RoboThon 2009 notes

Posted on 9 March 2009 in:

RoboThon09 logo

Here are some quick thoughts that I had in my head on the way home from RoboThon09. I attended all of the conference proper, but unfortunately none of the many after-events that took place on Friday afternoon, evening, or on Saturday. The conference was at KABK, the Dutch Royal Academy of the Arts in The Hague, Netherlands. KABK is the home of the Type and Media program, which is one of two masters degree programs in typeface design in the world.

This year’s RoboThon (the last one was back in 2006) was my first time in The Hague for more than a few hours. I stayed in the central Ibis hotel with two Linotype colleagues. RoboThon was the first 2009 type-related conference that I attended, and it was great to see this year’s MATD crop again, as well as to get the chance to meet a few of this year’s Type and Media students from KABK. Late on Wednesday, the night before the conference began, I met with several of them of that a pub where—I was told—Jan van Krimpen used to drink. I wonder if that was the type designers’ equivalent of an urban legend?

The front and back of the RoboThon conference badge

The front and back of the RoboThon conference badge.

The conference began early on Thursday morning. Everyone involved with its organization deserves a tremendous amount of respect and thanks. RoboThon09 was one of the best organized type events I have ever attended. Except for dreadful coffee, all the logistics were covered flawlessly. And even with the coffee, I don’t think that anyone on the conference committee is to blame. The coffee was better than what was served in our hotel. And the KABK cafeteria served coffee as well, even though they had the exact same Nescafé machine I had tried to avoid at the Ibis.

What was it about the conference that I enjoyed, aside from the atmosphere? For starters, it had an excellent give away t-shirt. This might seem like a superficial remark, but the design of the t-shirt shows the care that went into the conference experience as a whole. Plus, the t-shirt illustrates two of the new things presented at the conference (UFO2 and Area 51), making it something of good taste inside joke. At RoboThon, the best conference badge I’ve ever worn was distributed, too. Even though this was super big, it had the schedule printed on the back. This bit of practicality is probably the definition of good design. Also, the conference was commendable for things that it lacked, like a goodie bag! Sometimes, TYPO-Berlin or the ATypI conference will have a good goodie bag. But just as often, the bag is something you’d never want to use again. Plus, almost all of the treats in a goodie bag are really tricks in diguise. Not having a goodie bag is better for the environment and for my nerves.

I can’t write about everything that was discussed at the conference, mostly because I still don’t understand all of it, but here is a link to the official RoboThon09 program. Why would I not understand everything? Well, at this point, I’d only classify myself as a script user. I haven’t written any of my own python scripts (for type design, font production, or anything else). I use quite a few in my workflow now, and can even edit really small bits. But I am a novice, and RoboThon was a conclave of visionaries. So, from my understanding of things, here is what I can recommend…

Tal Lemming really had the limelight on the conferences first day, and he deserved it. He presented an array of font tools, including Area 51 (which is new), UFO2FDK, Metrics Machine 4, Prepolator, Feature Proof, and more stuff, too, which I cannot even remember! Fortunately, Erik van Blokland mentioned on that podcasts of the talks will be coming.

On Thursday evening, we took a train to Delft for a party hosted graciously by the office of Petr van Blokland + Claudia Mens in their office. I do not know if there is such an expression as “Dutch Hospitality,” but after experiencing this generosity, I think that someone should coin it if it does not already exist. Also on Thursday evening, I finally got to meet Jos Buivenga, who I think is one of the most well known typeface designers on the Internet. He is also marketing champion of 2008, it seems.

My favorite bits of the second day (Friday) were Frederik Berlaen’s roundingUFO, which want to start using immediately, and Tim Ahrens’s Remix Tools, which I have already been using for a few weeks. I had to leave right after Tim’s talk, so I missed out on Frank Blokland’s improvised OTMaster session, which is too bad as it seems like an application that I would like to use. I also missed out on the whole Gerrit Noordzij Prize presentation, the Tobias Frere-Jones exhibition, and the extracurricular Saturday events.

If you are thirsty for more RoboThon news, head over to the FontShop BeNeLux site, where Yves Peters reports, too. Don’t miss Rob Keller’s observations, either. There was quite a lot of Twittering going on in the audience during the event. With this Twitter search, you should be able to read a good chunk of it.

Not many photos or images in this post, dear readers! I apologize. Does anyone mind?