Inscript exists at the intersection of advanced technologies and experimental thinking. Focusing on graphic design, language and communication, Inscript explores boundaries and provides a space for sharing, learning and “brazen experimentation,” states Ksenya Samarskaya, who shares curatorial duties with Alex Slobzheninov and Loukas Karnis, discusses here the highlights of the surprise-filled fete that starts Oct. 4.
What is the guiding principle for this online event?
Inscript is a week-long festival that lives at the overlap where typography and communication meet brazen experimentation. Our formative five-day festival showcases inspiring presentations at the overlap of typography and today’s evolving industries, including: artificial, augmented, and virtual realities, creative computing, font specifications, and innovative use of craft. A virtual event for sharing the wildest experiments or latest innovations, Inscript highlights industry experts across typography, creative coding, phygital media, and more—from artificial intelligence to type knitting; from augmented realities to massive interactions in the physical landscape; from financial models to ferrofluid.
The guiding principle for us was to capture a zeitgeist we were noticing, and to provide a space for knowledge and idea exchange for those pushing the realm of possibilities forward. When you’re working ahead of the curve, you don’t always have ample space to meet colleagues and learn about their process. So as we were seeing an outpouring of new, innovative works taking place, we wanted to help foster a community where the knowledge and inspiration could be shared. The festival is also an opportunity for this kind of experimental work to inspire the agencies and the masses that might want to collaborate with the practitioners or incorporate it into their projects.
There is an echo of what FUSE was trying to accomplish by bringing experimental type approaches to the forefront. Would you agree to that as a precursor?
Before, and occasionally parallel, to type, I was immersed in the world of installation art, physical computing, and the edges where technology would play and sometimes counter functionality. Where we’re really asking questions on “what can be? And what should be?” So the first conversations and manifestations for Inscript came out of that world, as an extension of events such as Dorkbot (which no longer exists), Eyeo (which requires traveling to Minneapolis, and which has been put on hold in recent years), and in some ways SXSW.
Then the predominant type focus came from those of us curating last year, which was me, Alex Slobzheninov (Contemporary Type), who’s been very centrally involved, and Tamye Riggs (ATypI). In our conversations there was reminiscence of the energy that would exist at Robothon and TYPOLabs/TYPOBerlin, combined with a desire to broaden the audience—for people to not have to be verifiable type experts to attend. We believe there’s a lot of opportunity at the overlap of expertise, so Inscript was really meant as a provocation in that way. We wanted to show the power and possibilities of type to those that haven’t yet caught the bug.
So it charted from a different source point, but I’m sure there’re a lot of common principles and overlaps. Somehow FUSE was just out of my era and trajectory when it was running, and I haven’t yet privileged myself in learning from it.
What is specific to this year’s event that is uniquely your own?
There are several parameters that are an intentional part of the structure of Inscript, which encourages a very unique, informal and open culture.
One is that no presentations will ever be publicly published in full. This creates a very safe atmosphere to take risks. Presenters show works-in-progress, share process and code snippets, and really let us into their thoughts on the nature of emergent tech—and they’re free to talk in a very raw and immediate way. Inscript becomes a place for those building the future to learn from colleagues just as much as it is for novices to listen in.
Another aspect is a heavy lean toward access—which encompasses the virtual-first format, and the incredibly affordable pricetag ($30 for all five days!). This encourages participation from near-anywhere around the globe. And with recordings available for ticket-holders for six months to rewatch, there’s no fear of electricity outages or scheduling conflicts or not comprehending something on first pass for those attending.
What role will AI play at Inscript?
We leave the option of presentation topics up to the speakers, so exactly what will play out is a bit of a mystery to us as well. Last year, AI was heavily featured, and it was interesting to see all the different approaches and tools that creatives employed. Designer and coder Dev Valladares was inspired by Inscript to create a brand-new work consisting of AI-generated pixel type; reminiscent of Azulejo, the images beautifully brought together design traditions from wildly different eras. And everyone was incredibly transparent in terms of how the work was created, from sharing tips about syntax for text-driven platforms (Gianpaolo Tucci) to showing exactly how visually driven software was “hacked” to center type (Sanchit Sawaria), to the unique problems and opportunities that can be learned from type drawing experiments in Chinese/Japanese/Korean type (Yehang Yin).
What will take place this year remains to be seen, but people can learn about all of our presenters on our site, inscript.tf.
Herb Lubalin delivered a talk in 1960 where he said that motion would influence the design of typefaces. This was a prescient notion. What do you think this year’s predictions will be?
Motion is absolutely central these days, and seemingly part of everything—whether the talk is one that’s about creative coding, or AI, or even craft—it all shape-shifts and moves. It’s incredibly compelling, and wildly different from the straight-laced approach to typography many were taught.
