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California Institute of the Arts

Introduction to Typography

California Institute of the Arts via Coursera


Typography is the art of manipulating the visual form of language to enrich and control its meaning. It’s an essential area of skill and knowledge for graphic designers. Typography predates modern graphic design by around 500 years; it is rich in rules, conventions, and esoteric terminology—but it remains an exciting space for invention and expression.

In this rigorous introductory course, we will study, name, and measure the characteristics of letterforms. We’ll consider the pragmatic concerns involved in selecting and combining type. We’ll peek into the 
rich historical, cultural, and aesthetic histories of familiar typefaces. We’ll discuss time-tested conventions and best practices in setting type, as governed by principles of hierarchy and spatial organization. And we’ll explore the expressive, meaning-making potential of type.

Informative lectures will be complemented by a series of three peer-assessed assignments, culminating 
in an opportunity to design a full-scale typographic poster.

Please note that this is not a software course; a basic working knowledge of Adobe InDesign or other 
page layout software will be assumed. You will need access to a computer and page layout software, such as InDesign, to complete the assignments.


  • Week 1: Talking Type
    • This week, we’ll take an up-close look at typefaces, both as physical artifacts and as works of design. 
We will study the formal elements that define and give character to type, and understand where they came from and why they look the way they do. We will review the terminology and measuring system used to describe type, and look at the way the form and proportion of letters relate to the practical concerns of selecting and combining typefaces. The week will wrap up with a graded quiz.
  • Week 2: Typefaces and their Stories
    • This week, we’ll explore the way typefaces express connotative meaning—tell stories—through their association with different time periods, aesthetics, and ideas. Through six short case studies, we 
will look at the way a typeface’s connotations are shaped by its context, understand the historic evolution of typographic forms, and familiarize ourselves with the way typefaces are classified. You’ll extend 
your exploration through some independent research into a typeface of your choosing.
  • Week 3: Putting Type to Work
    • This week, we will engage the visual principles and conventions of typesetting. We will look at how the spaces between letters, lines, and blocks of type can be manipulated to refine the appearance and control the meaning of type. We’ll explore the ways typographic hierarchy and grid systems can further organize and clarify type. And we’ll survey the rules and conventions that can add polish to your typesetting. You’ll apply your skills and knowledge in a peer-reviewed typesetting exercise at the end 
of the week.
  • Week 4: Making Meaningful Type
    • In our final week, we’ll examine the ways typographic form can dramatically shape the meaning of written language. We’ll survey and analyze possibilities for type treatments—from subtle typesetting choices
 to dramatic manipulations—by looking at examples of expressive and unconventional typography. At the end of the week, you’ll bring together and apply everything you have learned in this course in the 
design of a full-scale typographic poster.

Taught by

Anther Kiley


4.5 rating, based on 11 Class Central reviews

4.8 rating at Coursera based on 5456 ratings

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  • Berbelek completed this course, spending 5 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    Great course and unique subject. The course provides some basic introduction to typography, offers some solid historical background and leads to some practical excercises.
    Please, note that the courses from California Institute of the Arts does not provide any information about tools and using them. I'm Inskcape user and it helped me a lot in assignments. You need to have some skills related to vector graphics or DTP to make some excercises here.
  • Cyn Gar

    Cyn Gar completed this course, spending 10 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    This is a good introduction to typography in the digital age, teaching terminology and basic design considerations. You work on a project that builds on itself over three weeks as you are introduced to those considerations.

    Note: you don't need expensive (InDesign) or complicated (Scribbus) software for your project, I did everything in OpenOffice Draw (free office suite software available for Windows, Mac, and Linux). Also, I probably got far more into the project than was actually required.
  • Anonymous
    It is a great class. before i started it i barely liked fonts, now fonts and me are like ying and yang. This is probably the best course to take if you are a begginer typographer.
  • As a beginner in typography, I am very happy I took this course. The videos are, alas, short, but the information in them is very concentrated. Also I really liked the speaker of the course, his way of telling the history of typography was very interesting.

    Other than that, I found the assignments very logically structured: we are supposed to focus on one font and through its understanding we learn things and then get to make our typography poster in the end.

    I loved this course much more than the "fundamentals course'. Glad I took it.
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