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A Year of Letterform Lectures

Revisit nine presentations that explore the power of typography beyond the Archive, from pioneering film and digital graphics to saving endangered scripts.

The Letterform Lecture series complements Type West, our postgraduate certificate program in type design. In normal times we gather at the San Francisco Public Library where the talks are free and open to the public, but the series went online this spring in response to the pandemic. While we miss seeing you in person, the new format gives us a chance to reach our global audience in real time. Thanks to support from Adobe Fonts, recordings of these lectures are available to all within a few days after the event. As 2020 comes to a close we found it a good time to remember all the excellent talks from the year and give you quick access to those you missed.

Notes on Icons and Design
with Susan Kare

November 5, 2019 — While this presentation took place in 2019, the video dropped this year. In a rare look back at her influential career, designer (and Archive board member) Susan Kare told stories about solving various design problems for clients from Apple to Pinterest, demonstrating why her work is so iconic — in more ways than one. Kare also offered some gems of advice for creating logos, icons, or any design that benefits from simplicity and humanity.

More is More, Sometimes. In Defense of Display Typefaces.
with Marta Bernstein

March 3, 2020 — Marta Bernstein is a designer and educator from Milan who visited us after moving to Seattle. Her talk — filled with vibrant, decorative, and wild type specimens and samples — argued that display typography should be treated with more respect. While Modernism, with its “less is more” and “ornament is a crime” claimed that display letters are unnecessary, history tells us that these designs were invented exactly to distinguish themselves, to be catchy, to be interesting, to embrace the spirit of their time.

A Typophile’s Twenty-Year Adventures in Zimbabwe
with Saki Mafundikwa

April 28, 2020 — As part of our effort to decolonize the graphic design canon through diverse programming we were honored to welcome Saki Mafundikwa who presented the results of teaching at the Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts, a design college he founded in Harare. Mafundikwa’s presentation introduced us to African writing systems and the unconventional work of students in his type and lettering programs.

Fake Graphics for Real Movies: Graphic Design in Animated Films
with Paul Conrad, Craig Foster, Laura Meyer, Pixar Animation Studios

June 30, 2020 — Designers Laura Meyer, Paul Conrad, and Craig Foster have contributed to just about every Pixar feature film, short and project you may have seen. Their talk took us behind the scenes, showing how they created worlds — thousands of illustrations and typographic designs — for titles such as Cars, Toy Story 4, Monsters University, Coco, and more.

How to Kill a Writing System
with Zachary Scheuren, Ripon Chakma, Mangu Purty, Sunita Dangol, Vinodh Rajan

June 16, 2020 — To continue our exploration into scripts beyond Latin, we welcomed a cadre of typographic heroes who are saving some of the most endangered writing systems of Asia by creating new fonts and advocating for Unicode support. Multiscript type designer Zachary Scheuren was joined by local and native experts in Warang, Chakma, Newa, and Grantha. If you want to learn more, don’t miss their extensive reading list.

Under Construction: Jurriaan Schrofer’s Letters
with Maurice Meilleur

Maurice Meilleur portrait

Around three years ago, graphic designer and educator Maurice Meilleur spent a week at the Archive researching systematic and modular type. Among his subjects was inventive Dutch designer Jurriaan Schrofer (1926–1990). In his presentation, Meilleur placed Schrofer’s projects in the larger context of constructed scripts, to suggest what we can learn from them about method, creativity, and meaning in design generally, and type and typography in particular.

The Chinese Type Archive
with Synoptic Office, Stephanie Winarto, Mac Wang

Caspar Lam and YuJune Park portrait

July 21, 2020 — Synoptic Office, Caspar Lam and YuJune Park, with Stephanie Winarto and Mac Wang, recently launched Chinese Type Archive, a volunteer-run, open data resource aiming to help designers looking to use Chinese typography in their work. Their talk demonstrated their collection’s approach, how to use the platform to find additional resources, and invited the global type community to participate in the dialog around Chinese type.

To Make Generally Known
with Jon Sueda

October 20, 2020 — Our friend Jon Sueda is not only part of the team that designed the Online Archive, he’s also and design educator, an independent publisher, and a connector of creative people. He showed us how self-initiated projects can bring us together in imaginative ways and teach us something new — even in the midst of a pandemic.

Design through 125 Years of Pin-Back Buttons
with Christen Carter

November 3, 2020 — Christen Carter is the founder of Chicago-based Busy Beaver Button Company and has produced more than 50 million buttons for bands, artists, political campaigns, non-profits and more. She presented dozens of buttons in her talk, and examined how illustration and lettering affect the message of these miniature design artifacts. She also discussed the history of the pin-back button, and how it became an inexpensive and expressive way to create awareness and community.

Letterform Archive Salon Series

We also record our Salon Series, in which we take a deeper dive into specific collections or themes within the Archive. This year’s videos include Counterculture Periodicals with Hank Smith, and special guests Emory Douglas, Jennifer Morla, and Martin Venezky talking about their work in our collection. Salon recordings are a Member benefit; visit your account page to view them. Not a member? You can join now! Know someone who would appreciate these videos? Gift a membership!