Skip to main content

FAST CLASS: Typography Fundamentals

Lesson 7 of 7

Think Like a Type Designer


FAST CLASS: Typography Fundamentals

Lesson 7 of 7

Think Like a Type Designer


Lesson Info

Think Like a Type Designer

This is not about even though it's called Learn, uh, think like a type designer. It's not about learning to be a type designer. As I said earlier, it's learning how to look at letter forms in a way you've never done before. You could be an experience creative director with 2030 years of experience selecting type, designing with type. But until you really look at each letter form individually and have a better understanding off why type designs are created the way they are. Um, this is something that helps you even mawr, to help you pick the right typeface. Understand what makes a good time face and understand how type works. So we started off with a sand Saref. Um, okay, so this is what everyone had to start, and I asked everyone to please draw as best they could. The missing characters. Okay, so again, you were given, guys were given tracing paper, and and I'm not very sharp marker because the point was not to draw ah, beautiful outline of the wrong shape. But to get the concept of wh...

at the character might look like now, not being type designers again, I don't expect people to get it right. But the way the way to think about this on the way a designer thinks about this is how do I create all characters so that they look like they're part of the same type face. They have a consistency with other characters and kind of the things that that you should start off looking for again. If I only gave you minutes, I don't expect you to get it. But I'm just telling you, conceptually, the concept is to look at this and to look at other characters and to try to gauge what the missing characters might look like from what you see on here. But clearly, I didn't pick out the easy ones. So even if you thought like a type designer doesn't mean you got it right. Okay. But we're gonna have a discussion about a lot of these characters. I really haven't taken a look at what's on the board yet, so I'm gonna be looking at things along with you. Um, so this typeface is impact. Impact is a very heavy, rather condensed sand Saref. Okay, I will tell you one thing that this typeface was designed. I believe It was, uh, 1962 or so, Way before open type. So if you were with us earlier on open type, you know, open type has the capability of having many alternates. Well, this was designed at a time in typeface history and type history where there was one solution for every character. I mean, you couldn't have alternate, so the type designer had a pick One design they thought was going to work best with everything. Okay, so let me I'm going to put on the screen, okay? This is what the actual characters look like. What you see on the screen is exactly the same here, So this might be a little easier for the home audience to see. And let's see. Okay, so the first character that's missing is the lower case G. Okay, so you can see here. This is what the G looks like. Um, and what I see is very, very common. A lot of you thought you were that you were thinking correctly, but as I said, just because you're thinking correctly doesn't mean you got the right solution. But keep in mind this isn't the Onley right solution in the planet. This is just one designers idea of what that character should look like. Okay, so one of the things you have to take into consideration with this typeface is first of all, it is narrow. So you don't want something that's too wide. It also has. Well, I'm not going to tell you more yet because I want you to kind of help help me with this. Um okay, So the this one, this this this has the solutions. This person just didn't put it on the tissue, but it's the same missing characters. Okay, So what I'm seeing if I look at this one, this one and this one, my guess is you guys thought, What does the G look like? I'm gonna look at the y and the J. Okay. Correct. Those of you who there's more work here than we have, student. We had some other people in the building do this for creative from creative lives. So we have Some people aren't here toe to defend their work, but not that anyone needs to defend their work. Okay, But did did any of you who did those Isn't that what you were thinking? Which is really intelligent thinking. Okay, Unfortunately, no cigar for you. Get that one right. But it is a smart way to look at it. Okay, so we see that the actual G does have a curve. It's sort of a rounded G. It doesn't have kind of like, I don't know. I guess you could call this a little bit of a spur here. This one, they do kind of look like the J. And the why this'll one is well, is like that. Um, this one is incorrect. This person thought. Well, maybe it's that two story. I mean, that's a hard thing to know. Okay, So give you a little bit of anatomy type anatomy. Okay? This is a two story A as opposed to the one you learn to write when you're in watching Sesame Street. OK, so I was gonna say first grade, but that was when I was a kid. Now they learned by two years old or something like that's all dating myself. Okay, So G is also come in one and two stories. So this is your typical one story, what we call the one story G. And then there's others. I'm sure designers, people are familiar with type and visualized that there were other GS that have two loops. Okay, Double either called a double bowl or two story G. So you might Somebody said, Well, I'm not sure. Okay, Um, and there isn't no specific. There isn't a specific way you would know, except I will say that in general. Um, a San Serif typeface like this typically doesn't have those kinds of two story GS, but it's possible, so there's no way you automatically know and I will talk more about this with the next one. Okay, so this is actually the closest in concept to what's here. Okay. What is and again, no egos. I don't care if you did it or you didn't do it. We're not about protecting feelings. This is just an exercise to learn. So I don't know who did. This doesn't matter. Even though this has the right concept. What's wrong with that G? It looks like a nine. It's that doesn't bother me. Drop too low. And it's to her. Okay. Basically the first thing you said, uh, she said it's it's too low. Okay, basically, the D sender is too