Report of ATypI 2004 (by Luc Devroye)
October 5, 2004


Entitled "Crossroads of civilization", the 48th ATypI meeting in Prague, held from 30 September until 3 October, is behind us. The Central and East European core in the program committee (Peter Bilak, Filip Blazek, Erik Spiekermann, Frantisek Storm, Adam Twardoch, Emil Yakupov, Alan Záruba, Pavel Zelenka, Maxim Zhukov) offered us a great dose of Czech, Slovak, Slovenian, Croatian, Hungarian, Polish, Serbian and Russian type culture. There was the usual splatter of technical talks with a few surprise announcements, and there were some talks by the regulars (luckily, not too many). This was a feast by, with, and for our Central and East European friends, which I will lovingly call typniks to save space. I will refer to female typniks as typchiks. Needless to say, I invariably picked the typchik and typnik sessions from the three parallel tracks.

The city of Prague, in all its splendor, has been polluted by big (Western) commerce and pickpockets (or are they one and the same?). Eric Menninga got separated from his laptop, and Jim Wasco will have to buy another digital camera. The Archa Theater had auditoria with excellent acoustics and video equipment, and the local student volunteers pulled out all stopkas to make things run smoothly. Located dark and deep underground, Kafka would have felt right at home. A comparison with previous meetings is difficult. Maybe there are too many nowadays, with TypeCon, Typo Berlin, the Macedonian meeting, and so many other gatherings attracting attention. There were fewer attendees than normal (just under 400). Some regulars, such as Matthew Carter, Jill Bell, Hrant Papazian and the Linotype gang, were missing.

I will refrain from comments on the satellite events except to mention that the e-a-t exhibit (experiment and typography) organized by Johanna Balusikova and Alan Zaruba at the Museum of Decorative Arts painted a grand picture of recent Czech and Slovak type design. I have nothing to say about the social happenings, because I do not remember too much about them. I was heartbroken that due to the parallel scheduling, I could not listen to Johannes Küster who is working diligently on fonts for mathematics, which is one of the topics that got me interested in type design in the first place. Mark and Cynthia Batty worked hard to make this event successful. They were helped in the local arrangements by Alan Záruba and several others. Thanks to all of you! On with the report, in the form of soundbites. I also have a picture report.

The quotes  

It's too late. The bullshit is already here. [Rick Poynor about the big billboards, bad design, rampant commercialism and visual leprosy in the streets of Prague. He lamented the probable demise of home-grown Czech (and Central European) design and presented his Utopia, a world in which designers would refuse to perform certain kinds of work. In a lively Q&A session, Spiekermann suggested taking the money from the big bad firms anyway and using that income to be creative in more charitable projects.]

They were part of my sinful youth. [Gerard Unger about Demos and Praxis, his first typefaces, which he made from 1974-1976. In his view, these experimental typefaces were flawed. He tweaked them in 2004 and they are now part of the corporate identity of the Bundesrepublik.]

My dream was to design a kind of typographic Volkswagen. [Gerard Unger, about his Demos. Demos had to be converted from the bitmap format in which it was originally designed by Unger, a process he described at length. The outlines generated from the bitmap needed lots of restoration work.]

By the way, you are doing a great imitation of Roger. [David Lemon, commenting on Christian Schwartz's imitation of Roger Black's voice over the phone ("They are idiots", 'What were you thinking?", ...) during the development of the Houston family of typefaces for the Houston Chronicle. Christian and Roger settled on a subdued redesign of Monotype Italian Oldstyle in which the starry quotes, commas and periods were replaced, the serifs shortened, the x-height increased and the W revamped, to name the main items.]

He always picked legibility over aesthetics. [Frantisek Storm about Josef Týfa. Josef Týfa, now 92 years old, canceled his appearance due to illness. Pavel Zelenka talked about Týfa's life, his modesty, and his typographic contributions. The two-minute video in which we saw Týfa in his country home in central Bohemia pick up a ringing phone was the most touching and well done piece of the entire meeting. Frantisek Storm provided an expert discussion of Týfa's typefaces, which will all survive at Storm's type foundry: Antikva (also known as ITC Tyfa to many, now extended to Tyfa Text by storm), a face with "romantic serifs", Juvenis (originally done for children's books), and Tyfa Academia, to appear later in 2004, when the italics will be done. Academia was designed by Týfa for scientific text books.]

