Typographics Festival: An interview with Cara Di Edwardo

Typographics is a design festival that takes place every June in New York. A regular feature in the calendar of any type lover, it feels like it’s been around for much longer than it actually has. This year presents the 8th edition, which will be a hybrid event featuring in-person and online talks. With a global audience tuning in, and a roster of speakers that never fails to impress, we turn to the Festival Director, Cara Di Edwardo, to get a behind-the-scenes look, and to discuss the highlights of this year’s upcoming festival.

In 2021, you invited 11 guest curators to help “identify, uplift, and represent typographers and designers from 26 countries” and were able to reach more than 20,000 attendees from 79 countries. This is testament to how truly global Typographics Festival is! Did you notice any trends in terms of what topics the curators wanted to focus on, and what struck a chord with attendees worldwide?

As we began planning for the 2021 conference, we wanted to ‘lean in’ to what we learned was possible from having done that crazy pivot to online in 2020. We wanted to meet people where they were, which at the time, was essentially still very much in isolation due to the pandemic. What was so special about presenting a conference live but in a Zoom webinar and livestream? The reach, of course, and the ability to host more international designers which is harder for an in-person event. The curators stepped back into advisory roles and invited guest curators intentionally skipping over Western Europe and the US and Canada (who are well represented in most design conferences) to make space for people from other places. The guest curators were selected based on their knowledge of a portion of the world, allowing the conference attendees to circumvent the entire globe. To make this possible, the format of the conference also changed. Normally the sessions are two full days of talks, but for 2021 we had three speaker slots per day, two days a week, over ten weeks. The timing of the sessions varied day-to-day to accommodate viewers and speakers from various time zones.

The guest curators were asked to choose designers using typography in ways they admired and that they felt would represent their part of the world, to assist them in preparation, and to host them during the conference sessions. The idea was to reach beyond the circles we usually travel in and to help make new participants feel comfortable by providing a host from their region who, in some cases, also spoke their language. As a rule, we made sure that knowledge of English was not a barrier to presenting, and several of the presenters spoke their native language, with live text and audio translation (another feature that online format makes much easier to accomplish).

Our aim is always to present a variety of work and approaches to the use and the making of type. Behind the scenes there is a great deal of time that goes into shaping the conference content. It’s interesting to look back for trends, although we don’t purposely attempt to create or highlight trends during the planning. The talks often blend current innovative practices across disciplines, with more critical views on type and typography, as well as some historical talks. Looking back at last year, there was a commonality among some of the presentations s focused on a dedication to the advancement of native writing systems and breaking from traditional forms and applications.

Among the many messages we have received from attendees there were quite a few thanking us for the efforts to make the conference more accessible and greener than before. During the 2021 conference, our audience showed appreciation with lots of scrolling applause emoji and positive and enthusiastic comments in the chat for all 10 sessions. Attendees seemed pleased with all the speakers but if the conference had been a competition, Pupila’s homage to Mr. Masking would have won the prize for most heartwarming and Nja Mahdaoui’s life’s work would have won as most awe-inspiring. Pegah’s and Shiva’s speakers would have tied for best triple threat: typographer-journalist-activists.

Attendees were struck by the universal qualities of type lovers; the devotion to craft, the drive of cultural identity, the playful use of visual language, the mutual admiration of peers and appreciation of our teachers and design heroes, the humor, and most recently the intensification of addressing social injustices.

What is new in the 2022 edition, and is there any event in particular that you are looking forward to?

Typographics 2022 has returned to an in-person format with a livestream of the main stage (which we’ve always done) but this time a moderated Discord group has been added and we are inviting everyone with a ticket to join. During the last two years of the event, the Zoom chat was so lively with questions, shared resources, and comments from every direction that having that valuable, instant ability to engage is something we did not want to miss as we return to an in-person format. We are also expanding the traditional feature of the conference we call Spotlight. Look for some surprises in that short segment of the program.

With so much happening at Typographics that, inevitably I watch the livestream even though I’m right on campus when it all takes place! It usually takes me a few days after the conference to catch up with all the presentations. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing Lynne Yun and Juan Villanueva on stage this year, but I’m biased: they both came through the Type@Cooper Extended Program, and we’ve watched their careers closely. I trust that all the presentations will be excellent.

The festival is comprised of lectures, workshops, tours, and other events. It also has two main components, the conference and Type Lab. What is the main difference between the conference and Type Lab, and how did that separation come about?

