Typography That Works: Typographic Composition and Fonts | Ellen Lupton | Skillshare

Typography That Works: Typographic Composition and Fonts

Ellen Lupton, Curator, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

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10 Lessons (36m)
    • 1. Trailer

      1:25
    • 2. Sans Serif Type

      2:45
    • 3. Basic Architecture

      5:00
    • 4. The Project: Sans + Structure

      6:38
    • 5. Serif Type Families

      4:56
    • 6. Details, Details

      3:14
    • 7. Project: Literary Typography

      2:17
    • 8. Slab Revolution

      3:00
    • 9. Mixing It Up

      3:13
    • 10. The Project: Customizing Type

      3:17
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About This Class

Clean, smart typography makes you (or your client) look clean and smart, too. Clunky, incompetent typography...well, you know the drill. Good typography is a pleasure to read; bad typography sucks the energy out of your content and leaves it for dead by side of the road.

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What You'll Learn

  • Sans + Structure. A great sans family is a palette of light and dark tones. Learn what gives a sans serif typeface its special character.
  • Serif + Details. Learn to exploit the fussy details of a full-bodied serif type family.
  • Slab + Customization. Slab faces are heavy furniture. Learn what to do with them.

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What You'll Make

You will understand how to recognize and exploit great typeface and how to create intriguing, seaworthy compositions. You will create a business card using the typography elements covered in each lesson.You will complete this course knowing how to clarify your message and add meaningful complexity to your work.

Take this course if you are a beginner who wants to unlock the power of type, or if you are a designer looking for a quick refresher. Artists, writers, illustrators, and developers will all find something useful in this free workshop.