Type as a weapon. [Part of a type demo by Lucas Nijs, who spoke about the experimental type workshops he has been organizing in Belgium, Ireland and Finland. His students often make short animated pieces in which new types arec featured. The Archa3 dungeon was the right place for things like the "PostCrypt terror font", "Killer and type", "Revenge" and "Reaper: type as a weapon". Lucas's Belgian colleagues, Frederik De Bleser and Tom De Smedt, concluded this entertaining session.]

He was burnt at the stake. [Petra Cerne Oven, a Slovenian graphic designer and writer, about Jan Hus (1370-1415), who introduced the principle of a diacritic (in his case, a dot above some letters) in his "Orthographia Bohemia" (1406-1412). This work became the basis for modern Czech typography. Hus was burnt at the stake in Konstanz, but not because of his typographic convictions. Petra went on with an academic description of the development of diacritical marks for Croatian and Slovene, a subject about which she wrote her Ph.D. thesis in 2004 at the University of Reading.]

We will never be willing to abandon our diacritics. [Typchik Petra Cerne Oven, at the end of her presentation, as a preemptive strike against possible type rules that would come down from the EU offices in Brussels.]

He is a font chiropractor. [Victor Gaultney (SIL International) introducing Adam Twardoch (Linotype). Both of them spoke at length and with authority about diacritics in Central European languages, though only one of them is a (Polish) typnik. They spoke about the differences between Latin and Central European writing systems, and thus touched upon the central issues in Central European typography. We learned that ogoneks are not like cedillas, as they require altered outlines for their parent glyphs. We learned about the asymmetric hacek that some typniks consider old-fashioned. In fact, we learned more per minute than in any other talk.]

The Polish prefer it more upright. The Czechs prefer it more flat. [(Sic.) No, there was no lecture about the typesetting in Kamasutra. It was Victor Gaultney explaining about the slope of the acute accent.]

Harmonize size, shape, alignment of your diacritics. [Our two experts referring to the size and placement of dots used alone or as part of a dieresis, or of single or double acutes. I would never have believed that I would have survived 90 minutes of discussions about accents, but these two magicians woke up every tired brain cell in my sorry head. Bravo, and a Happy Hacek 2004 to all of you.]

It's in Euros. [Mark Batty, outgoing ATypI president, to Jef Tombeur, my uncontrollable friend, who asked in what currency the type auction was taking place. We know that times are changing when the pound and the dollar, the past currencies at the auctions, are being replaced by the Euro. Victor Kharyk bought an item for an amount equal to all the money he made on fonts in the last three years, and he is the main Ukrainian type designer! How about that for dedication? The books by Oldrich Menhart that I wanted to buy were all snapped up by some rich American chicks. Booh to them.]

The Greek Phi becomes a cross! [Yuri Gherchuk, an art historian from Moscow, about an illustration in The Book of Ruth (1924), an important work full of symbolism. He spoke about the oeuvre of Vladimir Favorsky, a graphic artist, painter, book designer, and philosopher who lived from 1886-1964. In that book, a Greek Phi and a Greek Theta get married to yield a cross. The presentation was in Russian, with translations by Maxim Zhukov.]

The Bohemians (Czechs) are deserving of your sympathy. They are the Belgians of Austria, and pro-allies. [A quote by politically active Vojtech Preissig (1873-1944), shown to us by Richard Kegler, who described Preissig's life. The quote from World War I was directed at the occupiers of present-day Czechia, the Austrians. In fact, Preissig's political activism in World War II led to his arrest in 1940 and ultimately to his death in the concentration camp in Dachau in 1944.]

His work is passionate, visionary, and deserves more study. [Richard Kegler, concluding his presentation on Vojtech Preissig. He described Preissig's political posters, his 20 years at the Wentworth Institute in New York, his early Czechization of the Arlington typeface, and Preissig's polygonal style of type design, apparent in Preissig Antikva, a face available from foundries such as P22, Storm, White and Psy-Ops.]

