Getting Good With Type

Continuing with Coursera’s Graphic Design Specialization by CalArts, here I will review the second course in the specialization called Introduction to Typography.

Typography is an area of graphic design that is so important to master. If you want to be really great at design, learn to hone your type skills first. Type will be such a big part of nearly ever design you create in your career.

Here is the full review of the Coursera Introduction to Typography course. In addition, you can read my previous review of Coursera’s Fundamentals of Graphic Design course here.

FYI: I took this course in October 2020, so course assignments and lessons may change over time.

Enrollment Options

As mentioned in my previous review of the Graphic Design Fundamentals course, depending on your budget and how much time you want to invest, you have some options for how you want to take this course.

Auditing: Coursera lets you audit any course for free, though that option won’t let you earn a certificate after completion of each course. You also miss out on submitting assignments for feedback and you might not be able to see all the course materials. This is still a great option if you have no budget but you still want to learn.

Enrolling: When you enroll in the Coursera Introduction to Typography course you get access to all the course material, can get feedback on your work, and you get a certificate upon completion. This is the best option if you really want to learn graphic design. It’s $64 a month with a free 7 day trial.

To pass and receive a certificate in this course, you need to achieve a score of at least 75% in the assignments and 80% in the quiz.

Introduction to Typography

This course is divided into 4 week terms, all concerning the type fundamentals that you’ll need to know. Here’s the breakdown.

  • Week 1: Talking Type (1.5 hours to complete)
  • Week 2: Typefaces and Their Stories (2.5 hours to complete)
  • Week 3: Putting Type to Work (2 hours to complete)
  • Week 4: Making Meaningful Type (2 hours to complete)

Week 1 – Talking Type

The Lessons

The lessons in week one start off with some type history, showing us a brief history of letterpress printing. I found this really interesting to watch. Apparently, the type of metal typesetting that was used was the standard all the way from the 1450’s to the 1960’s until it was replaced by photo typesetting. I had no idea it was used for so long.

The typeface versus font debate is then discussed. The instructor says the terminology confusion is due to what was has historically been called a font. A font is a single typeface, at one weight, at one size, like Baskerville Bold 72pt.

A typeface, on the other hand, describes the visual design of a particular set of letter forms. A typeface is considered to be a full set of lower case and uppercase letters, numbers, fractions and mathematical symbols, punctuation, special characters, accents, and ligatures; all in at least three weights. That’s assumed a typeface is designed properly of course. Basically, use the term typeface unless you’re being very, very specific I suppose. Yeah, I’m still a little confused.

The next things discussed are the qualities of a stroke within a letter and then the anatomy of a letter. The anatomy was briefly discussed in the Fundamentals course, but here we’re going into a bit more detail. First, the basic parts of every letter are described. There are two fundamental visual elements to a letter, and they are the stroke and the counter. The stroke is the actual letterform, and the counter is the negative space in and around the letter.

Next, how we measure fonts is addressed, and how the point size of fonts is actually based on their size of, what long ago, would be their metal block. The height of a typeface’s body is called its point size, which is measured in points. For reference, 72 points is equal to 1 inch. That’s just the beginning of the font measurements, and they honestly get a bit complicated after that.

The next lesson video talks about font selection regarding things like legibility, serifs vs sans serifs, and considerations for using small type sizes. Apparently, fonts designed especially for screens have larger x-heights so they are easier to read when small on screen. I wasn’t aware of that, so yay learning!

The Quiz

The first quiz is actually just a practice quiz and covers type knowledge from the Fundamentals of Graphic Design course. The actual quiz for week one comes after the rest of the lessons.

The second quiz isn’t too bad, but some of the questions are tricky. Type terminology often seems like it’s all over the place so you’ll need to pay very close attention to the lessons here, and take notes. After that, week one is done.

Week 2 – Typefaces and Their Stories

The Lessons

Week two of the Coursera Introduction to Typography course investigates the history of typefaces and their background. The lessons go into a ton of detail about the history of a handful of fonts; Bembo, Didot, Claredon, Futura, Helvetica, and Scala Sans. We learn about the origins of these typefaces in history, why they came to be, and how printing technology evolved with them and because of them.

The history of type was never something we studied in depth in design school so it’s really interesting to learn all about these typefaces now.

The Assignment

The major assignment this week is just a small essay on a typeface. Students are given a list of twelve typefaces to choose one from then asked to do a bit of research on that typeface. The only requirement for the font they choose is that they have to have it on the computer they design with. This probably means we’ll be asked to do a design with that typeface in the next week or two. For my typeface, I picked Baskerville.

I wrote about the history of Baskerville, how it came to be, and the characteristics that make it unique. Then I submitted my assignment and waited for my grade.

Week 3 – Putting Type To Work

The Lessons

The week three lessons start by discussing typographic space in regards to things like letter spacing, kerning, leading, line length, and alignment. Then some type design principles are discussed, such as the principle of proximity. Basically, this means that we have tendency to read things that are close together as being related.

Type hierarchy is discussed in the next batch of lessons, in addition to paragraph breaks, page spreads, and negative space. Compositional grids follow this, then the golden ratio in regards to the arrangement of all elements in a page spread. Next, we’re introduced to typographic conventions like line breaks, hyphenation, widows and orphans, justification, em and en dashes, figures, and ligatures.

The Assignment

The assignment for this week was quite simple. It involved taking our written work from week two and putting it into a proper page layout. We were asked to pay close attention to title and subtitle sizes for hierarchy, make sure the leading kept things easy to read, had a natural flow to line breaks with no widows or orphans, and didn’t end any lines with words that were one or two letters long. Here’s what I created:

Baskerville Type Assignment

Week 4 – Making Meaningful Type

The Lessons

The last batch of lessons in this course deal with how designers use typographic treatment to reinforce or challenge the content of the text. We’re shown a bunch of example of typographic posters created using expressive typography that evoke very different ideas. The lessons aren’t very long this week, as the majority of time students will spend this week will be on the final assignment.

The Assignment

The last assignment for this course is a continuation from the previous two. This time, we’re taking the text from our last assignment and making a typographic poster that portrays the personality and historical period of our chosen typeface. Here’s what I created:

Baskerville Typography Poster

Coursera Introduction to Typography: In Summary

Overall, this course was a great introduction for design students on how to use and understand type. It was also a surprisingly quicker course than the Fundamentals of Graphic Design course. The best part, however, is that I learned something new. I mean, I had fun working on the assignments, but they weren’t really a challenge for me because I’ve done dozens of them in my career. That being said, I’m sure I could have got more creative with the type poster, but I didn’t really want to spend too much time on it. In the end, I’m happy with what I created.

Next, I’ll be taking Coursera’s Introduction to Imagemaking course, which I’m sure will be a bit more of a challenge than this course since my type skills are better than my imagemaking skills, but I guess we’ll see how I do.

Have you taken the Coursera Introduction to Typography course? Did you enjoy it? Are you planning on taking the full Graphic Design Specialization? Let me know in the comments below!