Transcripts

2. Sans Serif Type: Hello. Welcome to the first unit of typography that works. What we're going to do is look at some sans serif type families, and then explore grids and alignment as fundamental ways to put type together. Here's some typefaces you'll want to get to know, and we'll look at a few of them. This is Futura designed in 1927. It was really intended to create a whole palette of dark and light that designers could work with on the page. Very much a typeface of its time. Gill Sans was designed in 1928, and was deliberately a counterpoint to Futura, designed by Eric Gill. It was inspired by the famous London underground alphabet. What Gill wanted to do was create a more humanistic version of sans serif letters. If you compare the lowercase a there, you can see the perfect circle at the heart of Futura, and thus more renaissance a in Gill Sans. That gives these two typefaces very different personality. Switzerland is famous for its sans serif typefaces. There's Univers from 1957, designed to be again a grid of light and dark, thick and thin, a pallet of material for the designer to work with. Helvetica came along in 1957 and became really one of the world's most famous and popular typefaces. Helvetica Neue from 1983 is a version of Helvetica that's been precisely numbered and designed to give the designer this perfect palette of light and dark. That's really what we're looking for in a sans serif typeface. Of course, designers never stop and every year, and every decade, there's new sans serif typefaces to work with. Each one providing something new and different for designers. A really famous one is Gotham designed by Tobias Frere-Jones. You'll know it from Obama. It's really become a symbol of change and a symbol of America. In fact, it is inspired by American commercial signage, like the lettering you see here. Why do we need so many typefaces? One reason is to avoid type crimes like this. This is where a designer has scaled the letters in one direction and not the other. It makes these really ugly, mismatched line waves. So find yourself a nice big family that has all the weights and thicknesses that you want, and you'll be able to make some beautiful typography. 3. Basic Architecture: In this part of the lesson, we're going to look at the architecture typography and start doing stuff with all those great sans-serif alphabet. So there's our friend Helvetica again, and this is a beautiful poster from the '50s where you can see how the designer is using a grid to line things up, and really graphic design is all about alignment. We create grids so that we can have a system that allows objects on the page or on the screen to be anchored to one another, and it creates a mix of uniformity and variety and that really creates very structured and ordered typographic stuff. So alignment is at the core of how we place and organize elements, and each form of alignment has its own vibe to it. Centered alignment is very formal, it's very symmetrical, you get designs like this that are almost static. That little bit of italic there gives it some motion. We see centered type on tombstones. Sometimes you may be, aren't ready to be dead yet, try something different from centered. Justified is very economical, it saves space, and it makes a wonderful solid block. Sometimes that block can be full of holes, we call these rivers, and that's not such a great thing. So you have to work hard to make your justified type beautiful like in this design where even the pictures are justified. Flush left is a great organic type setting. So you get a nice hard edge on one side and a soft edge on the other. Check out this gorgeous book cover from 1936, typeset in futura, stamped onto a linen book cover. Really beautiful. Flush right is more unusual and that gives it a real dynamism. So you have this very soft edge on the left and the hard edge on the right, and that hard edge really allows type to orient to your content. We're very aware of the alignment and the way the type is magnetically attracted to something beside it. Here, the designer has used that flush right type to really create a sense of motion and dynamism. We want to open the cover of this book, that type is carrying us right to where we want to go. Let's look at some layouts. This is like the ugliest, most stupid layout ever. Everything is either centered or floating out to the edges and that's something we want to avoid. This is your most static layout where everything is centered and that can look okay, and there's lots of successful uses of centered type, but this is rather boring, it's not the first thing you might think of. Then something I see in a lot of student work is just the elements floating towards the edge of the page. These elements aren't really anchored to anything. They don't align to anything. So a structure like this is much more successful because the elements have an orientation to one another and I call this an internal structure. It's a structure that comes from the content and not just from the margins of the page. Jan Tschichold was a great designer and theorist in the '20s and he really made this argument very strongly in his book, The New Typography. So he hated centered type, he hated how it forced content into this rigid predefined mold and instead he created grids with flush left elements anchored to each other. Line spacing is an important resource for the designer, and we really use this to create texture, to create open and closed fields of type that are lighter or darker. So these two websites, on the left you see a website that's very open, that's more readable, it's more perhaps towards long-form experience. The one on the left is very dense and dark and more conserving of space. Each one has its benefits. It depends what it is you're trying to do with your content. Line spacing can be used creatively to allow you to mix and match lines of type, can be quite an expressive form. Some bad stuff. Here's some really ugly typography. This is an e-mail I got recently that has four different kinds of emphasis, that so much emphasis, I have no idea what is important. Same with this Amtrak sign. This designer here was so excited in using so many bolds, and italics, and exclamation points that nothing ends up really looking important. This one's a little bit better, but we still have problems with too much emphasis. So I'm starting to read the phrase, always red caps, instead of what was intended by the writer. 