The Mainstage conference is a carefully planned, curated, and polished show with the best possible technical production on The Cooper Union’s Great Hall stage. The Great Hall is of important historical significance, having been a place that saw the birth of the NAACP, Labor Unions, and the Women’s suffrage movement.

TypeLab is a creative space. It’s much more organic, casual, and interactive, a series of events with volunteer hosts and a mix of presenters who have proposed ideas that range wildly in format and content. There are some prepared talks but also live demonstrations of lettering, calligraphy, tools, critiques, mini-workshops, one-on-one portfolio reviews, virtual studio tours, games, hangouts, panel discussions and more.

Petr van Blokland has been leading TypeLab at various conferences since the early 1990s and it was conceived of as an alternative to the more structured main conference. TypeLab blurs the lines between presenter and audience. Part hangout, part immersion into many more facets of typography, typeface design, the tools of design, educational philosophy, storytelling, sharing, experimentation, discussions, games, virtual tours, critiques, demonstrations, teaching, sharing, and an active inspiring social event.

Since 2019, we’ve recruited talented typeface designers to help host and provide technical support for the online 3 channels so there’s more time to schedule for the incoming submissions.

In 2020 & 2021 TypeLab ran (nearly) continuously for 72 hours. This year, we’ll be in-person and online with live events broadcasting from Cooper Union in NYC, The Netherlands, India, and Thailand.

When Typographics launched in 2015, it exploded onto the design scene and very quickly earned its place as one of the must-go-to design festivals. What was the motivation back then to launch a new conference, and how has that evolved over time?

While I was serving on the board of Type Directors Club in 2014, I was approached by Roger Black to host a conference at The Cooper Union, where I still teach in the undergraduate program and am the director of the Type@Cooper program. I rallied my colleague Alexander (Sasha) Tochilovsky to help, and with the support of Cooper Union we were off! Roger taught us how to mount a conference. He and Sasha curated the mainstage event, and I handled the other festival events and coordinated logistics.

Other key people, like Nick Sherman who has made all 8 websites (and helps in immeasurable other ways), and Waldo Tejada, a Cooper Union alum and marketing creative, guided us through the marketing process and directs the event production. They form a solid core team of organizers who are personally invested in the success of the event. There are of course many more talented and dedicated people who play important roles in the planning and work behind the festival events.

Roger and Sasha developed the original vision for the conference. Typographics would be, and continues to be, a conference about how type is used in publication design, book design, web design, motion graphics, branding, exhibition design, and other disciplines. This idea resonated with us. After all, here we were at Cooper Union where typography, lettering, and calligraphy have been taught for more than 100 years.

Beginning in 2017, four curators were chosen for the conference, Sasha, who is the current curator of the Herb Lubalin Study Center; Mike Essl, Cooper alum, current Dean of The Cooper Union School of Art and past curator of the Lubalin Center; Ellen Lupton, Cooper alum, founding curator of the Herb Lubalin Study Center and the head of Graphic Design MFA at MICA, and Senior curator at the Cooper Hewitt Museum; Barbara Glauber, a Cal Arts alum, graphic designer and Cooper Union and Yale faculty member, and a past curator of the Lubalin Center.

An interdependence among designers, industry professionals, schools, and cultural institutions exists and thrives wherever there are strong connections and open communications. As educators, we see this festival as an opportunity for young designers to share fresh ideas, to meet, and to network with future colleagues and, for the work of established designers to receive recognition.

Finally, could you please give us a quick overview on pricing and registration for the 2022 Festival?

For those who want to attend the conference in person, tickets are $460 for professionals but deeply discounted for students ($230), educators ($360) and groups (5–9 people $410 each & 10 or more $375 each). These tickets give attendees access to the conference, the in-person TypeLab, the Book Fair, an invitation to a conference Discord group and of course the famous Typographics swag bag.

For those who want to join the conference virtually, there is a ‘pay what you can’ sliding scale for tickets from $100 to free. Everyone can choose the amount they want to pay (or not pay) according to their own circumstance. Virtual access to the Conference livestream and an invitation to the Discord group comes with this ticket.

Workshops and Tours have their own registration at various ticket prices and in-person conference ticket holders can get a 10% discount on workshop tuition. Most of the workshops will be held in person but some will be online, and some will be blended.


Registration for the online TypeLabZoom meetings is free.

More details about the festival events can be found at 2022.typographics.com.

credit: 2019 Typographics conference photos by Henrique Nardi.

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