Sans Everything: An Interview with Organizer Sébastien Morlighem

If there’s one thing we love at TypeThursday it’s conversations about details. Maybe even a whole conference about Sans Serifs. Typethursday sat down with conference organizer Sébastien about his motivations and what you can expect from the conference.

Our seasonal exhibition is coming up. Come meet fellow letterform lovers and join us for a special showing of calligraphy, lettering and type design on this special field trip to Long Island, New York.
Saturday, August 13
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TypeThursday: Sébastien, thanks for being here for TypeThursday.

Sébastien Morlighem: You’re welcome.

TT: Totally! Can you share with us a bit about yourself?

Sébastien’s Background

Recent portrait of Sébastien, by Wanda Dochez

SM: I’m a teacher and researcher in history of typography and graphic design at the École supérieure d’art et de design d’Amiens (France) and coordinator of the postgraduate course Typographie & Langage. I write articles and book reviews in French and English for various magazines and publications (Étapes, Eye, Graphisme en France…) or foundries (Production Type). I am also collaborating with Fontstand (I interview designers/digital founders for their monthly newsletter), it helps me staying in touch with the current state of the trade, otherwise I’ll be stuck in my dusty Didot books…

TT: How long have you been at the École Supérieure d’art et de design d’Amiens?

SM: I began to give a few lectures there in 2005; then I was asked by Barbara Dennys, the director, to join in 2008 the postgraduate course team (then composed of Patrick Doan and Catherine de Smet). I gradually became involved in several other courses and was appointed full-time teacher last year.

TT: It’s safe to say you love teaching and discussing type, correct?

SM: Indeed, though sometimes it’s like playing hopscotch. And who does not discuss type nowadays?

TT: That’s interesting you say that; What do you mean by the phrase “it’s like playing hopscotch”?

SM: I’m doing lots of different things: teaching, indeed, supervising students dissertations and diplomas, attending meetings, doing admin work, writing & answering emails… But also curating exhibitions and conferences, developing research projects (in an increasingly worrying and dreadful atmosphere), traveling in France or abroad…

Sans Everything: A Conference about Sans Serifs

TT: If I understand correctly, you’re organizing a conference about Sans Serifs?

SM: Absolutely. We organized several conferences in Amiens these past years about Garamont, Fournier le jeune, the Didot family, or last year about Granjon & Haultin, with the collaboration of historians like James Mosley, Annie Charon, Geneviève Guilleminot… and type designers such as Paul Barnes, François Rappo, Fred Smeijers, among others. There’s always some kind of birthday, celebration that comes up, a good reason to put together such events; 2016 is the (loose) bicentenary of the first sans serif typeface: the ‘Two Line English Egyptian’ that can be found in the specimen of the foundry of William Caslon IV, published around 1816. Therefore, during 3 days, 19–21 October, Sans Everything (Indra Kupferschmid came up with a famous Shakespeare quote during an e-mail exchange which brought the conference title) will address sans serif letterforms in many ways.

TT: For a conference about a specific type genre, what would be covered?

SM: If sans serif is a genre, it exceeds the sole scope of type: stone carving, lettering, sign painting, stencilling… Typeface design will be largely addressed through its history and contemporary practices but we really want this conference to cover a wider range of topics, such as education, writing learning, signage systems, architecture… It will be also an opportunity for young and experienced designers to exchange their views on the subject, and to present research projects in progress as well.

TT: So, the conference is treating “Sans Serif” in the context of letterforms. A chance for various disciplines besides typeface designers to discuss this topic. Do I have that correct?

SM: Yes. James Mosley, who did pioneering work in the early 1960s with his article “The Nymph and the Grot”, will revisit his research and share his latest discoveries on the subject; Alice Savoie and Dorine Sauzet will present the first outcome of their research project about Ladislas Mandel, who designed typefaces families for directories in the 1970s-90s; Elena Albertoni will talk about her sign painting practice, Rejane Dal Bello about the role of sans serif in her graphic design projects…
It’s stimulating and often rewarding to gather people with different backgrounds, activities and concerns around such a simple, yet complex theme

TT: What motivated you to bring together this diverse group of practitioners and scholars?

SM: It’s stimulating and often rewarding to gather people with different backgrounds, activities and concerns around such a simple, yet complex theme; how can one describes what is a ‘sans serif’ letterform? What defines it? What was its significance in Ancient Greece, in London in the 1830s, in Vienna in 1900, on the screen of any mobile phone today? What’s new to invent or to reinvent in terms of design and use?

TT: Were you always interested in working with people from different disciplines and focus?

SM: Definitely; it would have been even better to invite writers, publishers, artists… for this conference, but time and budget are limited. It could last a full month easily

TT: Of course. What do you hope attendees walk away with from this conference?

SM: With lots of discoveries and new ideas, so they can keep up thinking, writing, designing! We need that so much…