The first Ampersand web typography conference took place in Brighton last Friday. Ampersand was ace. I’m going to say that again with emphasis: Ampersand was ace! Like the Ready Brek kid from the 80s TV ads I’m glowing with good vibes.
Imagine you’d just met some of the musicians that created the soundtrack to your life. That’s pretty much how I feel.
For a long, long time I’ve gazed across at the typography community with something akin to awe at the work they do. I’ve lurked quietly on the ATypI mailing list, in the Typophile forum, and behind the glass dividing my eyes from the blogs, portfolios, and galleries.
I always had a sneaking suspicion the web and type design communities had much in common: Excellence born from actual client work; techniques and skills refined by practice, not in a lab or classroom; a willingness to share and disseminate, most clearly demonstrated at Typophile and through web designer’s own blogs. The people of both professions have a very diverse set of backgrounds from graphic design all the way through to engineering, to accidentally working in a print shop. We’ve been apprenticed to our work, and Ampersand was a celebration of what we’ve achieved so far and what’s yet to come.
Of course, web design is a new profession. Type design has a history that spans hundreds of years. Nevertheless, both professions are self-actualising. Few courses exist of any real merit. There is no qualifications authority. The work from both arenas succeeds or fails based on whether it works or not.
Ampersand was the first event of its kind. Folks from both communities came together around the mutal fascination, frustration, challenge and opportunity of web type.
Like Brooklyn Beta, the audience was as fantastic as the line up. I met folks like Yves Peters of the FontFeed, Mike Duggan of Microsoft Typography, Jason Smith, Phil Garnham, Fernando Mello, and Emanuela Conidi of Fontsmith, Veronica Burian of TypeTogether, Adam Twardoch of Fontlab and MyFonts, Nick Sherman of of Webtype, Mandy Brown of A Book Apart and Typekit, and many, many others. (Sorry for stopping there, but wow, it would be a huge list.)
Rich Rutter opened the day on behalf of Clearleft and Fontdeck at the Brighton Dome. Rich and I had talked about a web typography conference before. He just went out and did it. Hats off to him, and people like Sophie Barrett at Clearleft who helped make the day run so smoothly.
Others have written comprehensive, insightful summaries of the day and the talks. Much better than I could, sitting there on the day, rapt, taking no notes. What follows are a few snippets my memory threw out when prodded.
Who knew the original letterforms for Comic Sans were inspired by a copy of The Watchmen Vincent Connare had in his office? Or that Vincent, who also designed Trebuchet, considers himself an engineer rather than type designer, and is working at the moment on the Ubuntu fonts with colleagues at Dalton Maag.
Jason Santa Maria declared himself a type nerd, and gave a supremely detailed talk about selecting, setting, and understanding web type. Wonderful stuff.
Jason Santa Maria
Jonathan Hoefler talked in rapid, articulate, and precise terms about the work behind upcoming release of pretty-much all of H&FJ’s typefaces as web fonts. (Hooray!) He clearly and wonderfully explained how they took the idea behind their typefaces, and moved them through a design process to produce a final form for a specific purpose. In this case, the web, as a distinct and different environment from print.
I spoke between Jason and Jonathan. Gulp. After staying up until 4am the night before, anxiously working on slides, I was carried along by the privilege and joy of being there, hopefully without too much mumbling or squinting with bleary eyes.
After lunch, David Berlow continued the story of web fonts, taking us on a journey through his own trials and tribulations at Font Bureau when re-producing typefaces for
the web . His dry, droll, richly-flavoured delivery was a humorous counterpoint to some controversial asides.
John Daggett of Mozilla, editor of the CSS3 Fonts Module, talked with great empathy for web designers about the amazing typographic advances we’re about to see in browsers.
Tim Brown of Typekit followed. Tim calmly and thoroughly advocated the extension of modular scales to all aspects of a web interface, taking values from the body type and building all elements with those values as the common denominator.
Finally, Mark Boulton wrapped up the day brilliantly, describing the designer’s role as the mitigator of entropy, reversing the natural trend for things to move from order to chaos, and a theme he’s exploring at the moment: designing from the content out.
The tone of the day was fun, thoughtful, articulate, and exacting. All the talks were a mix of anecdotal and observational humour, type nerdery, and most of all an overwhelming commitment to excellence in web typography. It was a journey in itself. Decades of experience from plate and press, screen, and web was being distilled into 45-minute presentations. I loved it.
As always, one of the most enjoyable bits for me was the hallway track. I talked to heaps of people both in the pre- and after-party, and in between the talks on the day itself. I heard stories, ideas, and opinions from print designers, web designers, type designers, font developers, and writers. We talked late into the night. We talked more the next day.
Now the talking has paused for a while, my thoughts are manifold. I can honestly say, I’ve never been so filled with positivity about where we are, and where we’re going. Web typography is here, it works, it’s better all the time, and one day web and type designers everywhere will wonder, perplexed, as they try to imagine what the web was like before.
Here’s to another Ampersand next year! I’m now going to see if Rich needs any encouragement to do it again. I’m guessing not, but if he does, I aim to provide it, vigorously. I hope I see you there!
Last but not least, did I mention that Rich Rutter, Mark Boulton, and I are writing a book? We are! More on that another time, but until then, follow @webtypography for intermittent updates.