Autumn 2023

We’ll always have Paris

‘ATypI Paris 2023: Rendez-vous’

Sorbonne University, Paris, 9-14 May 2023

Since its foundation in 1957, ATypI (Association Typographique Internationale) has put typeface design and typography at the centre of its activities. Although founded with a focus on technology and business, it has, over the past three decades, benefitted from its global position and has largely become a forum for typography education and design in general.

It is clear that online conferences produced during the pandemic were not a substitute for real networking. Human nature craves a live presence and expectations for the 66th annual ATypI conference were very high. From the outset, the atmosphere was extremely positive, and the whole event was truly an energetic, noisy, and heartfelt affair. The ATypI board’s organising team (Marta Myszewska and Tamye Riggs) and local production team led by Jean-Baptiste Levée, backed up by numerous volunteers, created a welcoming atmosphere. The vibrant identity of the conference was produced by Bureau Brut from Toulouse, using their own typefaces ATypI Paris and Brut Grotesque.

Laurence Penney announces Jan Middendorp’s TDC Medal at at ATypI Paris 2023.
Top. VR calligraphy performance by Brody Neuenschwander and Monika Marek-Łucka.

The conference took place at the Sorbonne University (Pierre et Marie Curie Campus Jussieu) offering proximity to many cultural institutions. Prior to the conference days, a visit to the Imprimerie Nationale was organised with guided tours and the opportunity to see impressive collections of art books and print workshops, a historical library and punch cabinet. Another important event was the delivery of the TDC NY Medal, a recognition for outstanding contributions to the field of typography, which was this year awarded to researcher and prolific writer Jan Middendorp, the author of numerous articles on typography (including many for Eye) and books such as Dutch Type.

There were workshops, too, such as the ‘Hangul Lettering Workshop’ by Jinhee Kim and Suhyun Lee, which offered an introduction to designing a few letters of Korean; ‘Let’s Make a Variable COLRv1 Font!’, run by Lena Weber and Sophia Tai, focused on variable colour fonts; and Toshi Omagari’s ‘Arcade Game Type Design’ workshop for lovers of monospaced fonts with a nostalgic twist.

At the opening of the event, there was a quick glance into the future through a ‘VR Calligraphy Performance’ artfully delivered by Brody Neuenschwander and Monika Marek-Łucka. Participants also had the opportunity to listen to design and architecture legends such as Peter Knapp (see Eye 104), Mathieu Lehanneur and Véronique Vienne. Understandably, the many topics connected to French typography gave special flair to the conference with speakers such as Alice Savoie and Thomas Huot-Marchand (see the Reputations interview in Eye 102), (‘Filiation: Nurturing a pedagogy of type design in France’); while complex design projects such as the branding identity of Notre Dame (‘Notre Dame, continuer l’histoire’) were explained by Agathe Hondré, Laurent Ungerer, Morgane Vantorre and Raphaël John.

The past two years, when the conference moved online, allowed for a more inclusive line-up of speakers from areas of the world that are not usually represented in this context. ‘Decolonisation’ is finally more actively present in the reflections, research, and projects in the field of typography, too. A notable politically engaged contribution came from Peruvian-born and Brooklyn-based designer Juan Villanueva (‘Reclaiming Peruvian Typography: A decolonial read on design history’); while Oleksandra Korchevska-Tsekhosh and Kateryna Korolevtseva spoke about Ukrainian type design; and Śirin Gunkloy, Wee Viraporn and Potch Auacherdkul sought to shed light on type design in Thai politics. ATypI is aiming to give a voice to other scripts and other cultural milieus: multilingual scripts have become the focus of many presentations, and the learning curve is steep.

Power in the World of Type’ panel at ATypI Paris, with (left to right) Ann Bessemans, Veronika Burian, Nadine Chahine (see Eye 94), Laura Meseguer (see Eye 102), and Lynne Yun.

The most engaged discussions about contemporary type design sprang from the ‘Power in the World of Type’ panel, led by Nadine Chahine (see Eye 94), with panellists Ann Bessemans, Laura Meseguer (see Eye 102), Veronika Burian and Lynne Yun, who brought together many pieces of advice for young members of the audience. Compared to the other discussion (‘OpenType 2.0 Panel’), it was also an optimistic sign that things in the world of typography are changing for the better and that topics such as ‘global’, ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’ cannot be ignored any longer.

Despite the significance of such a gathering, an equally important thing is what happens between conferences, when the traveller unpacks their suitcase and their thoughts and emotions calm down. Then the true value of new allies and networks is tested. Judging by the quality of presentations, and the commitment, responsibility, enthusiasm, and hard work that went into organising yet another fruitful event for the world of typography, we can be sure that new ways of sharing knowledge that are open, emphatic, democratic, and progressive are already underway.

The next ATypI conference will be from 16-20 April 2024 in Brisbane, Australia. Considering all that we have experienced, it will be a challenge for the organisers to keep the standards as high as ATypI 2023.

Petra Černe Oven, designer, author, professor, Ljubljana, Slovenia

First published in Eye no. 105 vol. 27, 2023

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