4. The Project: Sans + Structure: In the last part of the unit, I'm going to walk you step-by-step through the process of designing a very simple business card. First, for a little inspiration, this is from my book, Design It Yourself, and this has a whole chapter on business cards by Kristen Spilman and Spence Holman who are grad students here at MICA, and you can march through these and see how just with type, you can create some really different personalities. It's all about how it's aligned. This one is very relaxed, and the type fades to gray, and it's kind of clouds in the sky. This one uses the barcode font to really emphasize phone number. This is made entirely with the typographic ornament, you can really build patterns with type or you can change the scale for more dramatic effect. Printing is really fascinating and we won't get into that today, but experimenting with screen printing, and letterpress, and different materials really can bring personality to what you're going to make. Found in the materials, this is rubber stamped on the Martha Stewart paint chip. It's really endless when you start thinking about the things around you and how they can be transformed into a business card, which is really a typographic portrait. A business card is a picture of you, or a business, or a brand, and I really want you to think about that as you build your own identity on this little square, which in the US is 3.5 by two inches. I'm going to walk through the design process here, I just started by typing the content of my business card, you'll probably want a little more than this. My character here, Miss Helvetica, is the title character of a novel I'm writing. You're going to probably going to want to have a phone number and email address, but Miss Helvetica here is playing it really straight. The first thing I did was just tried setting it centered, and justified, flush left, flush right. I'm really happy with the flush left, I think that's really what her personality is all about. That's what I'm going to get to work with. But now, I look at it and I see this is a really ugly rag. When you're setting flush left type, you have to really pay attention to the shape that that ragged edge makes. We don't want it to look like a staircase or a pregnant belly or the new moon, you really want it to look natural and organic. The first thing that I did is I started dividing up the contents, see if I could break it up and make it look better. I'm starting to create a grid, I dropped a line just right down the middle of the card to start to create some structure to that space. I'm starting to like that, but the rag is still bad, it's still making a staircase, so I rewrote the text. I've spelled out the word saint, I broke up that little list of services and separate lines. Now, I'm really liking the rag, but the whole design is up at the top. I started to build out my grid, I've added a horizontal line. Now, I can start arranging the text in a more structured space with top and bottom, and left and right. I'm starting to really enjoy this a lot more. You'll notice that when I align that text, I aligned to the x-height of the letters, not to the cap height, and that's going to help us later when we start changing the scale of the letters. X-height is really the body of a typeface, that's where most of the action is, and so often designers will align to that x-height to really create the stability that you're looking for in alignment. That's what I did here. Now, I'm looking at the design and everything is at the bottom. Something's going to give here, we got to move some things around. I moved her little list of services up to the top, and I really like that, it's sort of birds in the sky floating over this landscape of information. I like the basic composition, I'm starting to be pretty happy with it. But now, I want to come in and create contrast. My typeface, Helvetica, of course, is all about contrast. I have all these different weights I can work with. I tried putting it in different places and ultimately, I feel that I want to emphasize the services that Miss Helvetica is offering as opposed to her personal name or her brand name. I'm going to go with that, and that's where I am. But I want to give some emphasis to that name, Miss Helvetica, so making that bigger. It's the only thing bigger on the card, and so I'm starting to build in these elements contrast. I like this, but there's a problem here. Helvetica Thin, when I make that a larger size, the wait no longer matches the smaller text used in her name and address. I'm going to switch that out and use Helvetica Ultra Light for her business name and keep Helvetica Thin for the name and address. The type face is designed to really be modular this way and allow you to create these matching strokes. That's some really nice little refinement that comes from a big typeface like that. I'm really liking this. I'm going to just make design and typography a little bit smaller, I think it's a little more poetic, floating up there in the sky. But now, I'm going to step back and look at that composition. There's my grid, and the grid makes sense. It's very rational. But the visually, it feels imbalance because there's less space on the right margin than on the left. Now that I have this rational grid, I want to come in and make it look right. I've just created an even margin, left, right, and center, and that really becomes my new unit of my grid. It comes out of the content that we just spent time building. I'm going to use that to create a top and bottom margin too. Now, I have this design that feels balanced, but also logical, and has some little bits of fun and play in it. That's where we started on the left with absolute simplicity, just with the content. Over time, we added complexity and structure to the design. It all comes out of that content. That's what I want you to try. I want you to create some content. Just write it, that's how you start, with writing. Then gradually add structure and contrast to your design, and see where it takes you. 5. Serif Type Families: Hello. Welcome back to typography that works. In this unit, we're going to look at some serif typefaces and explore some of the finicky fine details of typographic design. For example, a ligature, these are special characters that prevent unwanted touching between f and i, f and l, and other character groups. I'm going to start with just a little bit of history. The first typefaces were inspired by medieval handwriting. Pages like this printed in Germany in the 15th century are very dense and dark, inspired by that medieval script. In Italy, printers begin creating Roman typefaces that were much more open. Those really became the basis of many of the Roman typefaces that we use today. We call these humanist. You can see they have various levels of darkness and density, but all of them have this open geometry that comes from that first century of Italian printing. Italic type originated in Italy from a cursive style of handwriting. Initially, they were separate from the Roman alphabet. Here, you can see that contrast between the upright Romans and the slanted italic on a single page of type. In France, Garamond created another popular