When it was founded in 1976, London’s Typographic Circle, or TypoCircle to its friends, sought to celebrate typographers in a world that, while honoring great art direction and copywriting, often overlooked type design. What started as a not-for-profit organization and social club has, over the past 40 years, grown to include student programs and an expertly curated series of talks, featuring leading leaders in the world of typography and beyond. To mark the anniversary, TypoCircle is holding a retrospective exhibition featuring posters and other ephemera from its history, taking the viewer on a visual roller-coaster ride through typographic trends and creative breakthroughs of the (nearly) last half century; the show accompanied by a limited-edition book (natch) designed by Jim Sutherland of Studio Sutherl&. We caught up with TypoCircle’s Sallyanne Theodosiou to find out more.

For the uninitiated, what makes TypoCircle different?
TypoCircle hosts carefully curated talks, but it’s more than just a speaking platform. It’s always been a social club: a place for creatives to chat, debate, and find inspiration. We also publish Circular magazine, designed by Domenic Lippa. Our passion is for good work and our events are often only loosely based around the subject of typography. But it’s also a growing force in education, with student programs and membership to keep a love and understanding of typography in context alive, as colleges generally cut back on craft teaching. As Alan Dye, our current chairman says in the book, “there has been no real agenda—its aim is to inspire.”

TypoCircle poster by Snask

Why did TypoCircle start in the first place?
In the 1970s, typographers were concerned with the lack of recognition for their work. Organizations such as D&AD recognized art directors and copywriters but, in advertising in particular, a lot of craft supplied by typographers was effectively hidden. Then in 1976, under the leadership of Maggie Lewis, an exceptional typographer from the ad agency Collett Dickinson Pearce, a group of group of passionate typographers started to talk seriously about creating an organization to redress the balance. At the start most of the people involved were from advertising. Maggie Lewis was known as the “queen of typography,” and knew everyone, bringing in people such as Erik Spiekermann, Dave Wakefield, and Ken Dickenson.

Over the years each chairman has bought their own flavor to the society. In 1999 designers became more involved under the chairmanship of Phil Jones at Real Time Studio. The society then became much more type design focused under the leadership of Bruno Maag; and gradually more eclectic in subject and speaker choice, under John Bateson and now Alan Dye.
You did the research for the book, what gems did you uncover?

The most stunning thing was getting a true list of who had spoken over the years. The list is just amazing. People like [AIGA Medalists] Saul Bass, April Greiman, Lucille Tenazas, Erik Spiekermann, Berthold Wolpher, Gert Dunbar, Matthew Carter, and Ken Garland, to name just a few. Back when Adrian Frutiger spoke just 10 people turned up!

Why was it important to mark your 40th year?
We’ve never bought all the work of the TypoCircle together and we felt it was about time. The committee wanted to celebrate its heritage and also provide a snap shot onto the work we’ve done over the years.

The exhibition and book focus on a selection of posters from over the later years. We have included some ephemera, including membership cards, tickets, invites, brochures, T-shirts, and Circular. The posters show our eclectic approach to invited speakers and the artwork reflects their subject for the talk. I think they are a great series of images that show how wide and excellent the creative industry is.

What are your favorite pieces in the exhibition?
It’s hard to pick favorites because all the posters are so different and bring such memories of the talks. But my highlights are Jim Sutherland’s Royal Mail poster, and the challenges he had in getting it security perforated. It’s a perfect example of challenging the format. Then the Noma Barr poster, and his beautiful illustration that’s so so clever. He’s so good at commenting on the obvious which isn’t obvious until he illustrates it. Also Mike McGee and his talk on Framestore’s making of ‘Gravity’ film. The image is so simple and evocative of the talk, which I found particularly inspiring. I hadn’t realized just how much of the film had been animated and the personal stories Mike told were really insightful. Finally, Andy Altman’s talk on his collaboration with Gordon Young and the creation of the Comedy Carpet in Blackpool. I want to visit the stand on the 3D typography!

What does TypoCircle have planned for the future?
I’m continuing to collect material and talk to people about our history so I can write a more in-depth book. We’ll also be showing the TDC exhibition in January at advertising agency JWT. We look forward to bringing exciting and inspiring speakers, from typography and beyond, who stand for excellence in their craft.