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Digital Typography - a Free Typography Course


MAS962 Digital Typography - MIT OpenCourseWare

MAS962 Digital Typography

MIT OpenCourseWare
Offered as part of the MIT OpenCourseWare, Digital Typography was a Fall 1997 graduate course. Digital Typography (MAS962) is not a course about the aesthetics of specific typefaces or lessons in proper and accepted typesetting methods. Although it uses Robert Bringhurst's classic book The Elements of Typographic Style (Compare Prices), its contents are not the primary focus. This course explores typography at a more basic level. It looks at the use of letters, numbers, punctuation, spacing, movement, and even sounds in text communication.

Digital Typography Course Description:

Media Arts and Sciences Courses: MAS962: Digital Typography

The course consists only of the 10 class assignments and some of the student work from when this class was first presented at MIT. The lectures that were part of the original course are not included in these OpenCourseWare materials.

Original Course Description: "This class introduces studies in the algorithmic manipulation of type as word, symbol, and form. Problems covered will include semantic filtering, inherently unstable letterforms, and spoken letters. The history and traditions of typography, and their entry into the digital age, will be studied. Weekly assignments using Java® will explore new ways of looking at and manipulating type."

  • Free to all.
  • 10 Assignments in PDF format usually consisting of 2 or 3 parts.
  • Student solutions to the assignments are available (note that not all links work and some student work is incomplete).
  • Part 1 of most assignments draw from The Elements of Typographic Style (Compare Prices)
  • To complete the assignments as originally presented requires basic Java programming (see alternative methods of completion listed below).
  • No final exam. You can repeat the assignments (or the entire course) as often as you need.
  • No certificate of completion.

Easy Study Method:

  • Read The Elements of Typographic Style
  • Do the assignments that relate to the book (usually the first of 2 or 3 parts to each assignment).
  • Look at and study the student solutions for the other assignments which involved Java applet programming.

Intermediate Study Method:

  • Read The Elements of Typographic Style.
  • Read the supplemental material I've assembled (see "Dig Deeper" below).
  • Do the assignments that relate to the book (usually the first of 2 or 3 parts to each assignment).
  • Come up with your own ideas about how you might tackle the interactive assignments without actually creating the apps. Write out your ideas and solutions.

For example, in part 2 of Assignment 1 "Encodings" you may simply come up with your own encoding system without creating an app to demonstrate that system. I came up with this: 2-glyphs for each letter a-z that represent the sound of the name of the letter (not necessarily the sound(s) the letters represent.

a = ay
b = be
c = se
d = de
e = ee
f = ef
and so on.
Then try writing your name or simple phrases using your new encoding. In this made-up encoding of my own design, the phrase desktop publishing might come out as: deeskateohpe peuubeeliiesajiienge.

For the assignment that has you re-interpreting the image manipulation filters of noise, blur, and enhance in a textual way, one approach might be as I've done here:

  • Original: All good dogs roll over.
  • Blurred: @11 900|) |)09$ ?011 0^3?.

In this case I've interpreted blur in a form-based manner by taking certain letters and converting them to numbers or symbols that are similar in form to the original letters (either their upper or lowercase forms) to create a blurred rendering of the original text. You could also have different levels of blur -- converting only those shapes that correspond to numbers might be the lightest level of blur while converting all letters (as shown here) would be the heaviest blur. Another interpretation of blur might be to transpose letters or leave out vowels or substitute synonyms or antonyms for certain words for a content-based blur.

Advanced Study Method:

To gain an experience closer to what the original class offered you would:
  • Read the book, The Elements of Typographic Style.
  • Read the supplemental material I've assembled (see "Dig Deeper" below).
  • Go to About.com Java (java.about.com) and read the basics of installing the Java Developer's Kit and do a quick study of creating Java programs (see "Java" below).
  • Do as many of the additional assignments for each class as you can including those based on the reading assignment and those that involve creating a Java applet just as was done for the original class.

Who Should Take This Course:

This course is best attempted by those with a strong interest in typography and communication beyond the basics and beyond the more traditional use of digital type and text composition in print or on the Web. I recommend the Intermediate Course of Study for those not interested in digging into Java. Using the Advanced Course of Study is a way to combine an interest in typography with a desire to learn how to use Java.

Access the Course:

  • About.com Distance Learning: MIT OpenCourseWare
  • Assignments: 10 PDF files titled ps1.pdf through ps10.pdf listed with the original corresponding lecture #. Student solutions for assignments 1-9 are linked below the assignments.
  • Final Project: MAS962 Principles Links to a selection of some of the student solutions for assignments 1-10.


Dig Deeper Into Digital Typography:

Because this course does not contain the original lectures, I've compiled a list of additional resources that can enhance your use of the OpenCourseWare for Digital Typography. This material is from About.com and elsewhere on the Web.

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