AtypI Helsinki 2005

Lucas, enthousiastic as ever, on dynamic composition and emotion.

Tom, on language and design semantics, and the Smurf-factor.

Frederik releasing the first preview of NodeBox 3.

Thanks to Peter Vanlancker at dvn for the pictures.

The first speaker of the St. Lucas Schools of Arts Medialab trio, Lucas Nijs, started off with a few examples of his experimental typography workshops in Belgium, Ireland and Finland. Especially the Finnish collaboration made possible by Tarja Nieminen allowed him to push students further technologically, so he explained. One of the examples showed a typeface by Underware's Sami Kortemäki, a font that could be manipulated interactively to resemble anything from triangles to Finnish fir trees. Other of his workshops went into the relationships between formal language and emotion.

Lucas continued by explaining that these workshops had been the starting point for the Medialab, a cell he has recently founded in the St. Lucas School of Arts in Antwerp, Belgium, that is occupied with technological advancement in graphic design, and computer intelligence in general.

Tom De Smedt, the second speaker, started off his talk by explaining their strange presentation details in the AtypI booklet - details which seemed to hold the middle between arrogantly intellectual art criticism, and gibberish. In reality, the text had been written by a computer program trying to be smug, without any human interference - and it had apparently succeeded in fooling most of the audience into interest (or confusion). Language and computer intelligence are two key factors in the Medialab's research projects that attempt to teach computers essential rules and guidelines about design, esthetics and style, so that the computer could begin playing an active role in aiding the designer, by suggesting color palettes based on a text's summary of keywords, make typographical adjustments based on the feel or emotion of a text, or even offer bricolated and manipulated images that visualise the text's content. Tom showed two examples, one in which a computer program was able to write cute dadaistic poems based on any given subject, and display these "semantic poems" typographically in a typical dada style - and another in which the software constructed color palettes for any given word: fresh greens and deep reds for "apple", dark blues and greys for "sky", sickly greens and yellows for "jealousy".

The mysterious "Smurf-factor" referred to a semantical problem in bridging language to visual design. The Medialab's software often works on real-life data from the internet, where most talk relating to Smurfs is about the Papa Smurf, or "Great Smurf", with his funny white beard and red trousers. The software would conclude that Smurfs are "great", and depict them as gigantic monsters overflowing the page, whereas real Smurfs are actually quite small.

Frederik De Bleser, the last speaker, concluded this session by showing the new graphic design software the Medialab is developing. He talked a bit about NodeBox (downloadable from, a Mac OS X application that is based on Just Van Rossum's DrawBot, and which can make 2D compositions and animations, exportable as PDF and QuickTime movies. This way of designing allows an artist to work with language, map his conceptions from plain language to (another) programming language, without switching to manual click-and-drag-and- drop actions that seem out of order in a conceptual design process.

Frederik showed a few examples of NodeBox's animation possibilities, and Bezier-curve functionality and what he could do with it typographically: elegant pieces of text that seemed knitted together by a stitching machine, and that looked different each time he ran the program. He concluded his talk with a presentation of an application he seeks to release in a few months, where programming code is replaced with a node/network interface that is easier to use, fun to work with, and, according to Frederik, would allow much more magic with design and typography than one could currently imagine possible.