Robothon 2009 Recap
8 March, 2009



For those of you not able to make it to Robothon 2009, here are some thoughts, recollections, and images from the great event. A good deal of the conference has already appeared online thanks to the readily available Wi-Fi throughout. During the talks, 1/2 of the attendees were pecking away at their laptops and providing some nice Twitter coverage. Plus, as you hopefully heard in time, Erik and crew graciously provided live streaming of all the events! The recorded footage will (probably) be released as podcasts so it can be watched over and over. (I will update with a link when available.)

Robothon was held at the Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten (KABK) in The Hague. It is a beautiful old city that also has some great modern architecture; I would highly recommend a visit. As a tourist, there is plenty to see and do, contrary to some of the TypeMedia students complaints of it being too small. Compared to Reading, England it is a major upgrade!

The Talks, Day 1:

Day one of the conference was chiefly product demos and illustrations of possible workflows using various tools. Miguel Sousa from Adobe gave a nerdily exciting talk about the AFDKO 2.5; there are many significant new features. Personally, some of the most interesting include: the abilities to handle one-to-many substitutions (even though most application do not support this yet), the naming of stylistic sets (also not yet supported in other software), and most importantly – the ability to generate TTF fonts!

For the remainder of the day, Erik van Blokland and Tal Leming presented a variety of their cool apps. I won’t get into them here, but you can check them out in depth from their sites: Erik van Blokland / LettError & Tal Leming / Type Supply

Erik's Intro

The Party:

The evening ended with a party hosted by Petr van Blokland + Claudia Mens. Their building and studio is incredible and they were generous hosts. The drinks were plenty and the space:people ratio led to a comfortable density for socializing. And of course the nerd conversations never ended. The highlight may have been the demo and resulting passionate discussion regarding the new UFO versioning system Antonio Cavedoni is developing. Geekiest party ever!

Petr van Blokland's Studio

The Talks, Day 2:

Day two began too early with an excellent report by Ben Kiel about kern table overflows. This is complex and mysterious topic, but this problem can completely break your font and it proves very difficult to remedy.

Just van Rossum presented TTX and FontTools – this was another hardcore topic – perfect for the audience but it might have been under-appreciated if given at a different conference.

Georg Seifert is developing his own font editor called Glyphs and it has some brilliant concepts. He will be setting up a website and forum for it in the next months to help get user input and feedback. This is an exciting project – to put it lightly.

Yanone showed his Autopsy plugin… it might be useful for you when working with multiple master fonts.

FontLab’s head programmer, Yuri Yarmola, was on hand (Adam Twardoch was ill, yet he made a brief Skype video appearance) and he outlined the roadmap for the next two versions of FontLab! Version 6 should be released this year, sometime, and will contain many upgraded features. These updates include: it will (finally) be a universal binary for OSX, have native UFO2 reading and writing, incorporate FDK 2.5 fully built in, automatically generate OT features, and have simpler font naming options. While they are busy working on FL6 they are also beginning work on FL7. Word is that will be out in 2010, but I am not counting on it. Version 7 is being 100% rewritten and will be a radical departure from what we now know as FontLab. One of the Yuri’s major dreams for v.7 is that it will contain no toolbars or palettes!

Frederik Berlaen demonstrated his UFO Rounding tool as well as several other scripts and applications he is working on. This guy is seriously smart and is doing some incredible work (plus he is quite friendly and interesting to boot). I really wish I had that rounding tool two years ago when I started Vesper. Now I have about 8,000 glyphs all with hand-made rounded corners! This could have saved weeks of work and headaches.

Last up came my friend Tim Ahrens. His Font Remix Tools are some of the best FontLab plugins out there now – try them, they will change your life. He explained some of the backend of these tools and showed several new, radical things he is developing. He uses “dumb” math in genius ways to help type designers get their letters just right and faster.

Frank Blokland gave a bonus talk at the last minute to show his OTMaster application. It seems to do some powerful things, and should be useful in batch processing, but I had a hard time imaging it my workflow. But maybe it will work for you…

This was the official end to the Robothon conference, but there were still more related events!

The Gerrit Noordzij Prize:

The Gerrit Noordzij Prize was bestowed on Wim Crouwel this year. Tobias Frere-Jones was the previous winner, so he was there to hand over the crown (so to speak) to Wim. The tradition of this prize is that it is not a monetary award; instead, there is a gift presented by the previous winner to the next. Tobias reported a short biography and slideshow of Wim’s work then gave him a plaque of sorts featuring the Gotham type family for the gift. (Hopefully someone closer in the audience snapped a photo of this, I wasn’t able to get a good look…)

Wim Crouwel accepting the Gerrit Noordzij

Another award was given out to honor Mr. Gerrit Noordzij himself. SOTA was on hand to present him with the SOTA Award for his typographic achievements and contributions. They also put together a nice retrospective of some of his works that was on display during the conference.