deep. How do you know. Look how short the D centers and the centers are in this typeface. So one of the big challenges is to draw character that matches, and you can see it more easily on this screen here. Very short. Asked Sanders very short D centers. So that G, even though he only had 20 minutes or so to do it would be too deep. Okay, um so that that sort of covers the G. But what I want you to dio is I want you to look at the G. I want you to look at it critically. And I want you to tell me if any of you see something that is unusual or surprising to you, Um, the top if you compare Thio like the P or the Q that I don't know what the don't? Yeah, that side. That area that where the dip is that gap, It looks like the other one from here more straight down. That's not what I'm looking for. Okay, but good try. Know that this is okay. It probably is very similar, if not the same as that. But look a little lower. We'll see if anybody okay. You go because you haven't spoken yet? The bottom of the curve of the of the Is this hot brown? Yeah, it's It's above the lake baseline. Exactly. Exactly. Right. The bowl of the G does not sit on the baseline. Which is what we normally we were normally taught to draw. Jeez, that way, right. Okay. Why doesn't that bolson on the baseline, do you think? Because the center would be to exactly exactly so. There is no room to put the bowl on the baseline and have a short D center on the G. Okay, so the bowl sits above it. You didn't even notice it. It doesn't even matter the point. Being drawing a typeface is not like writing your A b CS and drawing a typeface. Designing a typeface is a very, very difficulty, um, skill that requires a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge. And the main point I'm trying to make with this, which I'm gonna make with the rest and I'm gonna make throughout all you work with design and type is that what's important is not what you think mechanically should be right is not what you think geometrically or mathematically should be right? Thea Onley thing that's right is what optically looks right. And in many instances, in designing a typeface, characters have to be drawn in a way that is surprising to everyone else in order to get them toe. Look right. Okay. This is true. With your design and working with type, you can't rely on the software and say, Well, it says it's a line. It's supposed to be automatic. It's it's everything is flush left, so it must be fine. The leading is all the same, so it must be fine. You're gonna see later when? Mostly at the next session. Um, that that's not always true. You constantly have to use your eyes to find solutions that look, whether you call it optically or visually, that look correct. Don't let your brain or the software tell you otherwise. Okay? You becomes a crutch that can lead you down the wrong path. Okay, So very nice, G, but doesn't do what you thought it should, dio. Okay, next character is the K. Okay, So once again, the concept is you know, if you're able to tow, look at the other characters of the alphabet of this typeface to try to get a clue as to what that should look like. Okay, so basically the characteristics of this k r, it is pretty narrow. Okay, it does have. Let's see there is. Well, let's start with some of the others. What other people did that might not be right. Okay, so this one has It's very lovely, but it doesn't match this typeface curved diagonals. Okay, this one also has a curve diagonal. Okay, So while that might be the basis for a brand new type face, it's not gonna work with this one. How do you know? Thes air diagonals. Look at the diagonals, the other diagonals. And if you're on here, just look. Look at the V. W x y. Okay. That even though the K is not exactly the same, that is where you would get the clue as to what the case should look like. Okay. And how it interconnect and the thickness. There's one solution here with very thin diagonals, and that doesn't match anything. There are no thin diagonals in this typefaces typeface design. It doesn't have very much weight. Contrast it all. Okay, so that would not be the correct solution. Um The other characteristic, if you will, is that the top of the diagonals are flat. Okay, there, horizontal. So they go this way and this way, as does all the other diagonals. So occasionally people will do a perpendicular sort of a stroke ending like that which doesn't match anything else in the typeface. Um, that's the only one that that has that, Um, sometimes people don't really know where the top diagonal goes, and the top diagonal does line up with the X height. So sometimes it's a little taller. Thes don't have that. Oh, this one does a little bit and I'll tell you what you'll see. What happens with some of the others will be some other things people dio So although not the most difficult character, it still makes you think. How do I get the K you see, even though this one is, it has a good concept. It's too wide. Okay, it's too white to match the rest. And that's really based on where the two diagonals intersect. All right, now we're coming to one of the fun characters to talk about, and that is the lower case are in impact. Okay, so some of you like this when some of you not not too many, but what some of you might have done was look at the lower case R and then just cut it off a little bit. So, you know, some of you might have done that. This could have been like that. Okay, that could have been like that. This one that takes these two, I don't know. They must have been sitting next to each other because they because they have a similar sort of Ah, flare of flared arm. Okay, there's nothing in this design that has that kind of a flare. But what I will ask you if you look at the are what do you think of that? Are How does that look to you? Very, very narrow. It's very narrow to see it's in our What do you think of that Ugly. I mean, some, you know, it's not right. It just looks strange. Like an animal animal caricature to me. An animal caricature. Well, we don't want that. Okay. Any idea why? Okay. So, see, most of you did ours that are much wider, certainly. Okay. Any idea why the lower case R would be that narrow, especially in this typeface. Maybe because of how it would, uh, be used together with the other letters. Exactly. It has to do with how it's spaces out next to other characters. Okay, One