Hi, my name’s Ruth (Blurb’s London-based wordsmith) and I’m a typoholic. Usually I can control my urges – I understand it can be unnerving when I’m seen licking beautifully fonted tube ads with perfect kerning or loitering outside restaurants just to catch a glimpse of their clean and clear Sans-serif menu. But there’s one time of year when I just can’t help myself – when FontShop’s TYPO International Design Conference comes to town. To prove I’m not alone in my font fetish, I caught up with (read stalked for days) one of the organisers, Jürgen Siebert to get a fresh hit of intoxicating type news.
Blurb: This was just the second Typo event held in London – how did it go?
Jürgen: We’re so happy with TYPO London. This year we made it slightly longer, more affordable and added even more content – all of which was really well received by London’s huge community of typography lovers, designers and artists. And it’s going to get bigger and better every year.
Blurb: What was the idea behind this year’s theme – social?
Jürgen: Social responsibility, in various disguises, has long been a recurring idea in design. Since the 1960s, several commercial approaches have evolved: Designers in the ’70s were encouraged and inspired by luminaries such as Papanek to abandon the idea of designing for profit, in favour of a more compassionate approach. Just ten years later, profit and ethical issues were no longer considered mutually exclusive and more market-oriented concepts emerged, such as the green consumer and ethical investment. The purchase of socially responsible, ‘ethical’ products and services has been stimulated by the dissemination of research into sustainability issues in consumer publications. Accessibility and inclusivity have also attracted a great deal of design interest and recently designers have been driven to discuss social and crime-related problems through their work.
Businesses are encouraged (and increasingly forced by legislation) to set their own socially responsible agendas that depend on design to be realised. Design decisions always have environmental, social and ethical impacts, so there is a pressing need to provide guidelines for designers and design students within an overarching framework that takes a holistic approach to socially responsible design. As such it seemed a natural context to our event.
Blurb: Now that digital designers have the means to play with more than just a handful of web-safe fonts, do you think we will see much better design online, or worse?
Jürgen: I think we’ll see much better design, but it has only just started. At the moment you will mainly find innovative digital aesthetics on small and new websites. The mighty ones like Amazon, Ebay or Google are far too complex to be changed within a few weeks – and they have a much longer lifetime than other sites. But the day will come.
Blurb: What impact is new technology having on typography?
Jürgen: Typography was always under the influence of technology: from rotary printing to hot metal printing, from photo typesetting to digital typesetting. Today, typography is influenced by digital communication: computer screens, tablets, and e-books. Now, when you design a new typeface, you can be sure that it will be used less on paper in the future and will be seen much more on screens. For that reason the development, mastering and testing of new typefaces must now be executed on screens.
Blurb: Even still, a great deal of contemporary typography seems to be informed by a nostalgia for old styles and printing methods. How does this fit with the current thirst for new technology?
Jürgen: Such things always happen. I’ve been in the typeface business for 25 years and have seen various nostalgic waves throughout that time. Some have to do with the composition of texts – for example when Neville Brody started his constructivistic layouts in the mid ’80s – while others deal with the design of the typefaces themselves. Famous fonts have all had their comebacks – like Helvetica in the ’80s, Futura in the ’90s, and Frutiger and all the other humanistic Sans-serifs since 2000.
Blurb: Are we ever likely to see Helvetica replaced as the de facto standard of designers’ typefaces?
Jürgen: As I just said: good fonts always come back – although, Helvetica has actually never been away. I can’t imagine any event or trend that would replace fonts that have had such long-term success. The timelessness was part of the design.
Blurb: ‘Timeless’ Helvetica, as you put it, was recently named the number one typeface of all time by FontShop . What’s your number one?
Jürgen: The ranking you’ve mentioned is based on sales figures and not on the vote of a jury – so Helvetica is a bestseller, like the music of ABBA, the Beatles and Michael Jackson. My favourite at the moment is FF Ernstine, a warm Slab-serif by the Swiss typeface designer Nina Stössinger.
Thanks to Jürgen for his time. Find out more about TYPO’s International Design Conferences.