Thinking with Type


Tools for Teachers

This site was designed as a classroom companion to the book Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, and Students. Included here are lectures, project ideas, handouts, and more to use for teaching.

Adapt this basic syllabus for your own courses.
Type I syllabus (pdf)

Build your students' typographic thinking with these classic projects.
Draw letterforms in class
Word project
Text project
Grid project
Poster project

PDFs to show on the big screen.

Type Basics: Size, Scale, Mixing Typefaces, Leading, and More

History of Typefaces
History of Typefaces (Spanish)
, contributed by Laura Meseguer
History of the Alphabet
, contributed by Judy Ross
Type Study: Tables of Contents

Word: Experimental Typography
Grid: Experimental Typography
How to Make Beautiful Books
Artists Books: How to Do Things with Typography


These handy PDFs facilitate classroom discussion. Print them out or show them on screen.
Type Families
Writing with Scala (sample type specimen)
Alignment (justified, flush left, flush right, centered)
NY Times (all manners of alignment on a single page)
Caps and Small Caps in Context
Portrait of Four Garamonds
Lining and Non-Lining Numerals in Context
Text Essay from Thinking with Type


Now available, Thinking with Type, Second Edition, Revised and Expanded. With forty-eight pages of new content and dozens of updated illustrations. More fonts, more fun, more factoids, more type crimes!
Order book from

Fontstruct Free online tool from FontShop, great for introducing students to type design.
thedesignencyclopedia Find information, or help build the site with your students!
Russian Avant-Garde Books Beautiful MoMA site lets you turn pages of avant-garde books.
Design films by Hillman Curtis Lovingly made films are great to share with your students.
The Art of the Title Sequence
, with clips. Wow!

Type Crimes

The Crime: Vertical or Horizontal Scaling

HOW TO PLAY: Shown here is a machine for distorting type. As the letters get hit by the evil sprites, they become distorted in the horizontal or vertical direction, yielding effects that are arbitrary, monstrous, and sometimes beautiful.

WHY TO PLAY: Stretching letters distorts their overall proportions and internal line weights. This crime is committed both inadvertently (through careless use of software) and in cold blood (in order to force type to fill a given space).

Game designed by Ellen Lupton.

The Crime: Dumb quotes

HOW TO PLAY: Destroy the evil hatch marks (a.k.a. dumb quotes) and preserve the good quotation marks (a.k.a. curly quotes).

WHY TO PLAY: Quotation marks consist of distinct characters for opening and closing a quoted passage. Hatch marks consist of a single set of vertical strokes. The only proper use for hatch marks is to indicate inches and feet (5'2").

Game designed by Ellen Lupton.

The Crime:Pseudo Italics

HOW TO PLAY: Use the arrow keys to position the canon; use the space bar to fire. Protect the letters from distortion while defending your own canon.

WHY TO PLAY: A true italic typeface is not just a slanted version of a roman font. The characters are specially designed to provide a traditional mode of variation within a type family.

Game designed by George Moore.

The Movie:Rated R

Animation by Jay Miller. Directed by Ellen Lupton.


Since the onslaught of desktop publishing back in the dark days of the mid-1980s, graphic designers have taken on roles formerly occupied by distinct trades, such as typesetting and mechanical pasteup. Designers are often expected to be editors as well. Every project should have a true editor, a person with the training and disposition to judge the correctness, accuracy, and consistency of written content. Neither a project's author nor its designer should be its editor, who is rightly a neutral party between them. If a project team includes no properly trained editor, try to find one. If that fails, make sure that someone is responsible for this crucial role, for the failure to edit carefully is the source of costly and embarrassing errors.