humanist typeface. Many versions of this typeface are in use today. One of my favorites is Adobe Garamond Pro. Each one has its own style. Each one reflects its time. Designers continue to update these typefaces to express contemporary printing and technology. Dave Eggers is famous for using only Garamond 3 in his magazine, McSweeney's. You'll want to get to know the entire type family. A full-service typeface has Roman, italic, it has small caps, it has bold and semibold. All those elements go together to create hierarchy and contrast, and emphasis within your design. John Baskerville is a great 18th century printer who created typefaces with more contrast and sharper serifs. In this beautiful piece of printing by Baskerville, we can see many techniques of typographic design that we'll talk about in more detail: tracked capitals, small capitals, dropped capitals, and old-style numerals. All fantastic features of traditional serif-based typography. Mr. and Mrs. Eaves is a contemporary type family designed by Zuzana Licko, inspired by the types of John Baskerville. Type designers today continue to look at history as a source of inspiration for new typefaces for our time. Didot and Bodoni were printers at the end of the 18th century who created typefaces that have severe contrast between thick and thin. We call these typefaces modern. They were inspired by engraving, which allowed very fine differences between thin lines and thick lines. Didot and Bodoni are very popular today. Even though they come from history, they can be used in a very contemporary fashion. Here the designer has used extremely tight line spacing, and a mix of bold and light Roman and italic to create this very dynamic contemporary layout. Here's a little chart showing this ideal history of typography, beginning with the old style or humanist, moving to transitional, which we saw in Baskerville, and culminating in the so-called modern types of Bodoni and Didot. Designers continue to use this classification to think about the basic structure and personality of serif typefaces. Here's a few for you to know Garamond is old-style, Baskerville is transitional, and Didot is modern. Behind each of these are dozens of other typefaces for you to explore, but these are great ones to get to know as you begin designing with serif typography. 6. Details, Details: Now that we've looked at some serif typefaces, we're going to look at the details that are possible with a great typeface. Here's that beautiful page of Baskerville. Some of the things that he did was add tracking to his caps. You can see here how by adding some space around the caps, it really emphasizes the beautiful square geometry of capital letters, which are derived from stone carving and often had a lot of space around them. Tracking is not such a nice thing applied to lowercase letters, which are really designed to sit nice and close together, so generally we avoid tracking lowercase. Kerning is something different. Kerning is the space between two letters, whereas tracking is space across a whole body of letters. Here you can see how kerning improves the space and create some more even effect. Metric kerning is the kerning that is built into your typeface, that's really the kerning that the designer put there. Usually that works just fine for what you need to do. Sometimes designers switch to optical kerning, which allows the layout program to determine the kerning instead of the designer, the designer of the typeface. This often works better with headlines with large-scale type. Small caps are a great feature of typography. Small caps are the height of lowercase letters and you can see them and work there. True small caps are part of the typeface. They're actually a separate alphabet designed by the type designer for you to use. Pseudo small caps are a type crime. These are shrunken capitals and they look terrible because when you shrink down that full size letter, the weights don't match. Numerals are fascinating. Some typefaces use what's called non-lining numerals, which have ascenders and descenders. Whereas other typefaces like Helvetica or Futura, have numerals that are essentially the height of capital letters. The beauty of non-lining numerals is that they integrate with text. They have this wonderful literary feeling because they look like upper and lowercase characters. Drop caps are a great feature of traditional book design, often used at the beginning of a work. This one was created with the automatic drop caps feature in InDesign. But you can also do your own customized drop caps. Here I wanted that line of text to actually follow the angle of the W. Here's some historic drop caps which are so inspiring to see. But drop caps can also be done in a very contemporary way and can be an illustration that you integrate into your layout. 7. Project: Literary Typography: Now, we're going to apply all those features of literary typography to a business card. The first card we made was all about structure and grids. Now, we're going to look at those literary details. We're going to write some literature. This is a paragraph I wrote about an imaginary magazine. I want you to think about some content about your company or about your service, then pick a typeface. I picked Jenson, which is a beautiful typeface inspired by the first Italian Romans of the 15th century. I really like how heavy and needy this typeface is. A little bit old-fashion, which works for what I'm trying to do. I pulled out some elements and set them in small caps. You'll see that the small caps come with those non-lining numerals, and I'll need to go through them and make sure all my numerals are non lining. Again, use some Italic to add some more detail. I want to take a look at that phone numbers since the numerals are an important part of a business card. There's lots of ways to type a phone number, and I feel like using that parentheses is old fashioned. I really like this one because the periods are so cool in Adobe Jenson. I'm going to put that into my business card. Now, I take a look at my overall composition and I feel like I want to give my brand name a little more impact. I'm creating a space there for a drop capital. But instead of the capital, I'm going to put in a picture of my dog. I made it justified because it's literature, and literature is often set in justified blogs. Give that a try if you're interested. That's where we are, and what I want you to do is try something like that. Create some text and then start to add style to your text in order to bring out the content. To emphasize names, numbers, key ideas. 