TYPO SF 2015 Conference Recap

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By Laura Waxmann

Celebrating its fourth consecutive year in the Bay Area, TYPO San Francisco provided the creative community with an unique opportunity to mingle, network, and explore the world of typography and design through the eyes of some of the industry’s leading experts.

The international design conference spanned two days at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on April 30-May 1, drawing hundreds of participants that ranged from students to professional designers, type enthusiasts and entrepreneurs.

“People come to TYPO to swap stories, and to hear the interesting things that others have to say about their lives,” said organizer Erik Spiekermann, who launched TYPO in Berlin nearly two decades ago. “Here, you get to meet some of your heroes. You also get to meet your peers, and usually after two days, your brain is full, but you leave inspired.”


Erik Spiekermann and friends began TYPO in the mid-90s in Berlin.

Born as a marketing device to brand Spiekermann’s company FontShop, which was acquired by Monotype last year, he fondly remembers how TYPO quickly grew into the biggest and longest running design conference in Europe. Today, Spiekermann describes the annual event as a ‘jour fixe’ on which the creatively driven gather to exchange ideas and musings on Berlin’s first warm summer evenings.

“During the first conferences, (the speakers) consisted of just me and my mates–it was a little embarrassing for a few years,” said Spiekermann. “Now you see students at every corner showing their portfolios–there’s business going on. There are some famous people here, and they actually hang out and are accessible. The lectures are one thing—at TYPO, people get to talk to each other and that’s way more important than anything else.”

In San Francisco, this year’s designer talks set the stage for a diverse roster of 25 international and local speakers who, in 45-minute intervals, shared candid revelations about their crafts and design culture under the overarching theme “Focus.”

Among the highly anticipated speakers were designers Chip Kidd and Tobias Frere-Jones, who gave the audience a unique glimpse inside their creative processes and careers. On the international front, Danish designer Daniel Gjøde introduced his company Stupid Studios, navigating the colorful world of animated design while reminding TYPO-goers that there is always room to creatively challenge the conventional by asking “stupid questions” and simply having fun.


Tobias Frere-Jones closes out TYPO San Francisco on May 1.


Book cover designer Chip Kidd gives an amusing and heartfelt talk to close the first day of TYPO.


Stupid Studio’s Daniel Gjøde brings Danish design to TYPO SF.

Several local speakers addressed the challenges faced by up-and-coming designers and entrepreneurs of creating a novel and sustainable product in an increasingly fast-paced and tech-savvy market.

The conference kicked off with an inspiring talk on losing and finding ‘focus’ by Jen Bilik, founder and CEO of the award-winning gift product and book publishing company Knock Knock–and just like the products she makes, her thoughts were wrapped in a light-hearted and witty delivery.


Knock Knock founder, Jen Bilik, kicks off TYPO San Francisco on April 30.

“I have made many ‘typos’ in my life,” joked Bilik, yet she was firm in her conviction that every misstep was momentum on the path to finding and living her passion. “You have to find the thing that you love in whatever you’re doing and follow that thread in an authentic way. Then, when you look back on your path it will not only make sense, but it will have gotten you to a place that feels really good to you.”

Bilik stepped into the role of entrepreneur at age 32, and she willingly admits that success did not always come easy and involved much wandering, daydreaming, and a healthy amount of procrastination.

“In respect to creative breakthroughs, focus can really only follow periods of non-focus,” she said, describing the six-year period before going independent with Knock Knock as a time of anxiety and depression. “Trusting in the unknown is the key to creativity and to life.”

TYPO speaker Tash Wong attested to the struggle of “making it” while making it all mean something during her engaging lecture that pondered the definition of success as evolutions in technology present new tools, opportunities, and “unpaved roads.”


Entrepreneurial speaker Tash Wong and TYPO ’13 alum Rena Tom stop by the Focus Face booth at TYPO SF.

Wong’s success story was incubated in the classroom as an idea for an entrepreneurial design project that caught the attention of TechCrunch and Mashable–her interest in combining photography and technology eventually yielded a $10,000 profit that quickly catapulted her into startup-land.

“In this day and age, there is an audience for everything–half of all the human beings on this planet have an internet connection. You just have to find people that have the same interests as you and connect with them,” said Wong.

While still in grad school, Wong teamed up with a classmate and translated her idea of pulling photos from Instagram and printing them onto coasters into her own business venture, called Coastermatic.

Despite some “bumps in the road” and the unpredictability of her entrepreneurial journey, Wong’s experiences have taught her to “show up and do her best everyday,” while celebrating the small wins—because success is never linear.

Another San Francisco-based talent who inspired TYPO attendees with his story of focused success, abundant creativity, and surprising dance moves was lettering artist Erik Marinovich.


Lettering artist Erik Marinovich designed the logo for Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the venue for TYPO San Francisco.

During his presentation, Marinovich recounted how he got his start as graphic designer for branding firms, yet it was his passion for letter forms and extracurricular focus that ultimately put him on the path of owning his own studio.

Friends of Type is a lettering blog that Marinovich created with the help of a friend after drawing a lettering sketch to relieve his frustration following a bad client meeting. The idea took off, and over the next two years Marinovich dropped 65 percent of his client work, allowing him to focus on honing his lettering skills and eventually landing him commissioned work on a larger scale.

“The site became a place…to share personal work and to help each other stay inspired because the client work just wasn’t fulfilling,” said Marinovich. “Friends of Type was that open blank canvas where I was allowed to make my own rules.”

And while there are times when focus is of the essence, Marinovich advised his peers to “always be in the moment,” and not focus so hard that life is missed.

Laura Waxmann is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. From social justice issues to local government, art and culture, she covers topics of importance for her community.


Typography 35: The Annual of the Type Directors Club

Typography 35, the 35th edition of the only annual publication devoted entirely to the art of type. Approximately 2,300 designs were submitted from around the world, and a select few made the cut. Of the type designs chosen, all of them are models of excellence and innovation, and represent a variety of categories and mediums, including magazines, books, corporate branding, logos, annual reports, stationery, posters, and video and web graphics. Get it here.