SOTA's Noordzij Display

Tobias Frere-Jones had a significant exhibition of his typefaces and some inspirations in a large KABK gallery. The rooms were packed with Robothon attendees, locals, and distinguished guests.

Tobias's Exhibition

Tobias's Exhibition

The evening was rounded out by a lovely dinner at the Juffrouw Ida Zaal. A few of us were not able to get tickets to the event, but were luckily rescued by a few others who had tickets but were not able to attend. In the end it seemed to work out – thanks very much to Nicolien van der Keur and to Jos Buivenga!

Almost Over – One More Seminar:

Saturday had an afternoon seminar for the occasion of the Noordzij prize. Paul Barnes was first up and he spoke about some of his many type designs.

Next came Rich Roat from House Industries. He is always entertaining and can never be accused of going too slow or covering too little content. His talk detailed House’s history and some of their work philosophies. I have seen this talk four times now, but each time there is something new to it.

After a short break came Tobias Frere-Jones who spoke about the design of Archer. (The talk and typeface are both excellent.)

And the last presenter of the week was Piet Schreuders. I had previously only known of Piet because of his publication De Poezenkrant, but he has had many other fascinating projects. He has had a long career as a graphic designer, however for this occasion he spoke little of design. The main theme of his talk was about recreating the unique music of LeRoy Shield – specifically from the Laurel and Hardy films. He discussed his, and others’, research into this music and the labor of love this project demanded for many years. Eventually, a musical group called the Beau Hunks was formed. Their repertoire was to faithfully reproduce the exact composition and sound from the 1930’s films. The afternoon climaxed with a rousing performance by 3 (or 4*) saxophonists of the Beau Hunks. They played several classic Laurel and Hardy songs and really gave quite a show. Following the performance, there were a few more drinks and socializing in the galleries.

The Beau Hunks
*one musician was a stand in

Final Thoughts:

The content summarized here illustrates only the tip of the iceberg of how much work went into this conference and week. It was truly organized precisely and went off flawlessly. Many many thanks to Erik van Blokland, Tal Leming, Paul van der Laan, and the students of the TypeMedia program for their excellent work! You were all wonderful hosts, presenters, and friends. I am looking forward to the next Robothon – just make sure to expect even more attendees next time! 2012?

Some work by previous TypeMedia students

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Left Out Letters
1 March, 2009

In a gesture of giving, these ceramic letters were left out free for anyone to discover and take home. Some were left in specific places for specific people, others were left randomly in public spaces. All were from the Fall of 2005 and Spring of 2006.

Hoefler and Frere Jones have a funny account of the anonymous package from the last two images.

These left out letters led to the PDA (Public Displays of Art series)(coming soon)

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The Color Alphabet
26 February, 2009

Color Alphabet

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FontLab Fail!
25 February, 2009


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The Current Projects :
11 February, 2009

Mota - Coming in March 2009

Recently I have been overly busy with several large projects, and updates here at the blog have been lacking. In the coming weeks I will be posting more about these new things.
But briefly, I am furiously working to finish up Vesper – which has grown into a much larger, and more interesting, family. Additionally, Sonja and I are creating a new online shop to sell our typefaces. This site is a large undertaking with the front-end having a slightly different approach from most other online typefoundries and much of the back-end is custom to enhance the buying process. Hopefully our method of displaying and purchasing will prove to be worth the efforts.
As for this site, we recently updated some sidebars to show recent posts as well as my latest tweets from Twitter. You can see them on the main page or follow me directly from Twitter if you are interested. Coming up, there is still a long list of posts waiting to be prepared, as well as many previous art projects to be transferred over here to the new(er) format and database. Keep checking your RSS and stop by again soon!

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Das Buchstaben (Letter!) Museum
1 February, 2009

Last night the city of Berlin offered another special event: their 24th Museum Night – Lange Nacht der Museen. For one small price you get admission to most of the city’s museums from 6pm to 2am. This is a great opportunity to get out and see some of the remarkable collections and galleries here in Berlin.

One of the highlights, and certainly the most anticipated museum I wanted to visit, was the Buchstaben Museum. They are only open sporadically, so it is normally difficult to get an opportunity to stop by.