of the most challenging characters in terms of spacing is the lower case R, because when you put it next, thio like an l or okay, or be there tends to be, Ah, big negative space underneath. Okay, so this is a typeface because it has no serifis, and it's very heavy. Tends to be spaced very tightly. Okay, So if I took this are and I drew whoops and I do it l next to it. Okay, this board is gonna move. So look at that huge space that it makes between those two characters. Let me show you something. Okay? Look at some words set in impact. What do you think of the are now? Reads pretty well, doesn't it? Doesn't look too skinny. Looks just right. Okay? And that's all because it's minimizing this space yet maintaining ledge ability. Okay, It's critical in a good typeface or by understanding typeface designer when they're designing a typeface. Not to say Oh, I like the A this way. I like the other. I'm just gonna draw letters that I think look good. Ah, critical aspect of designing a typefaces for the type designer early in the process to start setting characters next to each other in words and see how they look. Overall spacing. And if there is one particular letter that causes a problem, a trained, knowledgeable type designer will alter the design of the character to create better overall spacing. Okay, that's essential. That's why I tell people. Be careful of free fonts. Be careful of if something is, you know, if it's too good to be true, it is because the reality is most typeface designers aren't professionally trained. Okay, there's not a lot of places you could go toe learn how to design a typeface unless you go to The Hague to University of Reading or now in New York, there's a program, Cooper, but even so, the majority are self taught. Okay, so the other problem is that now anybody can design a typeface because the software is fairly affordable. So you have hobbyists. You have people that they will design a typeface and then they sell it or they give it away for free more often the ladder. Okay, So it's really important to all of you and the home audience that you understand the qualities that make a good typeface and that you value a train designer and that you pay for what? You you know what you get very often and just be super super careful off downloading these free fonts from foundries that are not reputable because you're going to get stuff that you might not be yet able to discern why it might be crappy to the rest of us. But you don't want to do that because you're trying to work for a bigger audience who might know that difference? OK, so moving on, let's look at the S. You don't normally think of the S is the most challenging character. But it is in a typeface like this. Okay, so somebody did a couple here because they put the ER there thes actually are are not bad, because if you look at the s, that's actually pretty good. This s is See, this is a geometric typeface. So the s is like geometric with rounded corners, kind of like Theo Andi. As it turns out, the spine, this is what we call the spine is thicker than other parts of the character. And usually people get to that. And it's too skinny. So I mean, usually just probably everyone you know are very, very skinny. This is actually really good solution, okay? It's not perfect. We're not looking for perfect here. This also because this person got the the idea that it is kind of geometric. It has the right shape. This one is sort of halfway there. This one's a little bit too round this one. It's a little too round, but the little geometric. So, I mean, it's challenging. Like I said, you know, you got a Sharpie and you didn't have a lot of time. So this this one that didn't really nail it too much. It looks like they got the the beginnings and endings. Okay. And then they boxed himself into a skinny corner on that one. So that's okay. I mean, this one didn't get the the personality of the typeface. It all, um so even the s, which you would think would be easy. It's still a challenge. Okay, um, moving on to the X, the exes. Air challenging because a lot of people draw the X like we were taught to draw in school. They go, Okay, that doesn't work in most type faces. Because if you do that, you're either gonna wind up with something that's too wide or you're gonna wind up with something. That's, um, that's skewed off to to an angle. So let's see this. What is pretty good? I'll come back to that in a second so you can see what it looks like here. Okay, This one there, too. It's too thin. So I mean, by keeping it the strokes thin. Um, they were able to keep it narrow, but it doesn't look like the rest of the typeface. This one isn't bad. This one isn't bad. See, this one has that skewed off to to an angle kind of feel. Um, the thing. Okay, So the thing that I want you to look at and we'll talk about I mean, I know this looks kind of funky, but there's something smart about the way a person approached this one. Okay, if you look at this X, does it look like the upper right attaches to the lower left. Okay, it does it. Because if it did, it would be top heavy or high waisted, or it would be off to an angle. So does anyone Can anyone see kind a little bit more about how that's constructed? How would you describe it, E think the left side. They both look thinner to me, and then on the right side, they look thicker. Okay, that is true. But the other thing to notice is it almost looks like two of these that meet in the middle rather than this. Okay, have that. Mhm. Okay, so this and that's actually closer to how it's constructed, um, than some of the others. So even though this one doesn't look right and this funky looking was this done by anyone here? Okay, that could Okay, yeah. There's a lot of creative life. Employees were not designers at all, But a lot of times, people instinctively have a better feel for it. And again, it's not a reflection of your skill Is a designer so please don't let anyone be discouraged by this, okay? It's just an exercise when I do this in school, you know, when they hear what I'm doing, They grown, and I say I'm locking the doors. You're not going anywhere. And, uh, and and and then they they appreciated at the end. So even though this doesn't look right, this person actually had the right concept of how to possibly constructed, even though it might not be one of the best looking ones here.

