Ampersand 2012 – A Conference About Web Typography And Hinting Madness


I like Brighton, in fact I’d even go as far as saying it rivals Bristol as one of my favourite places in the UK, not least because of the great design and creative crowd it’s famed for, so it seems strange that I’d never attended any sort of conference there before now. That was thankfully put right with Ampersand 2012. I’d heard sooo much good feedback from Ampersand 2011, that going to the 2012 show was a no-brainer for me and I didn’t leave disappointed!

For those not in the know, Ampersand is a one-day conference focusing on the overlapping worlds of type design and web design, so perfect for someone like me who designs and builds websites for a living while also having a passion for good typography.

I arrived at the Brighton Dome Corn Exchange in time for registration and instantly bumped into a couple of friends who’d also travelled to Brighton for this conference. After grabbing one of the lovely free coffees that were being given out it was time to move into the main hall for the start of the conference.


The Lovely Ampersand Conference Lanyard
The Lovely Ampersand Conference Lanyard. Photo by Heart Internet

After a quick few opening words from Rich Rutter the first talk of the day started. It was supposed to be Erik Spiekermann but sadly he’d cancelled a few days before, so the man that had the unenviable task of filling his very sizeable shoes was Prof Phil Baines who is a teacher at Central Saint Martins where he leads Typography as part of the Graphic Design degree course.

Considering that he’d had only a couple of days to prepare his talk, it was surprisingly good and managed to bring up some interesting points about how web typography has come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of years. Phil comes from a traditional print background and it was interesting to hear how someone from that industry views type on the web. One of my favourite points that he made was: “Type is not typography. If type is like bricks then typography is about putting the bricks together to build something”. Very Wise words.

During the refreshment break, I took the chance to have a good look at the various stalls set up around the hall, including a lovely book stall from I had a good look through all the books they had on show as I’ve yet to get anything from their series, and was sorely tempted by the Icon Handbook but managed to resist as I already has a several design books that I’ve yet to finish reading.

Up after the break was Yves Peters who talked about Detail in Web Typography. His talk was one of the days highlights for me as he focused on lots of practical examples and how best to deal with certain scenarios. I now understand how to use the non-breaking space code ( ) a lot better than before. He also mentioned several other spacing entities, some of which I’d never even heard of, so I’ve listed them below for future reference

  • non-breaking space  
  • thin space  
  • en space  
  • em space  
  • punctuation space  
  • figure space  

The best thing I took away from Yves talks was ‘Choose type faces like clothes: Consider form, historical context, cultural references, and functional criteria’

My legs felt like they could do with a stretch after sitting in seats with fairly limited leg room, but there wasn’t time for that as following directly after Yves was the duo Veronika Burian and José Scaglione of Typetogether. Their talk was focused around the subtle art of choosing and combining suitable typefaces. They did this mainly via examples of how it should (and shouldn’t) be done. The one thing I felt that they could of focused on more was what ingredients should people be looking for when choosing to use multiple typefaces. They did mention things like hight and letter shapes but I felt this could of been done better. They gave out a lovely fake newspaper at the end called ‘type times’ and it really is a great example of how nice a newspaper can look!


After a lengthly two hour lunch break (allowing them to fit in a screening of Linotype the Film) it was onto a section called Type in 20, which was made up of 3 short 20 minute presentations starting with Douglas Wilson, the Director of Linotype the Film who answered questions from the audience. I’d not got around to watching the film but after hearing him speak I wished I had, and it’s definitely now on my ‘to watch’ list.

Next up was a guy called Jason Smith who talked about designing fonts for screens and the problems that can be encountered. I remember thinking that I was glad I’m not a type designer but that was before I heard Luc(as) talk about hinting (see two paragraphs on).

To end the Type in 20 section was Laurence Penney who gave some great hints and tips on how you can hack a CSS font stack to create some quiet amazing results without touching the actual mark-up. I remember reading something similar about unicode-range ( which is definitely something I’m going to be looking into further.

You cannot imagine how great it was that the next speaker wasn’t ready straight away as this allowed everyone to get up and walk around which was great after sitting it those chairs!

After that little break, Luc(as) de Groot began his talk on the hidden art of font hinting, and without wishing to offend anyone, I’ve decided that you have to be completely mad and have incredible patience to do that job! Luc(as) demonstrated the bazillion steps needed to hint a single character for multiple rendering engines and then explained that the typeface had over 3000 glyphs in it. Mad, I say, mad! If anything, his talk did convince me why some fonts are free (un-hinted) and others can cost several hundreds of pounds.


After another quick break, we moved onto what was probably my favourite talk of the day, from jake Archibald who’s a developer…yes, not a designer or a typographer but a Developer! Someone who unashamedly set his slides in Arial and admitted to not knowing much about proper kerning.

His lack of knowledge in that area didn’t matter though as his talk was all about optimising font files for download and rendering when using things like @font-face. His talk was techy and suitably geeky (he had a wii-mote as a slide controller), but Jake managed to keep it humorous as well, with several well-chosen images and anecdotes splashed in-between great information about optimising font files, reduce the character set as needed, gzip font files etc.. Overall, a very exciting and informative talk about a potentially boring subject!

Finally to round of the conference was Elliot Jay Stocks talking about the future for type on the web. His talk focused on his recent series of blog posts about enhancing websites with the latest advanced type features (Swashes, sub-sets, ligatures) and really pushing the boundaries of what is possible on the web today. He didn’t really go into much that you couldn’t grasp from reading the posts themselves, but then again, they are already a very good series of posts that I highly recommend reading if you get the chance.


I’d never been to such a niche and specifically focused conference before, so I’ll admit to being slightly dubious about Ampersand, but my fears were unfounded as I had a great time, met some lovely people and learnt loads about things I didn’t even knew existed! The future of web typography looks bright and assuming that Ampersand 2013 goes ahead, then I’d definitely recommend grabbing a ticket. I’ll be going, even if it’s just for a chance to visit lovely Brighton again. On a side note, if anyone’s reading this who’s in Brighton and would like to hire and pay me loooads of money to come and work there, then get in touch!