This year, we expect to see motion from Studio Dumbar / DEPT, who make incredible encompassing typographic animations, and are involved in curating the DEMO Design in Motion festival. Schultzschultz creates software and custom built devices that manipulate type toward highly compelling movement. Gianluca Alla’s talk is titled Static Images in Movement, so very curious to see what that reveals. Tra Giang Nguyen (Gydient) sent us some wonderful animated teasers. Rozi Zhu works with unexpected materiality, including ferrofluid, which changes with time. NaN will be presenting, and we’re hoping to see some of their bigger-than-life project with Outernet London. Lena Weber’s Gradial typeface contains color and movement at its core, so very curious to see behind the scenes there. Ksawery Kirklewski is a video projection and installation artist whose works incorporates typography. And who knows who else will bring that side of their practice forward. A lot of times what we’re witnessing is very much “movement and …” Motion and interaction tend to go hand-in-hand, so I love that this generation of motion isn’t as didactic. It’s more versatile, and alive—much more playful.
What defines a truly experimental typeface design?
We covered artificial intelligence and motion, but I really want to take a moment to note some of the other incredible techniques we’re seeing: knitting, ferrofluid, clay, creative coding, weaving machines, augmented and virtual reality, flip-board screens. The pedagogy around type design always starts with how tools affect typography, generally focusing on the chisel and the broad nib pen. But there are so many tools that are in the ecosystem which we use to communicate and write with—some ancient, some vintage, and others very contemporary. And each one moves type in a different direction and leaves a mark, so here we’re really exploring what that push and pull really is. How the machine changes the thinking which changes the machine, and so on.
You are very involved with non-Latin types. Where are the new hotbeds of development?
We were able to bring even more of that to Inscript this year, so I’m eager to see the response and how it plays out, and what other connections become apparent. Bobby Joe Smith III will discuss a proposal for a writing system for the Lakota language centering traditional Očhéthi Šakówiŋ aesthetics. Adam Yeo will present research on the representation of traditional African graphic symbols and scripts. Suzy Chan, who is from Macau and living in Germany, works very vibrantly across scripts. Golnar Adili works with typography in an art context, and has created a large pixel installations of Persian poetry. We have presenters dialing in from a lot of different regions—Korea, Vietnam, Israel, Bharat—often working across cultures and scripts. There’s a lot of hybridity happening—so for me it’s that friction across that seems very fertile. Nontsikelelo Mutiti, who is from Zimbabwe and the current director of graduate studies at Yale, will be moderating the fourth day of Inscript, and has expansive ideas of typography and identity so I’m very curious to hear the perspective she brings to the dialogue.
Is type design as you’ve seen it practiced and performed at Inscript pure research that leads to practical and functional outcomes?
Absolutely. I think it shows the extrapolated and elevated level at which typography plays in messaging today. Tátil Design presented their animated, generated branding for Rio Carnival last year, and it’s almost exclusively typographic—something that was much less likely to exist before the ability to code and add so much complexity entered into the fray. A lot of the presenters have a very pedigree client roster—showing everyone from Nike to HP, Balenciaga to Samsung are craving this type of experimental content.
I also think a peek behind the process, seeing how other people work, drives the momentum forward. Take something like variable typography. Within the type design ecosystem, we’ve been practicing variable typography for decades—it was called multiple masters and it was something that happened behind the scenes; a technical process of manufacturing fonts before they would get finalized and handed off to the client to use in a way that their software could handle. Then someone from a different branch of programming saw that and said, why don’t we incorporate that optionality into the browser. And all of a sudden, much more people had access to playing with the levers themselves, and we got the explosion of what today is variable type.
Attending Inscript can be very practical as inspiration across a wide array of tertiary and quaternary industries—advertising, design, engineering, cultural services, education. The innovation taking place isn’t limited to type, but something that shows a window into different ways of thinking and approaching today’s world, which can be incredibly insightful in a myriad of ways.
What outcomes are you hoping for this year?
I hope to be surprised. I expect to be inspired. I love how being part of Inscript has allowed me to learn and be at the forefront of so much incredible work and innovation. When we were discussing the premise, we knew there was something there—but every time I’ve gotten together with the other curators to see who we want on stage, the list gets staggeringly long very fast. And I hope that for others, seeing the kind of incredible range of what’s happening inspires their process—regardless of the field they’re in. That it expands their conception of what’s possible. And for those that’ve been considering trying something new but weren’t sure yet, gives them the practical tools and the confidence to forge ahead.
Other speakers at Inscript 2023 not mentioned or shown above: Nazareno Crea, Patrik Hübner, Nguyen Gobber, Liad Shadmi, Khyati Trehan, Sparks Edition, PAY2PLAY, Tra Giang Nguyen (Gydient). And moderators Liza Enebeis, Charles Nix and Kiel Danger Mutschelknaus.