Feedback on type project, 4 students, 4 weeks

emspace's picture

My post might be better related to the typographic education section but I would like some general feedback.

I'm teaching a type class, the last of a series of 4 in a graphic design diploma.
Lucky me I only have 4 students so we get to push things a bit more than usual. The next project is supposed to be 'Typobjets' (type made from objects) but some of them have done something similar in another class so I'm thinking of opening up the project and turn it into making a collective typography.

Each student would have 13 glyphs (if we only do uppercase and lowercase, not sure how much we can squeeze in, I'll probably have to adjust). It would be more interesting if we could also get some punctuation and the accents done so they can actually use it.

I'm thinking of letting them pick their letters within the whole but I'm also thinking it might be better if each of them get a more difficult letter, a round letter, etc.

Also, I'm thinking of asking them to have one handdrawn letter, one letter sculpted (potato maybe), one modular letter, one object letter, one letter found in nature, etc. I'm hoping that by setting some categories that the end product will be less of a visual mess.

Anyone care to share their thoughts on this?
Anyone did a similar project and ran into problems?

Also, I'm thinking it would be cool to turn it into a font but I haven't messed with that kind of software in a while. What would be my best bet? I don't think it would have to be some very complex software since it's probably the kind of font they would have to kern it by hand anyway. Suggestions?

Thank you for your time!

hrant's picture

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oldnick's picture

If your intention is to build a complete alphabet, it might be best to put 52 pieces of paper—each with an individual character—into a bag, and have each student draw thirteen letters, either one at a time or round-robin style.

Allowing the rendering of letters in a variety of media will doubtless mean that many of the efforts will need to be photographed in order to "immortalize" them. in which case, this...

may be the only viable format.

emspace's picture

I was thinking of having them trace their glyphs in illustrator so even if they sculpt one in a potato, they would stamp it and trace it afterwards or if they find a branch that looks like a Y, we'd take a pic and trace that. I think it would help if it can all be the same color because it's going to look way too chaotic otherwise.

Photofont seems interesting but I'm really thinking of a standard font. Maybe we could try Photofont as a second option though, thanks for the lead! I remember using FontLab when I was learning glyph drawing back in Uni. Does it still hold as standard for font creation?

washishu's picture

I retired from teaching graphics three years ago. One of the 'issues' I had constantly to tackle was the students' reliance on digital technology. Letterform, to most of them, meant a typeface from a menu list.

I tried to persuade them to think out of the digital box by running a series of classes which were all about creating letters; letters which were out of any context and were not for anything. The students were allowed to use any materials they had or could acquire, except a computer or a camera, to make letters. It sounds a touch like your typobjects maybe, although I'm not 100% sure what you mean by that. The branch that looks like a Y? Or arranging (for example) bricks into an L?

Yes we did get some of that kind of thing and, over the years, many letters made from dried pasta but also got some fabulously creative work such as a two-storey g made from strips of coloured thread woven into a piece of chicken wire—and I mean woven, not just threaded through. Another one I loved was a found, dried-out, trodden-on tea bag squashed onto a piece of discarded card which together formed a wonderfully grungie a or d or p, we never did decide.

The idea behind this was, clearly, to break the reliance on digital type and to get them to look and think hard about letters as shapes.

We would spend maybe two or three sessions on this and then I would contrast this with two or three very disciplined sessions in which they were given an example letter from a carefully chosen typeface (the example would be an A4 print) and they were required to draw the letter accurately at least three times in different media at A1 size.

As with all these things, it works well for some and not for others. But more than one student told me in later years that when they went on to a higher-level course, they became the letterform expert amongst their peers.

emspace's picture

I will be getting my first glyphs from the students tonight. I'm hoping for a lot of variety! I totally agree with washishu about getting away from the computer. I did give some slack on this though because I'm teaching evening classes so my students often work full time and then go to class at night. They don't have a whole bunch of time to go take photos while daylight is out.

We did the round robin thing as oldnick suggested and I let them exchange some letters afterwards because one of them had a bunch of numbers and almost no lower caps. I gave them a few abstract categories and asked them to cover at least 5 of them.

My categories are :
A handdrawn letter
A molded/sculpted/woven letter
A letterform found in nature
A letterform found in the city
A remixed letterform
A modular letterform
A pixel letterform
A hybrid letterform
A letterform found at bird's eye view (such as Google Earth)
A letter found in the past (retro signs, etc.)

Will keep you posted :-)

hrant's picture

On the other hand, although physicality does
provide an inspirational and easy path towards
shapes, the fact that these shapes are in effect
ideals means a physical foundation can also be
a bit dangerous: not everybody will be able to
move up from that, at least not with ease.

So at the very least those exposed to such a
path should be told that it's not the real deal,
that it's only a means to trigger thought.

The computer is a powerful tool, which is
why it's hard to wrap your head around it.


Chris Dean's picture

I’ll be watching this thread very closely to see if the same students return to Typophile for help with their homework.

hrant's picture

A good teacher would actually send them here.


emspace's picture

I don't necessarily think they will show up here as this class only has 4 students and we speak French although I'm sure they can handle some English. They're adults so I do hope they don't just go on forums hoping someone will do their homework. I will read your thread about homework with much interest though, it's bound to happen someday if I keep teaching.

I do give out Typophile out as a great resource for answering questions about type and let them know that this is where I go when I have the toughest questions.

emspace's picture

{To Follow}

Will this code allow me to follow my own thread? I don't seem to be getting updates in my email and was wondering...

riccard0's picture

{To Follow}

Will this code allow me to follow my own thread?

