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Dutch typography comes to New Zealand

Long summer days, waterside location: an idyllic setting for New Zealand's first typography festival TypeSHED11 held in Wellington, which featured Dutch designers including Experimental Jetset and Donald Beekman.

By Katie Dominy /asdf 19-02-2009

"Typography, across five stretched out summer days on the water’s edge….Zero in on Wellington, an urban landscape, 42-degrees below, bottom of the South Pacific, a tiny capital port city, to a redeveloped ex-cargo store, Shed 11."

New Zealand’s first typography ‘festival’ TypeSHED11 - who could resist such an invitation to visit New Zealand in the summer? Speakers at the event included Dutch designers Donald Beekman, Gerbrand van Melle, Experimental Jetset and Amsterdam-based New Zealander David Bennewith, plus the Dutch-based Internet radio station Typeradio, invited along to broadcast typography to the rest of the world.

Experimental Jetset’s lecture, entitled 'Friendly ghosts', examined how their typographic influences continue to motivate them, haunting them in sometimes very unexpected, indirect ways.

Donald Beekman runs his own graphic and music studio called DBXL in Amsterdam and with type and music very much intertwined in his life, his talk was entitled 'Type, drugs & rock 'n roll'. "I am probably one of very few (if not the only) graphic designer in the world who has had the chance of designing logos, artwork and packaging for the legal smart drugs that became popular with the success of electronic dance music in the early nineties. I also got to design logos and artwork for bands, deejays, record companies and labels, party organisers and dance music events. Many of these designs were developed into typefaces. In my lecture I showed some highlights from thirty years of designing for the Amsterdam music scene, smart drugs and the typefaces that came out of that", Beekman says.

David Bennewith, designer and researcher in design at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Utrecht read an essay from his recent book on New Zealand type designer Joseph Churchward. He says "The essay is about the notion of a biographical typeface via the example of the 'Marianna' typeface Joseph designed for his daughter Marianna in 1969. And it was also written using 'Marianna', so it has a sort of performance aspect to its construction as well. Alongside the lecture, we were also operating a stand called Churchward International Typefaces. The highlight for me was when Joseph spontaneously took us through his latest typeface, a crowd of about 25 people gathered around the stand as he leafed through eight weights of the typeface 'Churchward Roman 09' page by page."

After a career as a practicing graphic design specialist in the Netherlands, Gerbrand van Melle was appointed as senior lecturer in typography at Massey University in Wellington in 2007. He ran a workshop and presentation entitled 'Ambiguous typographic design for the online music industry.' Van Melle said, "My workshop was about trying to define the typographic parameters of the ever-changing information flow that surrounds our music experience. Think of simultaneously streaming lyrics. Think of background information on artists. Think of commercial messages and live music communities. The output of the workshop presented a series of different typographic screen design ideas that interrupt and don't interrupt the flow of the music experience."

The designers were enthusiastic about the outcome of the conference and no doubt relished the laid back atmosphere. "The enormous variety of lectures and workshops, exhibitions and installations, book launches and panel discussions were all of a very high and very personal quality. Throughout the past five days you could sense the love for type and the openness to share this. It felt like a family barbecue, where everybody brings his/her favourite dish and shares it amongst everybody else," said Gerbrand van Melle.

David Bennewith agreed. "I was really amazed at the event and honoured to be a participant. Actually, I think the most successful aspects are yet to be measured, as people will go away and begin to digest the ideas, challenges, friendships, arguments and opinions that manifested themselves over the five days."

For Donald Beekman from Typeradio, it was an opportunity to spread the type about work from New Zealand. "Typeshed was one of the best events Typeradio has visited so far. I also personally felt a sense of urgency doing the interviews with all these New Zealand designers. The remoteness of the country makes it difficult for creatives (and others) to get connected with and be seen by the rest of the world. Typeradio played an important role in that and we felt a sense of accomplishment afterwards."

Was there a difference approach to typography between designers from the Netherlands and New Zealand? "Typography has become a lot more international over the last 10 years, both in style and in approach. International collaborations are established so easily these days. Still, there are many differences in typography, especially between the Netherlands with its centuries-long history in typography, going back to the invention of print and New Zealand with its relatively very young design community. And that is a good thing; it is only positive that there are local differences and flavours," Donald Beekman comments.

Gerbrand van Melle shares in the humour used by Kiwi designers. "Besides some pacific influences, I don't think that there is a big difference. So yes, I think you could say that there is a global style. Though I sense a preference for quirkiness in some NZ typefaces. Like many Dutch designers, New Zealanders dare to use a lot of humour in their work. I appreciate that effort. Sweet as!"

TypeSHED11 was organised by New Zealand typographer and designer Catherine Griffiths and the UK-based Typevents, dedicated to creating graphic design conferences worldwide. Funding assistance for TypeSHED11 included support from the Mondriaan Foundation and the Netherlands Embassy New Zealand.

Main image: Gerbrand van Melle- Ambiguous typographic design for the online music industry
Image 1: Joseph Churchward showing Roman 09
Image 2: Churchward International Typefaces Stand
Image 3: Freestylish, Donald Beekman
Image 4: Gerbrand van Melle- Ambiguous typographic design for the online music industry
image 5: ape magazine cover, Donald Beekman

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