Type 1: Letters, Shapes & Typesetting

Course Information

Course Description

Typography 1 is the first in a three-course sequence that introduces students to the fundamentals of typographic practice, both as a set of technical skills and as an expressive medium. This first semester of typography begins fully zoomed-in — exploring how and why letterforms are formed. Students will work with various tools and materials to construct letters; with attention paid to meaning, voice and the line between language and abstract form.

The second part of the semester concerns itself with setting type. Typesetting is the score for the reading experience. Typesetting conventions and nomenclature will be taught by zooming out from the letter, to the word, to the paragraph and to the page. Students will become comfortable with typographic color and texture in a finite static composition.

This is a studio course, so some class time will be used for discussions, most of the time we will be working in class. There is an expectation that students work both individually and in groups and be prepared to speak about their own work and the work of their peers in supportive and respectful ways. A laptop and relevant software are required.


  1. By the end of TYPE 1, students should have: a basic understanding of the historical context that has lead to current digital typesetting; and be able to typeset with digital software, and use appropriate nomenclature.
  2. By the end of TYPE 1 students should understand the parts of a letterform and their stylistic and mechanical references and be able to manipulate and construct letters as shapes.
  3. By the end of TYPE 1 students should be able to present finished work with attention to craft and professionalism
  4. By the end of TYPE 1, students should have an understanding of contemporary typographic culture: practicing studios, foundries, fonts, critical platforms, and resources.
  5. By the end of TYPE 1 students should have awareness of the context in which typography is made: social, cultural, technical, political and otherwise.
  6. By the end of TYPE 1 students should feel comfortable playing with type
  7. By the end of TYPE 1 students should have a basic understanding of the ways typography can be organized to influence the reading of textual content.
  8. By the end of TYPE 1 students should be able to make basic type choices for given contexts
  9. By the end of TYPE 1, students should understand that voice and point of view are developed and cultivated by designers; be able to use the vocabulary that is particular to typography


• See Are.na channel for foundries, blogs, websites of interest

• See reading list for more readings

Key Modules

1A: Letterform construction (3 weeks)

The first module will look at type as a collection of abstract forms. Students will make and manipulate letters (using materials, hand drawing, Adobe Illustrator, Glyphs, etc) using various techniques, tools and materials. This module should emphasize exploration and lead to a love of letters.

Required Readings


1B: Foundries & Fonts (3 weeks)

The second module asks students to take a closer look at a single contemporary type foundry and their fonts. A foundry’s library is an ideal entryway into the semantics of typography along with the stylistic and historical influences embedded in contemporary typefaces. Fonts are software, and understanding the material nature of this software will fuel typographic experiments and projects.

1C: Typesetting basics (4 weeks)

This module introduces typography as a reading experience. Students will learn how to vary formal attributes — typeface, spacing, weight, line-length, etc — to understand how letters relate to each other to make words, and words relate to each to make sentences. Various exercises will introduce software skills, vocabulary and typesetting culture.

Required Readings



1D: Composition basics (4 weeks)
This module extends what was introduced in “Typesetting Basics,” by zooming out even further. Students will expand their work with the full page; looking at the way paragraphs relate to each other and to the confines of the page by altering hierarchy, position, structural color, white space and more.

Required Readings


Required Books


Grades will be based on the following criteria:

75% Assignments

Grades will be based on the following criteria: quality of work, including concept, design, and the timely completion of assignments; working process and craft; personal initiative, exploration, and risk taking; the ability to give and receive useful criticism; and, last but not least, the successful application of typographic principles.

Change below to reflect structure of assignments

25% Letterform construction assignments

15% Foundry research and font exercises

25% Typesetting basics assignment

25% Composition basics assignment

Assignment Grading Rubric

10% Class participation

Positive attitude toward learning and the class as a whole

regular participation in class discussion and group work

ability to give and receive useful criticism

At mid-term, you will receive a warning if you are slipping. Grades are given as follows:

A / strong design process/ability to come up with many different ways to solve a problem / excellent research/mastery of form, functionality, and craftsmanship / frequent participation in critiques and discussion / strong work ethic /focused/energetic/ ability to sketch and articulate ideas

B / solid, well-done work / could improve on the items noted in the A list, in particular: better process, more solutions, better craft and attention to detail, more class participation

C / does average work / fulfills assignments but not much else / frequently late/little or no class participation / not willing to re-work or refine projects

D / limited effort / incomplete work/lack of skill and enthusiasm / chronic tardiness and unexcused absences / does not follow instructions

Class expectations

Articulate here your expectations for student behavior- attendance, tardiness, late assignments, cell phone, and laptop use, etc)

On Inclusivity

Our intention in all our sections is that students from all backgrounds and perspectives will be well-served by this course, that students’ learning needs will be addressed both in and out of class, and that the differences students bring to class will be viewed as a resource, strength and benefit. Our intention is to present materials and activities that are respectful and inclusive around gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, culture, perspective, and other background characteristics. Your suggestions about how to improve the value of diversity in this course are encouraged and appreciated. Please let us know ways to improve the effectiveness of the course for you personally or for other students or student groups.

On Subjectivity

A bit about how we each come at work a different way and my goal is to help students develop their own point of view. My viewpoints are naturally influenced by my life experiences, education, age and identity. I will do my best to expose students to a wide range of references and to respond to your work as generously and open-mindedly as possible and to name subjective/personal views when they emerge. Part of developing a student’s personal voice is for the instructor to model this when appropriate.

Estimated Cost of Materials

The primary material costs for Type 1 is black and white printing, customarily provided as part of the student materials fee and available on the 6th, 8th and 9th floor. Covid-19 precautions may alter this workflow. There is a print center on the first floor of Design Center. Students may want to purchase a letter-sized BW laser printer for home; ranging from $100–200. This would be useful and cost-effective for the three years.

Academic Misconduct

During the course of your work throughout the type sequence you will experience a range of opportunities to be inspired and influenced by other designers and artists. While plagiarism with the goal of deception will not be tolerated, it is normal to explore the work of others in new and original ways, and to express that influence through a variety of techniques — including homage, parody, style, derivation, and appropriation. We expect all GD students and faculty to maintain an open perspective towards these concepts, and to use class as a safe testing ground for exploring influence, with the guidance of faculty. For more information, please see “It’s probably not plagiarism.”

Disability Statement

RISD is committed to providing equal opportunity for all students. If you are a student with a disability that may require accommodations to complete the requirements of this class, I encourage you to discuss your learning needs with me during the first week of the term. Once an approval letter from the Office of Disability Support Services is submitted, accommodations will be provided as needed. For more information on how to receive accommodations, please contact Disability Support Services at 401 709-8460 or disabilitysupportservices@risd.edu.”