8. Slab Revolution: Welcome to the final unit of typography that works. We're going to look at big slab typefaces and talk about how to mix, match, and decorate airtight. In the last unit we focused on literary topography. Now, we're going to look at what happened when these very perfect letter forms merged with advertising and became a whole new species of typographic communication. This is a page by Baskerville. We looked at Didot, who created modern typefaces with severe contrast between thick and thin. Here's that little history from old style to transitional, to those super hairline thick and thin of Bodoni and Didot. There is Didot. When these were introduced, it freed type designers to create bigger and bolder lettering. Essentially, they merged the sans with the modern to create what we call slabs. In a slab, the serif becomes an independent architectural element. It's no longer just a finishing detail, it's really the structure of the typeface. These became very popular in the 19th century when there was a demand for advertising. Typography was no longer just books, it was ads, it was leaflets, it was posters. Typography really evolved in response to this need for emotion and impact. Not all slab faces are decorative or look like they just escaped from the circus. Clarendon is a super classical slab face. Century expanded is used in a lot of book typography, but it has nice heavy elements. I use this typeface in all my presentation, it's called Thesis by Lucas de Groot. This is an incredible contemporary type family that incorporates slabs and heavy modern faces and sans serif into a single family to get that 19th century advertising feeling from one super family. Slab serifs love the web and many of the really popular typefaces for web design are slabs, because they really hold up well to the rigors of the screen. Nice heavy details give the typeface meat and allow it to really communicate on screen media. Those are some great slab faces from super decorative to super practical, but all of them bring this massive impact to your work. 9. Mixing It Up: Now we're going to look at what to do with this great palette of typographic options. Now we have all these cool typefaces what do you do with them? When you look at 19th century typography, the fonts were crazy, but the layout was super conventional. This is really just like a tombstone or the title page of a book. When you look at 20th century typography, designers started to use those decorative faces, but actually add a grid to them and actually start to structure them in a more dynamic and asymmetrical fashion. Here's MICA's logo that uses a slab face called Giza, inspired by the great Egyptians slabs of the 19th century. Here the designer is adding a grid to the logo. I think slabs really lend themselves really nicely to branding. They are very distinctive, have a lot of personality, and that MICA logo is actually inspired partly by the slant in one of our signature campus building. It's fun to see architecture and typography come together. When you have a really big bold typeface, then you can do stuff to it, like turn it into patterns. All that heft, all that weight is something that designer can really exploit in their application of the logo system. Mixing typefaces is a real art. Here's some slab faces mixed in this little tear sheet from New York Magazine. What I really like here is the contrast between a very tall but very thin letter and a very small but very heavy letters. You're getting this contrast going in two directions which really gives this little page it's sophistication. These are some rules about mixing typefaces from Hoefler and Frere-Jones. You can see more tips from them on their website. But here's the idea of mixing geometric typefaces from different times in history that still have a core geometry and sense of order to them. Here also from Hoefler and Frere-Jones. It is this great restaurant design using lots of different typefaces but all of them with this origin and 19th century topography. That gives a common personality to the piece. Then there's some typefaces that really become tools for the designer to use and to experiment with. This is history by Peter Bil'ak. It's a kit of parts. It's all these layers that go together to create really an infinite number of different letter forms from one typeface. Here you can see it applied in this beautiful postcard designs. That's one font blend together to create lots of different letter forms. 10. The Project: Customizing Type: Finally we're going to look at customizing type and for your final project I want you to think about making letter forms your own and having some fun with it. This is like super ugly and all of us would look at this and be absolutely horrified. But actually some of these techniques can be used well and what the designer is trying to do here is create separation between the type and the image behind it. Techniques like drop shadows, and outer glow, and outlines are all methods that we use to make typography separate from its world, their ways of customizing type. Here Rudy Vanderlans has used those technique in a really beautiful way. I'm not one to dismiss affects as something that typographers shouldn't use, you just have to use them well. Here's a beautiful logo by Duffy design, and you'll see that there's this lovely outline around that word French. The outline is just a little bit different color from the background, and it gives this subtle dimension. It's an ad for bread, it's a logo for bread, and giving that little bit of softness to it really expresses the product in a lovely way. There's lots of ways to do this. This is really best done in Illustrator, where you can really control the exact placement, and weight, and even the shape of outlines. You can have square or rounded outlines, you can have mitered outlines, you can expand your stroke and actually put a stroke on your straw, and then if you've expanded your stroke you can start to cut and change it within it. Here this light effect is made by turning some of the stroke into white. Without adding a lot of extra stuff to the lettering you start to have this sense of light and dimension. I'm going to leave you with this last thing which is how to make a 99 cent starburst. I love the Star tool in Illustrator, and if you use it just standard you get five points. But if you use your up arrow while you're drawing the star you can add lots of points to it. If you click on the Art Board you can edit the relationship between the outer radius and the inner radius to really create custom stars that can be used to advertise all kinds of stuff. I encourage you to play with that and have fun with the explosion of joy that graphic design can bring to your work. For your last project I want you to have fun, I want you to focus on one big word and make it beautiful, I want you to play with all those effects and techniques, but make them beautiful, make them purposeful, but I want you to see topography as something that you can explore and make your own. Have fun and make some typography that works.