In this day and age it’s safe to assume that we are seeing more and more type everyday. The move from the printed page to the screen changes the rules typography works with and opens huge possibilities for how we digest information. Set against this backdrop of the enormous amount of textual information we are bombarded with and the exponential increase of video content on the internet the 4th International Festival of Interactive and Motion Typography (MOTYF) took place in the Lexicon, Dun Laoghaire on November 3rd.  


As internet speeds increase, devices get faster and attention spans decrease, the festival set out to discuss where type is at and where it might end up. As a motion designer with a love of typography this was a really interesting deep dive into a specialised area. The range and depth of topics that the speakers brought was impressive, from how we deal with large amounts of text on screen, new forms with generative and interactive type, information architecture and how we can navigate huge bodies of text with technology such as Virtual Reality (VR) or Mixed Reality (MR) to kinetic brand identities built for our new screens.


Founded by three professors from Germany and Poland this was the first time it has been to Ireland and was curated by Dr. Hilary Kenna from IADT. With it’s university connections it unsurprisingly had a strong academic streak with many of the speakers either professors or lecturers. However as David Smith, Head of the Faculty of Film, Art & Creative Technologies at IADT, pointed out to me most not only taught but were also practicing designers with their own professional practices. He felt that this, and indeed the make up of the audience itself of students, professionals from design, tech companies and TV & Film industry, aptly reflects where the lines blur between interaction, programming and communication.


First up David Small gave a fantastic history of type being used on screen and who’s own work from the early days is still incredibly fresh. Having studied in MIT under Muriel Cooper, a pioneer of type and design, he was in the perfect position as the opening speaker to give an overview of where on screen type has come from, from the first anti-aliased fonts to how we deal with this new ‘on-screen’ space that type can live, unrestricted by the boundaries of the printed page. Many things they discovered seem obvious now but these were the people breaking the new ground in the 70s, 80s and 90s – moving around in 3D space, applying multiple layers of text, using focus and depth of field to choose where to look by making only one layer legible. Much of his work, and indeed several of the speakers, was in interactive exhibitions and museum spaces. Here he used created controllers so the users could navigate the text and they decided what to view, this interactivity changing the relationship of between the user and the text, a jump from the traditional passive observer reading a book or video to one they have control and decide what to read.


Lisa Strausfeld, an information architect and another of Muriel Cooper’s students, has a background of dealing with large amounts of information having been Bloomberg’s Head of Data Visualization and earlier a partner in Pentagram. Her current work, immersive typography, using VR to navigate such volumes of data were fascinating, it felt like we were looking at the starting point of new possible ways to move through dense information. She spoke passionately about how information architecture is shaping knowledge, making sense of the aforementioned information overload and indeed, in this era of ‘fake news’, how it had the ability to make it transparent and revelatory.


Prof Hartmut Bohnacker & Ted Davis both talked about generative type. The former talked about the process and where the designer fits in with the rules of code they have created. The designers eye doesn’t not create the final result, it creates the rules and then by making changes to the code, tweaking and creating iterations, curates the results. Ted Davis spoke about how new factors apply to animated type – time, movement, direction and duration, elements we see these in use every day with our swipes, bounces and pop as we touch our smartphones. These are used to create a more pleasurable experience but also to create meanings, warnings or alerts. They used the code to explore new directions and their experimental work and that of their students gave us a look at what future forms of typography might look like and how we might interact with it.


Tony Brook from SPIN and Mitch Paone from DIA both spoke further about this kinetic typography and branding, bringing a commercial edge to the festival. Both talked about how our visual language has developed and how in today’s world of Instagram and Facebook anything that moves get more attention than a still. An identity now can exist as an organic object, not just a stamp in the words of Brook. His examples of recent work with the BBC Creative identity and its applications were great examples of this and he had an infectious fun personality that came thru the work. Likewise Paone and DIA’s work reflected his understanding of timing and rhythm as a musician, showing how they breakdown biomechanical movement and audio and then apply this choreography to type movement, these natural patterns giving the animations a more familiar and refined look. Both brought up the mantra of creating your own work to get work, this is oft heard at design conferences from the top players as potential clients see the experiments and then look for that work with their brand.

Experimental and future forms of typography were on display throughout the day from live typography using technology like kinect cameras with users altering the letterforms, code and lazers to project fonts onto surfaces or basic tools like painting words on cows so that as they moved the sentences changed, all forms of motion and type. One example was how fonts are being created to work with how the brain deals with information – Sans Forgetica is created with parts missing to slow down reading and help the human brain remember better. A discussion on post-text future and the use of imagery, emojis, logos and icons brought back memories of the hieroglyphics I’d studied in college. Others dealt with how we can decipher text that is misspelt easily so long as the key elements such as the first and last letters remain in place, our brains will fill in the gaps. All of these were looking at how typography is works now and what me might see in the future. 

The 2 day student workshops by several of the speakers that ran before the festival exhibited upstairs showing work across several of these disciplines, generative, interactive, VR, printed posters coming to life when smart devices looked at them using MR. It was great to see this work exhibited, the workshops having a focused end result working with leading lights rather than just a personal in depth show and tell of their work. No doubt this will be a huge benefit to those students taking part. Likewise we got a glimpse of future content we will see more of soon – MR, moving posters and interactive advertising. 


There is no doubt that with the exponential increase of content we will see, not just on screens but in VR, AR & MR, there will be plenty of development in how we handle and use such information. MOTYF is a very interesting waypoint on this journey and produced some visually stunning work and stimulating intellectual discourse. Credit is due to the curator Dr. Kenna and to the speakers for the range of topics covered, there was a good mix of academic, experimental and commercial typographic work presented. I look forward to seeing where the road leads and hope we will see MOTYF return in the future.


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