Workshop 1 – Badness and Conflict

Maps, schematics and books are complex graphic surfaces where meaningful elements fight for space in different dimensions. The potential for elements to collide grows exponentially whenever their semantic, visual or functional links are stronger. If we consider typographic and cartographic objects as “spatial arrangement of texts and other graphical elements”, than their design is essentially the work of organising collisions. In a conventional design practice, many systems are at work to prevent accidents from happening. Tension is deflated through erasure, simplification and filtering. What would be ways to articulate collisions, instead of avoiding them?

Lafkon work (for once seems not avoiding collision).

This first workshop in this series is inspired by particular practices of ‘conflict’ and ‘badness’. ‘Badness’ is a curious concept introduced by computer scientist Donald Knuth to denote the level by which an automatically generated lay-out would stray from the ‘most globally pleasing’ form of text-justification. It refers to the way a system can dynamically decide a cut-off point and parametricises decisions. This process is called ‘optimisation’ when industrial quantities are implied.¬† It might be a bit more complex when aesthetic and political criteria enter as decision makers.
Knuths’ confidence in an absolute typographic truth contrasts with the way a ‘conflict’ is detected and resolved in software for collaborative code development. Versioning tools such as SVN or git consider any difference as a potential for conflict, and blocks the process until the issue is resolved outside the realm of the software itself. While collaboration is all about working with tension constructively, how can such processes be supported by collaborative tools?

The Public Speak – Segueway method.

Mapnik, the graphical engine that generates the digital maps in Open Street Map will be used as a case-study. It has surprisingly little technical protocols in place for conflict resolution. If a streetname doesn’t fit, it disappears from the map; if there is a conflict, contributors are advised that it all comes down to a simple choice: “yours or mine”. How can we enrich the way maps are automatically laid out, specifically when there is a conflict of space, language, direction? How can we develop visual and typographic proposals for a kind of cartography that does not evade the tensions that underly them?

This three day workshop will be a mix of games, exercises, prototyping and project presentations. We have invited participants and international guests with backgrounds in typography, architecture, cartography, art, collaborative writing, software development and activism. Together we will explore the potential of collision through combining computational and physical actions.

With the collaboration of: OSP, The Libre Graphics Research Unit, Lafkon, The People Speak, Open Streetmap and others!

Practical info

Address: Constant Variable, Rue Gallaitstraat 80, Brussels
Dates: 21-23 February 2013, 10:00-18:00
Maximum 20 participants
Including bio belgian lunchs!
Participation is free but you need to sign up by sending an e-mail to

The Collision-workshops are an initiative of Pierre Huyghebaert in collaboration with and Constant. Made possible with support from the Flemish Community.

Bertin and the different importance given to slightly different positions