He considered calligraphy as the cradle of type design. [Typchik Veronika Burian enthused us with a brilliant description of the life and work of Czech type designer, calligrapher and craftsman Oldrich Menhart (1897-1962). Menhart considered himself foremost as a craftsman, and derived typefaces from calligraphic origins. His Menhart Antiqua (1931, Bauer) had blunt serifs on the left and wedge serifs ion the right, to guide the reader, for example. He wanted type to serve the word and support the content. Veronika delighted us with details of Menhart Roman and Italic (1936, Monotype), Figural Antikva and Kursiva (1948-1949), and Ceska Unciala (1944).]

He was pretty irregular. [Veronika, still about Menhart. His letters had subtle irregularities due to the calligraphic background. He wanted them to be irregular, so to speak, to make the texts set in his faces come alive.]

As you know, Czech typefaces are the best typefaces in the world. [The opening line of Frantisek Storm, when he started his presentation on his Czech Type Project, in which he wants to digitize, preserve, and extend most historic Czech typefaces. This was another fantastic presentation, dripping with juicy typographical details. Storm guided us through Antikva (Vojtech Preissig, 1912-1925), Tusar (Slavoboj Tusar, 1925), Antikva (Josef Týfa, 1960), Juvenis (Josef Týfa, 1964), Academia (Josef Týfa, 1968), Solpera (1970), and Metron (Jiri Rathousky, 1973). Ottokar Karlas, Storm's right hand, showed us original drawings of Preissig--too bad those were not at the auction! Juicy tidbit: the Czech type survey had nothing about Oldrich Menhart. Veronika Burian had mentioned in her talk that Menhart was virtually the official type designer for the communist government, which showered him with many awards, yet she did not think that he was a communist. She claimed that Storm just does not like Menhart, period.]

Solpera always plays with the alternates. [Frantisek Storm on his teacher, Professor Jan Solpera, whom he described as a precise and patient man, who insisted on having many alternates (in his types). Solpera's Insignia (1982) was the basis of Storm's Solpera typeface, which can be found on Czech money nowadays.]

But Marek did it! [This was a funny moment at the end of Storm's talk. Storm had just finished describing the work done by Jiri Rathousky for the Czech metro, a very legible face called Metron (1973). The face was replaced in 1986 by Helvetica, something that clearly puzzled Storm. Rathousky had contacted Storm to digitize Metron in 2003, but he died that same year (Rathousky, not Storm). The Storm Type Foundry did some work though for train clocks, like Digita. Someone in the audience thought the open 4 without the upper half of its vertical was kind of odd, to which Storm replied: "But Marek [Pistora, another designer at Storm type Foundry] did it!"]

He was a web designer before the internet. [Iva Knobloch, curator of the Museum of Decorative arts in Prague and tireless typchik, on Ladislav Sutnar (1897-1970s), a Czech-born information designer who spent most of his life in the United States, and was famous for his visualuations of information and carefully crafted catalogs and graphs. Sutnar designed over 1000 books.]

This is a design gulag. When we get their graduates, we have to de-baselize them. [Erik Spiekermann introducing Andrea Marks, who was educated at the Basel School of Design.]

It is worse than under Stalinist rule. [Andrea Marks showed us a 20-minute rough cut of "Freedom on the fence", a documentary about Polish posters, which thrived from the late 50s until the mid 60s. these posters had exquisite handlettering, many subversive messages (that had to get past the censors), and tons of visual content and symbolism. She showed us pictures of modern Warsaw, with Hollywood-style ads often occupying four stories worth of space on the main historic plazas (namestis) of the city. The quote above is from one aging poster artist interviewed by her. This was the second emotional highlight of the conference.]

Comrade Maxim. [Erik Spiekermann introducing Maxim Zhukov as the translator of Vladimir Yefimov (ParaType), who illustrated his talk about the origins and evolution of the Cyrillic alphabet with wonderful black and white images. He explained among other things the historic Cyrillic type classification, starting with ustav (formal hand) and polyustav or semi-ustav.]

