Becoming a typography snob

Fast forward to now and I spent the first week of June in Italy to attend Kerning. My business has an unproportionately large budget for fonts. I have been known to slap developers for not using smart quotes. And I am sporting a conference T-shirt that whispers: I’m silently judging your font choice. Yeah, so I’m not quite sure what happened…?!

Kerning conference T-shirt is silently judging your font choic

Find your neighbourhood

At some point it dawned on me that I didn’t have to instantly become an expert on everything and all things type related. To enter an unknown world, you can start to feel more at home by learning more about just the stuff that actually interests you. Find a nice neighbourhood and get to know that area. Thing is, I still can’t tell Arial from Helvetica. But hey, now I can talk about font licenses! Or about my favourite Brazilian typeface designers. And about how designers need to learn a lot more about implementation to make better typeface choices for web.

But right now, I will talk about my highlights from Kerning 2014.

An introduction to calligraphy

Workshop: My 14-year-old self would have been thrilled to bits had she know about this. I spent a lot of time trying to learn some calligraphy at that age, but I gave up this and all other creative stuff after my teens. Very happy that I signed up for this workshop and the day was massively inspirational. I probably won’t be taking up calligraphy again, but we learnt so much about the history of how letters are formed. Seeing Luca Barcellona show us how he works really got me thinking a lot about my own process, choice of tools and jumping between digital and analog.

Workshop with Luca Barcellona at Kerning 2014

Type talk in an art nouveau cinema

Conference: The next day we were all gathered in the beautiful Cinema Teatro Sarti for talks from 8 speakers. Ellen Lupton talked about brainy stuff like perception and cognition, and made it evident why she has written numerous books on typography. Vincent Connare is the designer of Comic Sans, but only briefly told that story. Jessica Hische was hilarious as always, with a talk about working more on letterforms and less on decoration.

More important than apostrophes

My favourite talk of the day encouraged us as designers to use our skills for something that matters, that we have tricks and can be subversive. Jan Middendorp spoke about amusing ourselves to death – and played the 1984 Apple commercial. (Go take a minute to watch it again now, if you haven’t seen it in a while.) Quoting the Apostrophe Now abstract:

There was a time when graphic design was about high ideals: improving people’s lives; providing safety and guidance; defying capitalist greed; saving the world. We could use some of that today.

Jan Middendorp at Kerning 2014

Thanks to Grafill for the grant to attend this conference. And thank you to all the wonderful people I got to hang out with in Faenza — hope to see you all again soon.

Check out my sketchnotes for more on the talks!