In my teaching I've encountered a problem that is recurring among new students. They often aren't aware of when fonts were created, if they are overused (Brush Script, Comic Sans MS, Papyrus...) but the fonts are available on the school machines so they are as good as any to a novice. I give them the comment when I see them using a font that I think it's inappropriate obviously (or if I feel other designers would make fun of them, to spare them from seeming unknowledgeable later on...), but I'd like to suggest different ways they can improve their culture of typography.

A few things I've come up with other than giving feedback and communicating my passion for typography:

  • Subscribing to MyFonts news, which showcases examples of recent type or looking at the best free fonts of 2014+ from Awwwards to get an idea of what contemporary type looks like.
  • Providing the link to 100 best typefaces of all time
    (http://www.100besttypefaces.com/), from which I especially like that there is a blurb about history for each font.
  • Inciting them to collect their own samples from their surroundings and discussing them.
  • They should want to question. You can create projects that require research into areas where you find ignorance. Be patient, it takes some time for those interested to find, read, understand, relate, and use new information. There's much to learn. It's an art and a science to study and apply. I've been teaching the subject for years and I'm still learning. I have a hunch you are too. BTW, what bearing does "when fonts [sic] were created" have on suggesting different ways new students can improve their culture of typography?
    – Stan
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 19:24
  • 1
    What kind of teaching are we talking about here?
    – DA01
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 19:42
  • I had many valuable lessons, observing and reporting on effective typography, having our teacher show us tricks, making branding packages including all assets for a fictional company, creating "history of type" booklets, making text based design elements and letter form art, creating shapes with type. Some of the understanding you ask for like accepted effects of type styles can be easily demonstrated; classic cursive, historic serifs, modern sans. Using type to direct attention with weight, size, position, color and font can be taught.
    – Webster
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 19:43
  • 3
    Helvetica and other documentaries show some of the rock star type designers. This may help motivate them and show how current and applicable typography is.
    – Webster
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 21:04
  • 1
    Have you visited: typedrawers.com/categories/education?
    – Stan
    Commented Aug 25, 2017 at 19:31

2 Answers 2


Of course, I can only speak from my experience.

1. History!

I had a book published by the University I studied in, called 30 centuries of types and letters (30 siglos de tipos y letras)

Studying the history of the writing, from the ancient cultures, Greeks Romans, "dark ages" etc. And then "Post Gutenberg" type design! It was an eye opening.

Each typeface had a meaning, a purpose, a reason why it was used and invented. Technical challenges, historical reasons, political reasons, commercial or ideological reasons.

This kind of knowledge is one of the best you can share IMHO. (this is not only in college academic realm, I had discussed this to my 15-year-old son and it is interesting and good general culture stuff too)

For one class only choose a couple of examples that have any of those. Technical, political, commercial, ideological reasons.

2. Visuals!

One exquisite field of graphic design is calligraphy and text only design.

Explore Text only design! Explore, explore, explore!


3. Contradict!

One interesting example for non-achademic students is to grab a poster, for example, a futuristic one, and change the font for one that would not reflect the thematic, for example using a "textura" (medieval font).

4. Make them design their own typeface!

What do they want to say? Regardless of the language used in the writing?

A good font can say stuff regardless it is on Italian, latin or english... Explore that.

But this exercise can go beyond a computer. They can design the typo using rocks, cardboard or paper, yarn, water... (They can take a picture in this case, or use watercolor)

Using different mediums gives different results, this will render the technical difficulty evident.

One interesting option is to use paint programs. Explore for example this ones: https://www.escapemotions.com/experiments/rebelle/index.php

5. Word to font!

For homework, not for class. Grab only one word. It can be a subject, a concept.

  • Water

  • Future

  • Forest

a. Choose a font. Black and white only.

b. Then choose a color.

c. Then choose a texture, etc. Play with that.

This is a homework project so they face themselves to this decisions. In class, they must show the printed result and compare to the results of the rest of the classmates.

I must say I loved this question...

  • We do pretty much all of this in the typography courses but I could push more for explaining why certain fonts are built a certain way (Bell centennial for example). I do it but had forgot about it, thank you!
    – curious
    Commented Aug 25, 2017 at 18:24

Speaking as a novice with only 57 years in the field of graphic design, my answer is: with inspiration, yours and ours.

You're wanting to insulate us from the pain of derision might be mis-placed. We learn from our mistakes. Tastes differ also. I love "Comic Sans" (for example) and use it - But, then, I've been called the "Tom Waits" of graphic design.

I can instantiate a few things that fascinated me as I recollect them. These things started and kindled my fire.

  • Watching my father at his drawing table patiently and skillfully free-hand lettering scripts, serifs, gothic, etc. with a brush.
  • Trucking the lead weights from the furnace by dolly to the Lin-o-type machines in the composing room. Used slugs were melted, re-cast into ingots and reused.
  • Looking at Frederick Goudy's original sketches in his notebook and his precise draught of each glyph on yellowed Bristol board.
  • Finding out that each type face has a different voice you can hear with your eyes.

Who's to say what inspires one will inspire others?

Speaking also as a part-time teacher of an introductory evening course in graphic design, I've noticed that with beginners nothing exists until it has a name.

With typography, I spend a while naming all the strokes, bars, filets, ears, bowls, counters, etc. for each letter. I even show how things got their names. This allows individuals to distinguish slight differences to discriminate between things that appeared the same until then. I spend 30 - 45 minutes with diagrams live and I give a very busy one-page nomenclature "infographic."

After this happens, the myriad of type styles can begin to coalesce into working categories of typeface analogues that are interchangeable stylistically.

There are thousands of typefaces with names that are the same, similar, and different with no apparent rhyme or reason. It's confusing; but, negotiable knowing there is a taxonomy and classifications to help order the chaos.

A novice might find making a choice from among so many available typefaces pretty daunting. The dozens available to a beginner on their computer operating system, downloadable, and bundled with software seems sufficient for almost anything, No?

I suggest a quote as an exercise in composition and as the response with every design decision.
"Always endeavour to find some interesting variation."

If you're working in print, it's a good exercise to print samples of your fonts and keep 'em handy so you can actually see hard-copy of them when choosing.

The portfolio is not static; but, is a work in progress reflecting a person's work. No?

  • Insulating from pain is not my true intention. I've pointed out to students before e.g. "While your choise of using Papyrus is relevant to this topic, Papyrus gives off an amateur vibe among the design community and you might want to avoid usingit in your portfolio. Can you find another similar font that is less common?" I usually get a puzzled look because they don't understand yet that there is such stigmatization about font choices.
    – curious
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 23:58
  • "The portfolio is not static; but, is a work in progress reflecting a person's work. No?" Of course, but there is also the portfolio that allows one to get a job. My first duty is to help my students be ready for the market and getting their first job; they'll learn more from there and keep learning. But with the amount of people applying on graphic design jobs, I can see how someone sifting through portfolios might turn down a candidate who has used commonly despised fonts unknowingly.
    – curious
    Commented Aug 25, 2017 at 1:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.