Class Description


Try a Fast Class – now available to all Creator Pass subscribers! Fast Classes are shortened “highlight” versions of our most popular classes that let you consume 10+ hours in about 60 minutes. We’ve edited straight to the most popular moments, actionable techniques, and profound insights into bite-sized chunks– so you can easily find and focus on what matters most to you. (And of course, you can always go back to the full class for a deep dive into your favorite parts.)

Full-length class: Typography Fundamentals with Ilene Strizver

SUBSCRIBE TO CREATOR PASS and cue up this class and other FAST CLASS classes anytime.


  • Select the best typefaces for your design
  • Work efficiently with OpenType
  • Think and approach projects like a type designer
  • Identify and remedy common type crimes


Typography is an essential element of design: it should communicate your message effectively, and with purpose. Yet, even professional graphic designers can lack the “eye” and deeper understanding of type aesthetics.

In Typography Fundamentals, author, educator, and expert Ilene Strizver teaches you how to take full advantage of the power of type. You’ll learn not only the fundamentals of typographic design, but also how to “see” type through new eyes - all to make more sophisticated type choices that will open doors and set your work apart.

With your enrollment in Ilene’s class, you’ll also receive access to a webinar hosted by renowned designer Gerard Huerta.

Check out Ilene’s related course, Advanced Typography: Fine Tuning & Finessing.


This class is designed for creative professionals of all levels working with type, whether you are brand new, or just want to build on your existing knowledge and fill in the gaps. In-house design teams, web developers, motion graphic designers, recent graduates, freelancers and illustrators working with type: don’t miss your chance to learn from one of the most respected educators in the field.