How Type Talks, an experiential typography workshop for illustration students

Many illustration students tell me they find the idea of using typography daunting. They are unsure of what typefaces to use because they think they don't know anything about it. I believe students know more than they realise, and this workshop is designed to give students an experience of just how much type communicates to them.
It starts by students dividing themselves into groups of 3 or 4 in order to play an imagination game. The game consists of the groups inventing films based on their reaction to different typefaces. I ask them to consider when the film was made and when it was set (which are different things entirely!) this is because typefaces often relate to eras in much the same way as clothes do - they are fashion based. Next they must decide where the film is set. Again this is to get them to pay attention to the associations they are making in their imagination. Often typefaces suggest place, obvious examples are the type you might see on an American West wanted poster or a piece of Russian propaganda. Next is Genre, is it romance, horror, drama, thriller? Type can feel violent, fey, quirky, serious, goofy, sexy and many more. Finally just for fun, a title and synopsis. Who are the lead characters and what happens? In this way students tune in to what their imagination and unconscious associations are telling them. They are, engaged in active imagination which is often the most effective way to learn. It is surprising how different groups come up with similar film ideas based on the cues the typeface gives out.


The next stage of the workshop is a spontaneous poster design exercise. Students pick a film (that they just invented in the first part) and play with putting type and image together. Content is already provided by the initial game, so no time needs to be spent thinking what to do. Students create type by hand, pick fonts form online, and can be carefree and experimental, quick-fire and loose, which is a real contrast to their often laboured thinking in projects.