Ampersand 2015

Last week I attended Ampersand Conference in Brighton. As it was just down the road it seemed like a no brainer, but it blew me away. I feel certain it was my favourite conference of the year.

I used to care about typography, a lot. I used to be so passionate about it. In recent years, I'd forgotten to care about it. As I moved toward high level design thinking and UX, component based design, and pattern libraries. It's easy to forget about the little details.

This conference was all about the little details. The scope was so focused that each talk was a deep dive into the obsessions of the speaker. Each one was a fascinating tale. Watching every speaker care so much reminded me what I used to care about.

The attendees were also brilliant.

Indra Kupferschmid

Down with Web Typography

Indra is a German Professor and Typographer. She showed us how to apply classic typography principles to the web, how these rules haven't changed in many years.

It was a great talk for beginners and a nice reminder for experienced designers.

Marcin Wichary

To Hell for Type

Marcin is a designer and developer working for Medium.

Marcin captivated the entire audience talking about all the terrible sins he has committed all in the name of a great reading and writing experience on My favourite example was that he submitted bug fix to Chromium to prevent smart quotes being flagged as mis-spellings. Other great stories are [The curious case of the disappearing Polish S and System Shock: a story of a 25-year-old font coming back with a vengeance.

Jen Simmons

Modern Layouts: Getting out of our ruts

Jen talked about her impatience with the done-and-done three column layout we see on almost every site. She presented her research into experimental magazine article layouts. This lead her to show us what we can do to push the boundaries of design using modern web standards. It was a great case for art direction on the web and I liked how she covered how to handle this in a CMS, because that's always an issue.

Nick Sherman

The future of responsive typography

Nick is on the board of directors for the Type Directors Club, as well as being the co-founder of the excellent Fonts In Use.

Nick described the way we select typefaces and weights as being stuck in the past. It's same way type has been selected and used since movable type was invented. What if there was another way to use type, that's closer to how we manipulate HTML with CSS?

Nick laid out his ideas of a system that can generate fonts algorithmically. Instead of loading individual font files for each weight or style, you'd load just one, and the browser can use the information to manipulate the display of the type.

This was mind-explodey stuff. It was great to see the thoughts of someone so heavily involved in digital type.

Bruno Maag

Designing typefaces for screens

Bruno is a Swiss type designer from the type agency Dalton Maag. He presented a fascinating case study on creating the Bookerly font for Amazon Kindle. It's interesting to see how much work and detail goes into designing a typeface. The special considerations that went into e-ink screens was really interesting. I don't know how someone could design a typeface for so many languages and contexts without going crazy.

Lu Yu

Chinese Design for Westerners

Lu gave a fantastic talk on how typography and design is handled on the web in China. Think it's enough to just translate the text? Think again. Different culture, technology, and aesthetics play a part in the design of websites in China.

The average chinese font file contains 20,000+ characters! Weighs between 3–10MB, impossible for web embedding.

Chinese characters can be really beautiful, emulating the calligraphy style. The presentation inspired me to play around with paint and canvas.

First go at Chinese writing turned out a bit crap as expected. It was nice to focus on one small thing though.

A photo posted by Lewis Nyman (@lewisnyman) on

Matthew Young

Designing Pelican Books

Matthew Young is a book cover designer working for Penguin. As a huge fan Penguin books I consumed this presentation with the wide eyes of a child.

Matthew spoke about the design objectives and process behind the relaunch of Pelican Books. It was a great example a well designed modern business model for books with classic aesthetics.

Sarah Hyndman

Think outside the font

Sarah runs Type Tasting, which investigates ways type influences our perception and decision making. If you've ever had a colleage or client ask you if a custom typeface is really worth the effort, I'd advise you to play one of Sarah's games with them.

She's invented some really fun, interactive ways of showing people the power of the right type. Watch her TED talk.

All in all, I've so glad I went. I felt like I gave me a lot to think about be be excited about!