Kern Type | Method of Action

Game Critique | 3

Design for Educational Games
Instructor | Erik Harpstead
Spring 2021

All photos courtesy of Kern Type.

Game Metadata

For my third Game Critique, I have decided to review “Kern Type”, a Method of Action design game that is designed to help individuals learn the typographic design practice of adjusting letter spacing through the application of kerning to a variety of different type sets. The game was developed by Mark MacKay and Maria Munera and is accessible for free on desktop browsers.

Learning Objectives

The primary learning objectives for “Kern Type” is to aid designers and design students in achieving optical and optimal space between the letters within a word — which in the design world is known as “kerning”. This skill is developed through practice and training of the eye in an effort to achieve both a balanced aesthetic and legible text.

A secondary learning objective for this game would be learning and applying kerning to a variety of different type sets. As players advance on to a new word to kern they are also introduced to new typefaces where they are presented with the name of the typeface, the creator, and the year it was designed. Although this is not an active component of the game players can choose to engage with learning about the typeface as they interact with the kerning.

Game Elements

The core mechanics and game elements of “Kern Type” include:

  1. The baseline, x-height, cap height, and descender height lines — This is where the letters of the words sit. You can only slide the letters along these axes.
  2. The word — The words meaning and typestyle varies as the player advances on to the next word in the game.
  3. Toggle arrows — These give the player the ability to move individual letters with their mouse or trackpad.
  4. Keyboard shortcuts — These give players the ability to move individual letters with their keypad. Keys give players another level of control with their movements.
  5. The Typeface, Creator, and Year the Typeface was designed — this is presented with each new typeface that a player has to kern. Providing players with another layer of context. Including where the typeface originated and how old the typeface is. This information links out to Wikipedia pages with more information.
  6. The Next/Done Buttons — to advance on to the next word and see how players scored overall.
  7. Scoring — this is represented after the player tries kerning each word to the best of their ability. Players receive a score after completing each word alongside a visual representation and they also receive a composite score after they’ve completed a series of words ~ 6–10.
Keyboard Shortcuts
Scoring in between words

Overall the mechanics of this game are pretty straightforward. Players are introduced to the learning objectives on the home screen alongside a series of other design-based games. From here the player selects “Kern Type”.

Once players are inside the game they self discover the different game elements where they can either move letters within the word with their mouse and toggle arrows or can move letters through their keyboard shortcuts for an additional level of control. Here players can move letters by 1–10 pixels.

After a player believes that the word has been properly kerned they can select “Done” to see their score. A player's score is represented by a visual layering of the correct solution and the player's solution to see where improvements can be made.

Players go through a series of words before receiving a composite score of their kerning efforts that they can share on social media.

As I mentioned previously players have the ability to also familiarize themselves with the history of the typeface in between each word, however, this learning element is quite static linking to a Wikipedia page for “more info”.

Learning Principles

The main learning principles that I have identified in “Kern Type” include.

  1. Application
  2. Variability
  3. Feedback
  4. Comparison

Below I will cover all 4 principles and the effectiveness of their use.

  1. Application — This is represented in the player's overarching goal to apply the method of “kerning” to a variety of different words and typefaces. By applying this new knowledge of typesetting players are able to practice how to achieve optimal kerning. Although this practice and application is effective it feels somewhat limited, especially since you are only kerning one word at a time.
  2. Variability — This is represented in the variety of different typestyle that a player has to kern. Providing players multiple and varied typefaces provides players the opportunity to practice the concept from different visual perspectives.
  3. Feedback — This is represented after a player has attempted to set the type correctly. After clicking the “Done” button players are provided visual feedback of their attempt and the correct attempt. In addition to the visual feedback, payers are also provided a quantitative score /100. Although it is helpful to see the visual feedback through layering, the scoring component feels somewhat arbitrary.
  4. Comparison — This is represented through the feedback that is provided. Having the opportunity to visually compare the correct solution in blue and the player's attempt gives players a visual representation of where they need to improve.

Overall Critique

Overall I have always enjoyed this game as a tool for the course I teach “Communication Design Fundamentals”. Setting type and kerning type takes practice and training of the eye. However, although this can be a tricky skill to master it can also be quite relaxing. This game makes the barrier to entry in learning design skills quite low and gives individuals the opportunity to set type in a low-stakes environment with immediate feedback.

Although I have always previously enjoyed this game as a means of practice, as a game I think there are a few areas of improvement that could aid players in engaging with this tool more frequently and provide them specific learning outcomes.

A few of my design recommendations below.

Variety of Type Setting Experiences/ Scaffolding — I think there is an opportunity for players to not only learn how to kern 1 word but also kern multiple elements on a poster or lines of text within a paragraph? Perhaps there could be levels of difficulty where players have to score a higher score in order to move on to the next level. The higher levels could include multiple type design elements to interact within one composition.

Context — Could the words that the player has to kern have a significant context to the history of the typeface? This way while players are kerning they are also learning about the history of the typeface simultaneously.

Increasing the Competition — Competition in this game is currently designed for players to compete against themselves. I think it could be interesting to compete against players on a national level or even within a specific class. This might provide students/players an incentive to keep mastering their typesetting skills overtime.

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