No, but any thread where you posted something will show up on your “track page” (

dezcom's picture

the best way is to follow yourself. Click on your avatar to get your info and then click on track.

dezcom's picture

I think the approach might be more aimed at what makes a group of letters become a typeface. My suggestion would be that each student be assigned to design one letter for a typeface, the lowercase "n" without copying an existing face. The next step would be for everyone in the class to exchange their letter n with another classmate by un-named lottery. The second person would be tasked with designing the lowercase letter "q" based on the n they were given. The point being that they would have to figure out the system the first person intended and attempt to follow it. Next comes another lottery to trade with a 3rd person who would draw the lowercase "a" from the n and q they received. The lottery and trading would continue until 5 different glyphs were made by 5 different students, each trying to make a glyph that fits with the others. I would choose, in order, n q a s v. You should end up with a set of 5 glyphs for everyone in the class with each of the 5 drawn by a different person. Their should be some interesting comparisons and a healthy dialogue among the classmates when everything is put up for viewing and critique.
It is important to not use peoples names, just assign some number code per student. You want to remove the dynamic of who the personalities of the people are and focus on the personality of the given glyph.

I would have them draw by hand with pencil or marker (no compass, ruler or french curve tools allowed) but not a flat edged calligraphic tool which can dictate form. Forget the computer for a while. That will come later. This should not be about either drafting skills or software skills. It should be about looking and analyzing.

The only limitation would be that the x-height of all the glyphs in the entire project should be the same. This would be so that scale is not an issue. After all is done, you can mix glyphs with other sets to bring to light what happens with differing systems of approach.

Chris Dean's picture

@Hrant & emspace: I disagree. I believe a good teacher should empower their students to think for themselves. Taking advantage of a valuable resource is one thing, becoming dependent on it has the potential to cripple ones ability to solve problems. Especially the difficult ones.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
~ Chinese proverb

hrant's picture

{This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test.}

Sorry for misleading you Émilie - my "code" is simply the best way I
can think of to follow a thread via my "tracker" while explicitly clarifying
that it doesn't contain actual content (hence the curly braces). I've seen
people put a minimal character (like a single period) to enable tracking,
but the problem is people might think you wrote something and then
decided to delete it (since you can't delete a post outright, at least not
after a certain time AFAIK) and get the wrong idea about you.

Christopher, I think a short-term teacher would be hard-pressed to change
the deep-down behavior of a person. What I mean is, a lazy student will go
to the wrong place for too much help instead of the right place. And over
here at least he will likely be told to think for himself.


emspace's picture

Christopher : I do insist that my students form their own opinion. I don't agree at all that because one reads or gets involved in a forum it means that they cannot think for themselves. I am guessing you are referring to students who explicitly come here asking to get their comps fixed up which is definitely not everyone's case. I've been hanging around Typophile for almost 10 years on and off and I used to read the boards almost everyday when I was doing my BA. I learned a lot from reading the threads and I felt that the boards were bringing me a huge complement of information. Had I not thought it was a great resource back then, I wouldn't be here today.

On a whole different note, I ran into your tweet about my thread : On @Typophile, “Do My Homework Syndrome” — — has devolved into “Develop My Coursework” syndrome —

I would obviously prefer if you told me straight up that you have a problem with me posting on the forum for feedback on a type education project instead of tweeting about it behind my back making it look like I'm asking for someone to come up with a project for me. Are you paranoid about people coming here for feedback and answers? I'm sure it happens a lot...otherwise it wouldn't be a forum, would it?

Washishu : Google Images wasn't so popular when I was in school but I experienced first hand that it has taken over tonight! I had to insist quite a bit for them to get off it. If it wasn't for the fact that they are people who already work full time as well as taking classes in the evenings, I'd probably forbid using a computer for the research steps of the project. I was surprised, I actually thought they would be happy to get away from the machine since they normally spend all day on it. I know for one if someone told me to go out for a walk to find and take photos of letterforms I wouldn't hesitate one bit to get away from the screen. Instead I felt from them that I was taking away their lifeline. I think I managed to correct the direction and that next week will be better. After an hour, the new glyphs were way more original than their first research with Google.

Dezcom : Beautiful project idea, love it! I thought about something similar before for moodboards. I wanted each student to develop a moodboard for a specific project and then have them exchange it with another student so that they would have to come up with a design that would respect the other's moodboard. Didn't get around to do that yet but I'm planning to when I get a little more teaching experience. I like how your idea can involve way more people working on the same thing. It also offers for more variety and I think it could work at any level.

Hrant / Dezcom / riccard0 : Thank you for the precisions about tracking, that will help!

Chris G's picture

@Christopher Dean

That tweet was just plain unprofessional. Your snarky attitude towards Émile is just the sort of behaviour that alienates new blood. Typophile shouldn't be an unapproachable ivory tower for you to sneer from.

hrant's picture

> I felt from them that I was taking away their lifeline.

You should see what happens when you take their cellphones.
Some of them physically look like you took away their lifeline.


emspace's picture

Hrant : Do they start shaking and their eyes pop out of their heads? ;-)

Dezcom : Love the quote! Teaching reminds me of playing blocks with my nephews and nieces. Build a tower, destroy and repeat. Hopefully higher and sturdier!

Well it's going to take a while since I see progress on this project again. My students are off next class because of Easter friday. I hope the 4 day weekend gives them the chance to find inspiration outside the machine a bit!

Keep you posted,

dezcom's picture

"Teaching reminds me of playing blocks with my nephews and nieces. "

Their is no greater mind than the open mind of a child.

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