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Learning How to Use Typography in Seven Weeks

Have you ever wanted professional feedback on your typography work?

In the upcoming weeks, Chris will be holding live critique sessions on our Academy channel for new and current Typography 01 students. Each week, students will receive a certain set of parameters to work with and submit their layouts to get live, on-the-spot feedback. With the help of type instructor and Creative Director, Milka Broukhim, both Chris and Milka will teach students how to break down type to use it effectively.

Because typography is such a crucial design skill to have, it makes it that much more intimidating to approach. But if you have someone helping to point you in the right direction, you'll quickly learn to embrace this design discipline to take your layouts to the next level.

If you want to participate and get your work critiqued by Chris for the next livestream, click here to join our global classroom in Typography 01.

If you have typography work of your own that you’d like to critique yourself as you watch and follow along, use this checklist:

  1. Focal Point - What is drawing your eyes to a specific point on a layout?
  2. Order - What are the most important pieces of information, and what order are they in?
  3. Surprise - Where does contrast come into play?
  4. Negative Space - Does the design have breathing room?
  5. Details - Once items 1-4 are checked off, what additional details can you see?

Let’s take a peek at the major takeaways from each feedback session.

Week 1: One Weight, One Point Size

For this first exercise, students are working only with Helvetica Regular at an 8 point size. Here’s what we learned:

Rivers in typography

If you’re just starting out with type, it’s highly advised you start by justifying your copy left. Our eyes focus on the content of the layout just as much as the negative space. If the text is force justified, it creates gaps, or rivers, that throw off the balance. In general, you want to avoid rivers.

Group items to an axis to make a focal point

Throughout your layout, elements should sit along an axis line to show that they’re from the same group.

Proximity communicates grouping, so if you have items that are placed closely together along the same axis, that also tells our eyes that those components are related in some way.

What grids are and what they’re used for

Grids help to keep things ordered, aligned, and balanced. They eliminate chaos and make layouts pleasing to the eye.

For more, watch the full critique here:

Week 2: Two Weights, One Point Size

For week two, type instructor Milka Broukhim joins Chris to help with the critiques. Milka has taught typography to over 1,500 students for 15 years at ArtCenter College of Design. Here are a couple of things we learned from Milka this week:

Do bad work

While it sounds counterproductive, it’s highly encouraged. The only way you’ll learn, as Milka puts it, is to do bad work. Make as many mistakes as possible to learn from them.

Soak up design wherever possible

As we go through these critiques over the next few weeks, take note of where you can improve based on Chris’s feedback. Then, take it a step further and look for other sources of layout inspiration and instruction online, from other designers, or in books.

Watch the full critique here:

Week 3: One Weight, Two Point Sizes

Milka Broukhim joins us for our third week of typography critiques. In this week’s session, Chris and Milka teach the students “how to see” based on their layouts using only one weight and two point sizes. Here’s what we learned:

Master the fundamentals before you experiment

If you jump into your layout design without some grasp of design fundamentals, you might get lost down the road. It’s important to keep the fundamentals in your back pocket at all times. Then, when you’ve got a good sense of them all, play and experiment away. The world of design is much bigger than you think.

Increasing space disconnects ideas

You want to make sure that your body of text has a healthy amount of space between lines. This tells us that the copy is related.

Purpose and function

Form and function work together. A beautiful visual layout only creates an impact when there’s purpose behind it. The form of the layout has to follow the purpose to make an effective design.

Watch the full critique here:


Week 4: Two Weights, Two Point Sizes

We’re welcoming week four with a fresh new batch of layouts to critique with the help of Chris and Milka. Using two point sizes and two weights, here are some things we picked up this week:

Dadaism

Dadaism is a design movement that came around the time of World War I. Dadaism is a symbol of rebellion and artistic freedom; it celebrates the artist’s ability to break from the tight structures that were commonplace before the war.

Many designers want to express their artistic side freely, and you should. Before you do, though, take a look at some of the layouts that came from the early days of Dadaism. You’ll see how designers were experimental yet purposeful in their execution of their layouts.

Make your elements talk to one another

Every layout you design is only impactful when every single element works together. As Milka points out in this week’s critique, she notes that she sees a lot of islands. There needs to be unity for your design to be both visually engaging and communicative. How do your elements relate to one another?

Watch week 4's critique session here:


Week 5: Any Weight, Any Point Size

Typography students walk into the the fifth week of critiques with looser parameters to work within. Chris and Milka review the work from multiple students, the good and the bad, to help you learn from your mistakes and where you can improve. Here's what we took away from week five:

Squint your eyes

To see where you can polish up your layout, zoom out from the artboard and squint your eyes. What do you see first? What other elements are capturing your attention? Once you've pinpointed certain areas of your layout, zoom back in and make any necessary adjustments.

Difference in orientation

When you break the orientation of elements—for example making one horizontal and the other vertical—you're basically saying that the two are not related. In this case, with the title REZN8, separating the 8 and changing its orientation tells us it's not related to the rest of the title, REZN.

The Piano Effect—and why you should avoid it

Just like piano keys changing from white to black, you want to avoid your typography following this same look. If you have a list of copy changing from bold to light every line, while it creates contrast and repetition, it becomes harder to look at, especially when grouped together. In this case, Milka advises implementing a gradient of weights instead.

Watch week 5's critique here:

Week 6: Rules & Shapes

Our second to last round of typography critiques kicks off with reviewing the concept of grouping sections based on importance and hierarchy using rules and shapes. Here’s what we learned from Chris and Milka during this sixth round of critiques:

Be mindful of uppercase

If you are going to make the copy in a section all uppercase, there has to be a reason for it. While it is important, it’s also sometimes more difficult to read. Try to keep the use of uppercase for information on your layout that needs special attention. Keep it to a word or two in a section, not every word in it.

At the same time, you can use uppercase to your advantage. If you are trying to draw attention to a title, for example, then using all uppercase would be appropriate.

How to make centered text work

When you’re centering the main copy down the page, you’re surrendering your control over how a shape is built. But there is a way to make it work. You can have your content in the center of the page, but if you want to control the shape that forms from it, justify the text left so there's a straight line down the side, rather than the text having various starting points down the line.

Watch the full critique from week 6 here:


Week 7: Experimental

For our seventh and final week of critiques, students were encouraged to think outside the box and get experimental with their designs. Over the course of these past seven weeks, students have made major strides and improvements in their skills, but there's still work to do. Milka and Chris join forces one last time to send the typography students on their way with new perspectives, ideas, and an understanding of how to level up their typography skills.

The biggest takeaway from this last week was to let go of any and all fears when approaching layout design. As Milka puts it, it's a layout; no one is going to get hurt. She candidly leaves students with some words of wisdom: "if you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." That's a motto we can definitely get behind.

Watch the full critique from week 7 here:

Want your typography work critiqued by the pros?

Sign up for our Typography 01 course for your chance to participate in future critique sessions like this.