Gabriel Solomons

Capitolized / Typecon 2014 Washington D.C.

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August 12th, 2014


It was an honour to present at this year’s Typecon in Washington D.C. as part of their annual Education Forum. This was my first visit to the conference run by SOTA (the Society for Typographic Aficionados) so having my esteemed colleague John Paul Dowling, a past presenter, to accompany me on the podium made the experience that little less daunting.

Our presentation was entitled ‘If at first you don’t succeed… : Affecting a Change in the Referral Process of Design Education’ and looked at how adjusting the graphic design course curriculum in respect of the referral process can foster a learning environment that embraces the notions of ‘trial & error’ and learning from mistakes both for students and staff.

The 25 minute presentation went well with some great feedback at the Q&A session, particularly from educators in the US who teach in institutions that rarely allow for module or project ‘retakes’. I think the positive response was also due in part to our emphasis on the student as an individual – each of whom enters a university course with a whole set of inherited or learned character strengths and weaknesses. Teachers, like parents (or even psychiatrists) need to have an understanding of these issues in order to help support students ideally before, but certainly at, the point of ‘failure’.

From left: Juliet Shen, Gerry Leonidis, me and John Paul Dowling. Photo by Helen Lysen

The common misconception that failure is primarily due to laziness disregards the fact that all learners – like all children (for those parents out there) are different. Some seemingly know what they want and how to express it from an early age, while others have great difficultly articulating what they want or need.

Motivations differ too for each student, so attempting to understand these motivations can help to steer them away from disaster toward self awareness.

We delivered our presentation on the first day of the conference which meant we could relax and enjoy other speakers waxing lyrical about such things as Cyrillic scripts, hand lettering, (not so) new Swiss design, Symbology from Victorian-Era Calling Cards and historical type revivals.

Keynote speaker was Tobias Frere-Jones (he of celebrated and recently split type duo – Hoefler & Frere-Jones) who managed to make what could have been a yawn inducing near-two-hour presentation on the design of US currency immensely watchable and relatable. Also good to see him receive such a rapturous welcome considering the recent brooha surrounding the duo’s acrimonious split and he seemed visibly moved by the audience’s show of genuine support and affection.

Tobias Frere-Jones. Photo by Helen Lysen

It’s fair to say we were both pretty ‘typed out’ come Sunday afternoon and saw the closing night’s bowling party as a welcome relief, even though some still couldn’t resist the urge to analyze the font adorning the venue’s neon signage.

I can’t say we saw much of  D.C. beyond the usual tourist spots (Capitol Hill, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Smithsonian museums) but a few jaunts to the outer rim locales of Georgetown and Arlington at least gave us a sense of the city’s geographic identity.

Overall, the experience was a good one. I got to rub shoulders with some pretty high profile font nerds (Matthew Carter, Frere-Jones, John Downer), ate some famed D.C. chinese food, Mexican waved my way through a Nationals baseball game and finally managed to stand in Abe Lincoln’s imposing shadow.

Until next year Typecon. It was fun.

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