It all began in September 1997, during the ATypI conference in Reading, England, when Mark Batty asked me if I would be involved (with others) in organising the next conference, which would be held somewhere in France. In November, the organising team — which then consisted of Robert Norton, Thomas Gravemaker, Sharon Irving, Mark Batty and me — decided that the city of Lyon was the best location. Situated at the foot of the French Alps, Lyon is a mecca of French typography and gastronomy – two key ingredients in a successful ATypI conference. The city’s long association with lettering stretches from the period of Roman inscriptions, throught the printing incunabula, to the ages of Granjon, Perrin & Audin, and to the present. Shortly after Lyon was decided upon, Robert and Thomas withdrew from the team for personal reasons, but the process was now underway and so began a daily exchange of e-mail between France, England and the United States.

ATypI Lyon 98: Dave Farey, Adrian Frutiger and Erik Alb during the Auction.

In December, after a number of visits to Lyon, we chose the Palais des Congrés as our conference site. This new conference centre was designed by Renzo Piano, and is situated near the heart of the city, between the Parc de la Tête d’Or, the Rhone river and the Musée d’Art Contemporain. The ATypI conference would take place on three floors, offering ample space for activities.

In April 1998, we decided to produce the first flyer promoting the event, and the flow of registrations soon began, as they would continue until the co nference began in October. In June, Sharon and I went again to Lyon to find sponsors who would donate computers and Internet connections and who would support conference workshops. Patrick Cazaux and Gabrièle Perrier, the conservators at the Musée de l’Imprimerie de Lyon) helped us make some important connections in the city. In the end, as always seems the case, we were provided with fewer computers than we had expected, and the workshops included many people huddled around a few machines.

ATypI Lyon 98: Yuri Yarmola, David Lemon and others in action at the LaboTypo.

During all these months, I was also busy organising the conference programme with the help of Gérard Blanchard, Maxim Zhukov and many other friends from ATypI and the the Rencontres internationales de Lure (the French association of typographers created by Maximilien Vox during the 1950s), and with the friendly support of Mark Batty. We decided that the focus of the conference would by French typography, and Gérard Blanchard would be the keynote speaker. Sadly, Gérard died quite suddenly on 26 August 1998, and we were forced to change to programme to include, instead of his lecture, an hommage to him and his contribution to French typography. Less than one month before the conference was due to start, Jacques André hit upon the idea of producing a book in honour of Gérard Blanchard, with texts by his friends and colleagues including John Dreyfus and Fernand Baudin. Remarkably, this book, a special issue of the ‘Cahiers GUTenberg,’ was edited, printed and bound in time for the conference.

In the final week before the conference, Sharon and I frantically coordinated the last minute details, including production of the printed programme, which was created in just one afternoon and night. Finally, I left Paris for Lyon on the Wednesday afternoon, travelling with one of my students, Franck Montfermé, who was responsible for all the conference signage.

The MultiTypo 98 conference programme included twenty-eight different lectures, workshops, ‘thinktanks’ and panel discussions on typography. Many sessions explored the relationship of typography to other fields, both old and new: graphic design, multi-media, linguistics, writing and criticism, history, television, calligraphy & stonecutting, the Internet, and tomorrow’s technology. The speakers included Franck Jalleau, Max Bruisma, Philippe Millot, David Lemon, René Ponot, Evert Bloemsma, Matthew Carter, Pascal Béjean, Massin, Alan Kitching, Adrian Frutiger (interviewed by Yvonne Schwemer Scheddin), Olivier Nineuil, Rich Roat, Anne-Marie Christin, Étienne Robial, James Mosley, Eric Kindel, Hector Obalk, Christian Paput, Laurie Haycock Makela, Alan Marshall, Pierre Bernard, John Hudson, Bernard Arin, Gerard Unger, Garth Walker and Lyubov Kuznetsova. A tribute to Gérard Blanchard was presented by James Mosley. The lectures were held concurrently in two rooms, allowing delegates to choose according to their preferences and interests. As programme director, I was constantly running about making sure everything was running smoothly, so saw only five minutes of each presentation I had worked so hard to arrange! Of the many events, the Frutiger interview and the presentation by Rich Roat of House Industries were particularly well attended.

Although the main conference took place from Friday to Sunday, associated events began on Thursday afternoon when Ladislas Mandel led a visit to the Musée Gallo-Romain to view the fine collection of monumental Roman inscriptions. Meanwhile, back at the Palais, the exhibition organisers were working hard. Six exhibits had to be hung: a show of contemporary calligraphy and stonecutting; a short history of writing; the work of French type schools; Paul Shaw and Peter Bain’s celebrated ‘Black Letter: Type & National Identity exhibition;’ and, as usual, the New York Type Directors Club show, this time accompanied by the entrants in the TDC type design competition. Sharon Irving’s team, along with anyone else who ventured near the room, was busy stuffing the famous ATypI goody bags with keepsakes, foundry catalogues, type specimens, and books published for the event, notably the volume ‘Lettres Françaises’ showing the work of contemporary French type designers. Upstairs, Mark Barrat and his team were busy testing the Macs and PCs in preparation for production of GazetteTypo, the conference newsletter, and wondering when Clive Bruton might show up, who at last report had lost his passport somewhere in London. Finally, Clive arrived and, along with Peter Fraterdeus, settled down to manage WebTypo, the online conference site, ‘d’une main de maitre.’ Finally, everything was ready (or as ready as it could be), for the conference to officially begin on Friday morning, with opening remarks and a visit to the Musée de l’Imprimerie where delegates were served lunch in the courtyard and had a chance to seek out old and new friends.

ATypI Lyon 98: TypoQuiz winners

Throughout the conference, the LaboTypo, in association with the GazetteTypo and WebTypo, provided an environment to demonstrate new font technologies, and to discuss the problems of font piracy and marketing issues. On the Saturday night, two major events took place: CharitéTypo, the annual fundraising auction of books, ephemera and typographical hats, and the now traditional typographic quiz organised by the Typographic Circle, this year dubbed QuizTypo. John Hudson’s team won the quiz, proving that a committee of six people can draw the Palatino lowercase g from collective memory. A team led by U&lc editor John Berry (winner of the ’97 quiz) came second.

The conference wrapped up on Sunday afternoon with the annual general meeting, at which Mark Batty, ATypI president, and the board members discussed past and future projects. To my great surprise, I was honoured to receive, at this meeting, the Charles Peignot prize. This prize for achievement in type design is given once every three years to a designer who is less than 35 years old; past recipients include Claude Mediavilla, Jovica Veljovic, Petr van Blokland, Robert Slimbach, and Carol Twombly.

On Sunday night, the delegates gathered for the gala dinner that, appropriately, celebrated historical French cooking in much the same way as we had spent three days celebrating French typography. The meal was composed of dishes mentioned in the writings of the French renaissance author Rabelais, and was accompanied by live, period music.

It is a great experience to organise an ATypI conference, but you need a good deal of enthusiasm, time, dedication and patience. This year, in 1999, David Berlow and Matthew Carter are organising the conference in Boston, and I wish them ‘bonne chance!’ I have already booked my flight, and am looking forward to another fabulous weekend. This year, I hope to see more than five minutes of the lectures!

by Jean François Porchez. ATypI French delegate, ATypI MultiTypo 98 programme director. May 1999, all rights reserved. This article was written in May 1999 for the new ATypI website, but never published. Many thanks to John Hudson for editing this text.