Summer 2010

Fun and virals in Berlin

TYPO Berlin 2010, ‘Passion’

15th International Design Conference, 20-22 May, 2010, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Reviewed by Robin Richmond

Over three balmy spring days, the fifteenth TYPO Berlin brought together some heavyweight international speakers at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, including Jonathan Barnbrook, David Carson, Candy Chang, Jan Chipchase, Fons Hickmann, Erik Kessels, Eike König, Joachim Sauter, Carlos Segura and Erik Spiekermann speaking under the banner of ‘Passion’. TYPO has long since evolved into a broader design conference with a rich variety of content covering a spectrum including typography, design, advertising, research and now social media, across four stages over three days.

Erik Spiekermann opened the conference, keeping to the theme with a presentation of ‘likes and dislikes’. In the 1990s, Spiekermann’s presentation would probably have included the MetaDesign reunification project for the Berlin Transit Authority, BVG, showing the first showcase U- and S-Bahn stations and the composite mess of planned and arbitrary signage that existed in stations in the old East and West Berlin. In a poignant moment we now saw the reality of fifteen years of poorly coordinated implementation. Somehow the official unifying system has been usurped and replaced by sets of random signage systems, characterised by bland system fonts and all apparently part of different initiatives.

ART+COM’s Joachim Sauter, another long-term Berlin resident, presented the best-received portfolio show, running through a sequence of intellectually challenging and technologically mature projects. Terravision, a 1994 installation, is comparable in part to what Google has subsequently published as Google Earth. Spheres and Media Façades is an installation concept for the BMW Museum in Munich (see Eye 74), which has been adopted by the car manufacturer’s advertising agencies to form campaigns and shape TV and print advertising. The Jew of Malta is a 1999 stage commission for an opera based on the representation of character movement and the representation of emotions in stage sets, costumes and masks through digital media.

If these presentations were standard TYPO conference fare, interface designer and anthropologist Jan Chipchase provided a provocative and thought-provoking contrast with a series of personal insights gleaned from the last ten years studying people, cultures and technology with Nokia. How do you understand the pressures facing people with no money? You take money from a loan shark that has the potential to ramp up 100 per cent interest in days and experience the unpleasantness of the moneylenders.

Fons Hickmann and David Carson had product to sell in the foyer. Hickmann’s ‘Melancholia, don’t f*** with me’ presentation combined art and graphic design and included a series of bold posters displaying random statements which he showed displayed on an underground station platform. Hickmann plays with sensibilities of what is expected, proper and appropriate and he enthusiastically showed the graffiti reworking of the poster statements, including his own studio credits, by passing travellers. This new art was as exciting for him as the original posters. Also in the spirit of the readymade, Carson provided a sequence of Schwitteresque slides of random found things of beauty, punctuated by images of himself surfing, messing about with IM and his naked female accomplice, all of which seemed to be intended to create a stir.

A final mention for Julian Smith indicates the Conference’s desire to find relevant contemporary content for the mainly young audience. Smith is a 23-year-old YouTube self-publicist, who explained that he got into making viral films to reach his ultimate goal of becoming a film director. His self-deprecating humour and enthusiasm was enjoyed by the audience who got into the spirit to participate in an impromptu TYPO viral, which logged 27,500 views in just five days.

First published in Eye no. 76 vol. 19 2010

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.