I was a bit surprised by the small space, but the up side to this was how every square meter was covered with old letters from signs. Large dimensional letters were standing, laying, leaning, hanging, and stacked throughout the two showrooms. The haphazard, jumbled arrangements made it a bit difficult to fully appreciate the signs and the lettering, but they are none-the-less beautiful and interesting. Personally, I am mostly into the nice letters, and less actually the history behind them; but whenever possible, the letters/signs have tags indicating where they came from, the typeface in use, and a little extra info. If you are more interested in some finer details of what is in this collection, Dan Reynolds has some images and font IDs up at his flickr and blog. That guy is crazy, he visited the museum, got home, and blogged about it before I was even there!

On a side note, the Buchstaben Museum reminds me quite a bit of the boneyard in Las Vegas Neon Museum – albeit a smaller, climate controlled, more sanitary version. Someday, we should all make the trek there because it looks incredible. Paul Hunt visited in 2008 and has some great photos in flickr.


Core 77 has many more great photos of the museum here

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NYC Public Library Indic Books
31 January, 2009


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Frankfurt am Main Main Cemetery
30 January, 2009


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Dimension and Typography – the show
28 January, 2009

dimension and typography


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Bright, Loud, & Scary
27 January, 2009

The packaging of these fireworks are definitely as bright, loud, and scary as the pyrotechnics that they spit out. Exploded cases like these could be found all over Berlin on Jan 1st. Depending on how nice your neighborhood you live in determines how long you can enjoy this typographic litter confetting your street. Lucky for us, these hung around for several weeks!

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Letters in the 3rd Dimension
19 January, 2009

Letters in the 3rd dimension

The other day I came across a recent statement by Jimmy Luu, faculty in graphic design at the University of Illinois. In this interview he declared: “Up until the past decade, letters have mainly been presented as flat shapes in printed form.” He continues: “While the notion of giving dimension to letterforms has existed for centuries within the field of typography as smaller pockets of activity, recent advances in digital technology has provided designers greater freedom and ease with which to explore the spatial and temporal qualities of typographic form.” This inspired me to dig through my photo collection to find a few specimens to illustrate some amazing dimensional typography. There is quite a long history and variety of three dimensional letterforms, yet it is rarely recognized.
Clearly, the majority of type and typography we encounter on a daily basis is literally and visually flat and dimensionless. However, contrary to what Luu claims, I would argue dimensional type is no more popular now than in any other point in history. That being said, there is somewhat of a trend for artists to use words and letters in their works, but that is a different topic.
Luu’s singular accurate statement in that quote is that computers make it easier for designers to play with letters in time and space. That is a shallow and throw away comment – computers have completely changed every aspect of how designers work. Simply because digital technology makes work easier and faster says nothing of the quality or quantity of new dimensional type that has come as a result.
The images in this collection are by no means intended to be a complete history, they only acknowledge a fraction of the many fascinating forms that type has taken in the 3rd dimension. There are countless other ways letters have been played with. These include but are not limited to: other flat-faux-dimensional-treatments, more physical 3D embodiments, graffiti, and especially the whole separate genre of motion graphics. Moving type is possibly the only “new” use of dimensional type in the last century.

Descriptions and links:

1st Row:
1) The most common dimensional type we experience daily – shop signs
2) Retired sign letters in a new context
3) Roman inscription, carved letters are some of the oldest existing type specimens
2nd Row:
4) Old and new 3D type – the inscribed and the extruded side by side
5) Modern use of inscribing letters is still commonly found in cemeteries
6) Not all tombstones have carved letters, these beautiful letters are in metal and “float” above the face of the stone
3rd Row:
7) 19th C. type exhibiting primitive attempts at added dimension
8) The use of different type styles helps differentiate stories
9) More ornate and decorative treatments are used to achieve depth
4th Row:
10) Unconventional use of contrasting colors also hint at dimension
11) 19th C. Almanac with letters seemingly standing upright and perpendicular to the page
12) Curved letters peeling away from the paper, others with an odd perspective standing on the page
5th Row:
13) Radical examples of faux type from France
14) Edward Ruscha paintings 1968 (both)
images from the National Gallery of Art
15) Edward Ruscha drawings, gunpowder on paper, 1970 (left) 1967 (right)
images from: Craig F. Starr Gallery
6th Row:
16) Album cover inspired by Ruscha’s work? Mecca for Moderns by The Manhattan Transfer 1986
17) You think Ed Ruscha invented dimensional lettering from ribbons? Here is a beautiful medieval example:
18) Before computers, Ed Benguiat pencil sketches for Budweiser logo. Images from presentation at Typo Berlin 2008, dates unknown ≈1970’s – early 80’s.
7th Row:
19) Ed Benguiat logo for colossus
20) Ed Benguiat logo for Terra Magna

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More from Typographic Berlin
7 January, 2009

Part 2 of a collection of nice typographic examples in Berlin.

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