In 1988, we had Bookman and Helvetica, the most horrible typefaces you can imagine. [Martin Majoor on the font situation for the Mac in 1988. He explained where his motivation for the development of Scala came from. Interesting to learn that his role model was Jan van Krimpen, even though he did not like his typefaces. Martin lives in Warsaw and Arnhem, hence the title "A Dutchman in Poland". Martin revealed that the first font sketches of FF Seria were made in the train between his two cities.]

Like Univers and Helvetica and all the other ugly typefaces. [Martin on a roll. He explained how he develops font families from a common skeleton: first comes the serif. Then he develops the sans by removing the serifs. Finally, it is easy to fit slabs to the sans face, to end up with a "mix" or "slab" version. He also showed us FF Nexus (nexus is the Latin word for connection), in the same three versions, plus swash and typewriter versions.]

I really don't care about accents. [Yep, our demi typnik Martin again, when he got involved in the design of posters in Warsaw for the Warsaw Autumn (music) Festival. I had the feeling that diacritics were his least favorite part of Poland, his wife being his most favorite. We also learned that Gorzka is his favorite vodka.]

I am happy with four of them. [These words were spoken by Jovica Veljovic, the famous Serb calligrapher who now teaches in Hamburg. He showed a Czech sentence in his Silentium Pro, and complained about the number of different diacritics. Silentium Pro is derived from Carolingian characters, so it does not make sense, for example, to have a Cyrillic version. He confessed liking Adobe, and explained about his more recent script family Sava Pro, which has Greek and Cyrillic versions, and is named after a popular man, the archbishop of Serbia, who lived around 1300. He spoke a lot about Serbia and Montenegro, and even though Jovica's tall body is parked in Hamburg, his heart motors on in Belgrade.]

I am not interested in the Ikea philosophy. [Uttered by Jovica just before he treated us to a sneak preview of Veljovic Script Pro, which was started in the early 90s, but is still not finished. It will be a multilingual face, close to handwriting. He always starts a typeface from scratch, and is turned off by the Ikea assembly method, which consists of fitting serifs and slabs and pieces of letters together. A knife perhaps in the back of Martin Majoor, who had the floor just before him? In any case, Jovica works slowly and carefully and releases faces only when he is totally satisfied.]

I never liked bold typefaces. [Jovica again, speaking straight from the heart.]

The pattern of contrast that derives from the movement of a hand with a particular tool. [Get your mind out of the gutter! This was John Hudson's definition of "ductus", which is an integral part of the identity of a letterform. Since the ductus (roughly, the angle of the pen when stroking a character) for Greek and Latin are generally different, the question is how to manage this when developing a large multilingual typeface. In this panel discussion, which was more a sequence of five monologues, Victor Gaultney raised other problems such as how to match sizes in scripts in which x-height makes no sense. Geraldine Wade (Microsoft) talked about the ClearType project at Microsoft, in which Microsoft releases six Western families (Calibri and Consolas by Luc(as) de Groot, Candara by Gary Munch, Corbel by Jeremy Tankard, Cambria by Jelle Bosma, and the extraordinary Constantia by John Hudson) and one full Japo-Western family, Meiryo, developed by Eiichi Kono and Matthew Carter. That was big news! The other participants were Gerry Leonidas (Reading) and Vladimir Yefimov, who showed us examples of typefaces in which the Cyrillic version came before the Latin.]

Type 1 typefaces: good riddance to them. [Gerry Leonidas drooling about OpenType on the panel.]

Adobe will stop selling them in the near future. [Thomas Phinney (Adobe) explained that Adobe will stop selling type 1 faces soon. His talk was about the demise of the multiple master format. He also discussed the GX format, and could not resist plugging OpenType, although strictly speaking, OpenType has nothing to do with the idea of multiple masters. Personally, I think that OpenType is so flawed that its lifetime too will be limited. The UFO (universal font format) of Erik Van Blokland, speaker in an earlier session, or similar approaches are the way to go. But more about that elsewhere.]

And the awards  
go to  

Prettiest type showings: Vladimir Yefimov
Cutest participant: Anna Versotskaya
Best presentation: Veronika Burian
Most tantalizing speaker: Victor Gaultney
Best hair: Dan Reynolds


Luc Devroye
School of Computer Science
McGill University
Montreal, Canada H3A 2K6