From Paris to Portland: ATypI & TypeCon 2023

John D. Berry —
  • typography
  • conference
  • atypi
  • typecon
Keynote Presenter James Edmondson on stage at TypeCon 2023. Photo by John D. Berry

This year, two of the major annual typographic conferences, ATypI and TypeCon, had their first in-person events since the Covid-19 pandemic shut everything down. The May conference of ATypI (Association Typographique Internationale) in Paris was the first since Tokyo in 2019. In August, TypeCon met in Portland, Oregon, for its first live event since TypeCon “Nice” in Minneapolis, also in 2019. Both had hosted online events in the interim, but this was the first time for many of the attendees to see each other in the flesh in over three years.

The sheer joy of seeing old friends in person again (and meeting new friends) was palpable.

There’s always a certain amount of overlap in attendance between ATypI and TypeCon, although ATypI’s conferences move around the globe while TypeCon moves around the United States and occasionally Canada. They are both what I think of as “community conferences,” that is, not just formal business or academic meetings but annual gatherings of the typographic community. At both events this year, the sheer joy of seeing old friends in person again (and meeting new friends) was palpable. At the opening-night party of ATypI Paris, what struck me was how many delighted smiles I saw on so many faces. This delight was repeated in Portland three months later.

ATypI 2023 attendees on the cruise down the Seine sponsored by Morisawa. Photo by John D. Berry

The social aspect of any type conference is important and the type community is generally very permeable: open and welcoming to new people. There are both organized events and the informal give-and-take of coffee breaks, bars, and meals. In Paris, several bars that were just across the street from the venue (the Pierre and Marie Curie campus of the Sorbonne) were popular with attendees at any time of day. In Portland, one off-site gathering that I saw was an expedition to a nearby brewpub and food-truck court (a very Portland experience!).

Attendees at a post-TypeCon mixer. L-R: Kamilé Demir, Camille Sibucao, Molly Doane, Helen Diaz, Jake Giltsoff, and Jacob Ford. Photo by Delve Withrington

Nobody gets to every program item, even when there aren’t multiple tracks of programming. At ATypI this year, the organizers made a deliberate effort to include more talks and presentations than usual, to make up for the three-year gap. What this meant was that there were often three simultaneous talks, and you had to pick and choose. Of course, they were all streamed and recorded, so you knew you’d be able to catch up on the ones you missed.

More than any specific presentation, what was abundantly obvious at this year’s ATypI was the wide-ranging coverage of scripts, type, languages, and cultures beyond the Western European heartland that ATypI originally sprang from.

Image from a study of the new typographic identity of Nôtre Dame de Paris, presented by Laurent Ungerer, Agathe Hondré, Morgane Vantorre, & Raphaël John of c-album.

Highlights of ATypI Paris included the panel “Power in the World of Type” (Ann Bessemans, Laura Meseguer, Lynne Yun, Nadine Chahine, Veronika Burian); Dan Rhatigan’s “Titans of Transfer Type”; Sina Fakour on designing a font for the newly deciphered Linear Elamite script, which turns out to be the world’s oldest phonetic writing system; the presentation of the TDC Medal to Jan Middendorp (whose health didn’t allow him to be there); the several keynote talks; and of course the final presentation, “Notre Dame, continuer l’histoire” (Notre Dame, continuing the story), by the team who have developed a new typographic system for the restored cathedral.

Attendees mingle during a program break at TypeCon 2023. Photo by John D. Berry

TypeCon Portland was less heavily programed, but it had its highlights too. Talks that stuck in my mind were Doug Wilson on the Linotype book project; the “special presentation” by Neville Brody, highlighting his new book; Agyei Archer’s lively exploration of cultural openness and social justice in type design; JamraPatel’s talk about developing an Arabic typeface for many of the languages of sub-Saharan Africa; Kyle Letendre’s extravagantly visual “Life’s a drag”; Raven Mo on how the Chop Suey typeface became a cliché of Chinese restaurants in the United States; and the long-delayed presentation of the Catalyst Award to young type designer Anagha Narayanan, whom I had met at the opening party the evening before.

The 2020 SoTA Catalyst Award being presented to Anagha Narayanan by SoTA Secretary Neil Summerour at TypeCon. Photo by Delve Withrington

Lavinia Lascaris, an exhibition and exhibit designer at HMCT in California (Hoffmitz Milken Center for Typography, Pasadena), summed it up perfectly: “As I returned from ATypI Paris, I reflected on the impact of type conferences in general. These gatherings are not just about showcasing the latest developments in type design; they also highlight the power of typography to bridge cultures, challenge narratives, and celebrate heritage.” •!•

PS. In addition to ATypI and TypeCon, there are many more type-related events both online and in-person, like Typographics, Letrástica, and Typism Summit — just to name a few. Some events coming up soon are: The Kernference, TypoDay, BITS, and Hamilton WayzeGoose.

For a lengthy list of type conferences and events, jump over to Neon Moiré.