Chris Takakura Art Direction & Design
creative typography exercise by: chris takakura

Creative typography is not a easy task. As designers, we must consider so many things within the realm of typography on top of color, graphical elements to add and sometimes the use of type with photography. Any professional designer would tell you that typography in itself is all about practice, and with time and experience, typography alone can distinguish you as a great designer. This article is a comprehensive guide to one of the most amazing exercise that I had to do during my undergraduate studies as a graphic designer.

Video tutorial for this post

Watch my YouTube video covering the exact same content of this post. Follow along with me!

Doing a typography exercise

Even the most seasoned and expert designers can always use the time to do an exercise based on typography alone. No one is a perfect typographer and it is our job as graphic designers to keep learning about type and understand type as a whole. I am going to jump the gun and start off by explaining to you a really effective and learn worthy exercise that I had done during my undergraduate studies. I am going to share that exercise with you, so I encourage to give it a try!

To start off as a good typographer, you must first practice by thinking simple. There are so many things you can rely on with typography such as weight, size, fonts, and more. However, in this exercise we are going to apply a strict fundamental rule on ourselves about what weight and what size we can use. The first rule and the most important rule of this exercise is to only use one font!

typography exercise chris takakura

Typography exercise book I put together for my undergraduate studies

Beginning the exercise

To begin the exercise, all you need is a blank Illustrator or Photoshop document that is not too big nor too small. A size that I was told to use was somewhere between 5 inches x 5 inches to 7 inches by 7 inches. We are going to be working with a square document for the sake of limiting ourselves with the spacial real estate.

With that said, the first step is to find a favorite musical album of yours with a good number of track listing. Find an album that has no less than 8 tracks, but no more than 15 tracks. Do not use a double-disc album because the key is to work with content that is not too much but not too little.

Exercise Round 1: 1 size, 1 weight

As the first rule says, the first round of this exercise has a very limiting rule of where you can only use 1 size and 1 weight. You have all the option in the world to use as much spacing and angle as you want. You are also not bound by tracking or kerning, but I suggest you to stick to the default tracking for simplicity sake. Below is an example of my take on the 1 size, 1 weight rule.

typography exercise chris takakura

One size one weight rule

Exercise Round 2: 1 size, 2 weights

The 2nd round is to train your brain into using different weight options, and therefore, we are going to apply the rule of 1 size, 2 weights. This basically means that you have to use 2 different weights but stick with one size. Below is an example of my take on the 1 size, 2 weights rule.

typography exercise by chris takakura

One size two weights rule in effect

Also note that I have added track numbers to add extra creative flair. Just a little creative tip; numbers do not have to strictly be “numbers” but can be form of letters, spelled out numbers, or roman numerals.

Exercise Round 3: 2 sizes, 1 weight

The 3rd round of the exercise takes way the weight option and goes back to the limited 1 weight rule. However now you have the option to work with 2 sizes and come up with a creative typographic layout and execution. Example is below:

typography exercise by chris takakura

Two sizes, one weight rule in effect

Exercise Round 4: 2 sizes, 2 weights

The 4th round should be pretty self-explanatory by now. The rule here is to work with 2 different sizes and 2 different weight options.

typography exercise by chris takakura

Two sizes and two weights rule in effect

Exercise Round 5: Any size, any weight

The 5th round is probably the most flexible round in this exercise. Basically there are no rules here but if you really practiced yourself through this whole exercise, you might start understanding that the more options you have the more overwhelming it can be. Below is my example of utilizing any size and any weight:

typography exercise by chris takakura

Any size, any weight rule in effect

Exercise Round 6: Experimental

Probably the most funnest and entertaining round is the final round of the exercise which is dubbed “experimental”. Sometimes in the world of typography, it is really important to break away from the computer and work in traditional mediums such as paper, canvas, tracing paper, newsprint, napkins, etc. The experimental part of this exercise requires you to go outside of the digital realm and try using the hand lettering technique with different mediums such as markers, ink, charcoal, pencils, and more. Try giving it a shot utilizing different paper mediums using the same track listing content that you have used in the previous rounds. Below is my example of my experimental round:

typography exercise by chris takakura

Experimental typography utilizing letterpress, ink, pencils, etc.

The S.W.A.T tactic

I know that the acronym might throw you off a little bit but I am not talking about the police squad that take down criminals by all means. This acronym was conceived by me in 2006, as a thing to remember while I come up with a creative typography approach to any of my projects. The S.W.A.T tactic for typography is really straight forward once you memorize it, but can lead you to one of the most easiest and fundamental approach to applying typographic styles across your designs.

The “S”

The “S” is S.W.A.T stands for size. As we have done the typographic exercise, size is one of the core elements of creative typography. Remember that size in typography is important for many reasons:

  • Readability
  • Emphasis on a certain word. Level of importance can be achieved with size.
  • Hierarchy in reading. Headlines are usually bigger inside than the actual content.
  • Creating an illusion of depth.
  • Creating an illusion of dynamic movement.
  • The “W”

    The “W” in S.W.A.T stands for weight. Weight adds a lot of volume and emphasis on typography just like size. Weight can also be used to separate two words from one another (for readability and style) that doesn’t have much space in between. An example of this application is below:

    typography exercise by chris takakura

    Remember that using different weight in any typographic layout will differentiate your content from important to semi-important. The truth is, weight can really flourish your typographic execution if used effectively.

    The “A”

    The “A” in S.W.A.T stands for angle. Remember that if your projects allow you to be creative in all degree’s you do not have to always set your type from left to right. Using different angles, even something simple as a circle, vertical type, or a right to left orientation can really add flair to your typographic approach. Some examples of angular typography is below:

    typography exercise by: chris takakura

    Remember that angles, just like weight and size, can achieve emphasis in the words, create an illusion of depth and sometimes create an illusion of movement (kinetic typography). You might also find that angles can create unique ways for logo/identity design.

    The “T”

    The “T” in S.W.A.T stands for tracking. Tracking is defined as a space between a block of text or words, but to cover all grounds for the S.W.A.T tactic, you can also make a mental note that kerning (space between individual letter) can apply here too. Tracking can bring some unique typographic approaches to your projects such as:

  • Emphasis on space and clarity.
  • The illusion of movement from letter to letter.
  • Making a word readable that crosses another typography.
  • Emphasis on a certain word.
  • Examples of unique approaches to tracking is below:

    typography exercise by chris takakura

    I hope that this article was informative and helps you consider some unique approaches to typography. Remember to not just do one layout per exercise but try numerous attempts at how creative you can get with size, weight and layout. Remember that you have the freedom in regards to spacial relationship and angles, so try different things. As a graphic designer, one of the most important thing for us is to be unique, and to be unique, we must always practice to become better.

    My name is Chris Takakura, I am an art director and visual designer servicing businesses and studios around the world. I specialize in print design, brand/identity, with a strong concentration in web design & front-end development. I am always looking to connect and be involved in creative projects, so if you are interested in my creative services, please contact me here.

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    Chris Takakura