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ATypI (Association Typographique Internationale) was founded in 1957 by Charles Peignot, president of the Deberny et Peignot type foundry. To this initiative contributed John Dreyfus, typographic advisor to the Monotype Corporation, and Gerrit Willem Ovink, advisor to Lettergieterij Amsterdam. Other personalities of the European typographic scene supporting the project included Stanley Morison, Jan van Krimpen, and Giovanni Mardersteig. The Association was founded to bring together type manufacturers at a time when phototypesetting technologies were on the horizon, and their potential to disrupt the type market was becoming apparent. ATypI aimed to promote the inclusion of typefaces into the emerging global system of rules to protect industrial design products. It also aimed to promote networking with related professional bodies, “develop critical knowledge of traditional global typography”, and promote “international typographic documentation”. From the earliest years, the Association’s objectives included a strong connection to typographic education. 

A series of committees were established to record typefaces in circulation and to document contributions to new designs. These efforts fed into the development of a typeface classification system by Maximilien Vox, which was adopted by the Association and has influenced typographic education since. (Characteristically for its context, the system is only concerned with the Latin writing system and the styles of typefaces that were marketed by the members of the Association at the time.) The group with the longest impact was the Education Committee, where significant contributions were made by Gerrit Noordzij (KABK) and Michael Twyman (University of Reading) in terms of publications and events.  

The early members of the Association were European companies, with the participation of key British, Dutch, French, and German foundries. Other countries joined later, but the focus remained in the western market for typefaces for the Latin writing system. From the 1970s onwards, as the digitalisation of typefaces was progressing rapidly, significant efforts were made by the Association to recognise the legal status of typefaces as protected design objects, led by Cynthia Hollandsworth. Unfortunately, these efforts did not produce the desired result. Subsequent efforts in this area included the adoption of a “Moral Code” for type manufacturers, which, however, had no international power and was abandoned in 2004. 

As the proprietary manufacturers’ market collapsed in the early 1990s and PostScript fonts took over the market, the Association redefined its mission away from a typeface protection organisation towards a professional body with a broader agenda. By the middle of the 1990s, the Association had evolved to provide a space for debate, networking, education, and outreach amongst independent professionals and the emerging digital typefoundries. Conferences grew in size and covered design case studies, research projects, technology developments, and, increasingly, business matters for an ever more globalised type market. From the early 2000s, the Association’s focus opened towards writing systems from the whole world, reflecting the globalisation of the type industry (and arguably the strong presence on the Board of people connected to the University of Reading, where a strong focus on global scripts had been established in the late 1990s).

A key activity of the Association remains the annual conference, held with no interruption since 1957. The locations of the conferences reflected first the European focus of the Association and gradually its opening up to the global type scene. From 1957 to 1986, all conferences were held in Europe, and the next two decades saw three conferences in North America added to the list. But from 2009, about half the conferences were outside Europe, primarily in Asia and Latin America: Mexico City (2009), Hong Kong (2012), Sao Paulo (2015), and Tokyo (2019). Events in 2020, 2021, and 2022 were held online.

The Association was also instrumental through its series of Working Seminars, smaller events focused on specific aspects of typeface design, such as education in letterforms, and computers in type design. These were held in Basel (1974), Reading (1976), Den Haag (1978), Mainz (1981), Stanford (1983), Hamburg (1985), Danzig (1988), and Budapest (1992). After a long hiatus, the format was resurrected by then-president Gerry Leonidas, with events in Colombo (2019), Puebla (2019), and Amiens (2020). 

The Association has overseen a number of publications: Noordzij’s LetterLetter pamphlets, reports by its Country Delegates, two issues of a small journal (Type, 1997 and 1999, edited by Sumner Stone) and Language/Culture/Type (2002), a substantial volume edited by John D. Berry (who was also the president of the Association from 2007 to 2013). Language/Culture/Type contained the first substantial collection of articles focusing on global typeface design and the results of Bukva:Raz, the first competition organised by the Association, which was judged in Moscow (2001). The Association organised Letter2, a follow-up competition in 2011, which took place in Buenos Aires (organised by José Scaglione, later president of the Association 2013–2017).

Since 2013 the Association has published online the talks from its annual conferences and other events. These several hundred videos constitute a significant resource for the type community and provide a periodic snapshot of the state of the type scene across education, research, and professional practice. The typical conference features speakers from tens of countries across these areas of activity. The Association makes concrete steps to diversify its audience and representation. In 2020 Carolina Laudon was the first woman to be elected president.

Gerry Leonidas, ATypI President 2017–2020

In Search of ATypI

In 2018, the ATypI Board commissioned John D. Berry to begin researching and writing the first of a series of publications on the organisation’s history. There was very little about the first ten years or so of ATypI’s existence in the archives, and there are vanishingly few people left who recall the early days. To fill that gap, Berry interviewed the people with the longest ATypI memories and investigated the written record. There are many boxes of ATypI memorabilia at the University of Reading; Berry spent several days digging into them in 2018, just after the Antwerp conference. And, following up on a couple of unexpected leads, he discovered archives from both Charles Peignot and John Dreyfus, cofounders of ATypI and the association’s first and second presidents, respectively. Berry published the first instalment of his research and presented a video about his research at ATypI Tokyo in September 2019.