Teaching typography across cultures: a few tentative thoughts

Keith Tam
Keith Tam
Apr 2, 2019 · 4 min read

At the ATypI working seminars in Colombo, Sri Lanka, I shared my experience in teaching typography across cultures. My focus was not the differences between teaching in Canada, UK and Hong Kong (where I have taught), but the different perspectives of design education that are expressed in terms of believes, values and actions.

Typography teaching usually happens within the context of communication design education (or graphic design, visual communication). The degree to which typography is emphasised or valued in a specific programme varies. Some view typography as an expressive visual element, some view it as the most fundamental aspect of communication. Some see it as a technical skill (ie typesetting, desktop publishing), while others view it as a specialised area of academic study. The meaning of the term typography hence has many different interpretations.

I perceive at least four perspectives or ‘schools of thoughts’ of typography (and communication design) education, each one I have held to varying degrees throughout my teaching career so far. Let me briefly outline these four perspectives:

Visual concept: creating something new

Craft tradition: creating something good

User-centred: creating something that fits the purpose

Pursuit of knowledge: finding truth

What is your perspective?

Read this article in Traditional Chinese: 文字設計教育的四種思想流派

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