Editing a text for publication has three basic phases. Developmental editing addresses broad issues of the content and the structure of a work; indeed, it can include judging a work's fitness for publication in the first place. Copy editing (also called line editing or manuscript editing) seeks to root out redundancies, inconsistencies, grammatical errors, and other flaws appearing across the body of the work. The copy editor-who must study every word and sentence-is not expected to question the overall meaning or structure of a work, nor to alter an author's style, but rather to refine and correct. Proofreading, which checks the correctness, consistency, and flow of designed, typset pages, is the final stage. Depending on the nature of the project and its team, each of these phases may go through several rounds.

anatomy of an error After a document has been written, edited, designed, and proofread, a printer's proof is created by the printer from the digital files supplied by the designer. Many clients (or authors) fail to recognize errors (or make decisions) until the printer's proofs are issued. This luxury has its costs, and someone will have to pay.

pe's (printer's errors) These are errors that can be assigned to the printer, and they must be corrected at no expense to the designer or client. A printer's error is an obvious and blatant divergence from the digital files and other instructions provided by the designer and agreed to by the printer. Printer's errors are surprisingly rare in the digital age.

aa's (author's alterations) These are not so rare. Author's alterations are changes to the approved text or layout of the work. If the change originates with the designer, the designer is responsible. If it originates with the client or author, she or he is responsible. Keeping records of each phase of a project's development is helpful in assigning blame later. Designers can charge the client a fee for the aa on top of the printer's fee, as the designer must correct the file, print out new hard copy, get the client's approval (again), communicate with the printer (again), and so on. If agreed to in advance, designers can charge aa fees for any change to an approved document, even before the printer's proof is issued.

ea's (editor's alterations) Errors made by the editor are the responsibility of the editor's employer, typically the client or publisher of the work. Good editors help prevent everyone's errors from occurring in the first place.

For more detailed information about the editorial process, see , 16th Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

Editing Hard Copy

Editing Soft Copy



About the Author

is a writer, curator, and graphic designer. She is director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art () in Baltimore, where she also serves as director of the Center for Design Thinking. As curator of contemporary design at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum since 1992, she has produced numerous exhibitions and books, including Mechanical Brides: Women and Machines from Home to Office (1993), Mixing Messages: Graphic Design and Contemporary Culture (1996), Letters from the Avant-Garde (1996), and Skin: Surface, Substance + Design (2002).

D.I.Y.: Design It Yourself (2006), co-authored with her graduate students at MICA, explains design processes to a general audience. D.I.Y. Kids (October 2007), co-authored with Julia Lupton, is a design book for children illustrated with kids’ art. The Lupton twins’ latest book is Design Your Life: The Pleasures and Perils of Everyday Things (St Martin’s Griffin, 2009). Other books include Graphic Design: The New Basics (with Jennifer Cole Phillips, 2008) and Indie Publishing: How to Design and Produce Your Own Book (2008). She is the co-author with Abbott Miller of several books, including The Bathroom, the Kitchen, and the Aesthetics of Waste (1992), Design Writing Research (1996), and Swarm (2006).

Lupton is a 2007 recipient of the AIGA Gold Medal, one of the highest honors given to a graphic designer or design educator in the U.S. She has contributed to various publications, including Print, Eye, I.D., Metropolis, and the Her editorial illustrations have been published in The New York Times. A frequent lecturer around the U.S. and the world, Lupton will speak about design to anyone who will listen.

Other exhibitions she has curated and co-curated include the National Design Triennial series (2000, 2003, 2006), Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table, 1500–2005 (2006), Solos: New Design from Israel (2006), and Graphic Design in the Mechanical Age (1999), all at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.

Contact Ellen: elupton (at)

About the Website

If were a carton of eggs, it would be filled with those created (and sometimes illustrated) by Ellen Lupton. The egg carton would be constructed by Christopher Clark. If you wanted to extend this metaphor, you might say that the egg carton was constructed with a generous amount of help from symphony CMS and the jquery javascript library. The beautiful typography on the outside of the carton was designed by Peter Bilak and hosted by the typotheque type foundry. The egg carton was certified safe by the W3C and constructed from sturdy, lightweight, and standards-compliant XHTML and XSLT.

Events: Ellen Lupton

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