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    When Archer Met Avenir

    type connection’s teaching methods
    for pairing typefaces

    I have a love affair with typography. I love everything from its detailed forms and bold texture to its rich history and connection to both writing and speech. For my thesis project, I wanted to figure out how to get other graphic designers, especially students, excited to learn about type. I designed Type Connection, a website and modified dating game that aims to educate visitors about the choices involved in pairing typefaces. Through an interactive interface, I introduce users to personified typeface characters, teach strategies for pairing two typefaces together, and help users understand what constitutes a good combination.

    Type Connection could have taken many forms: a printed book, a how-to guide, a series of flash cards, and more. I decided to make Type Connection a website. As a website, Type Connection has the potential to reach a wider audience, quickly, at a more affordable price (for both myself and my users). The project is online and available for people to see with just one click. Users can access the resource at any time of day or night. As an educational tool, an online game allows choices, and provides pacing and suspenseelements that are often lost or impossible to imitate through a book. An online game also enables the user to pair typefaces more easily and receive immediate feedback based on those choices. With a website, I can add and edit information, as needed. Most importantly, I can reveal a lot of information about typography gradually, in digestible bits, and account for different levels of involvement from my users.

    Users will be excited to discover content because it feels like it is new information that I designed and wrote just for them.

    Aside from discrepancies across Internet speed, devices, and browsers, the main disadvantage of teaching users how to pair typefaces through an online interface is that each user’s experience is different. Type Connection’s lessons depend on the pairings users try and the number of times they play. Each user’s interaction with Type Connection is unique, which may not allow for consistent educational experiences or similar interpretations of the content.

    The virtue of this unique experience, however, is that users feel empowered. Users are more likely to enjoy learning about typography if they feel invested in the steps they take. They will be excited to discover content because it feels like it is new information that I designed and wrote just for them. The game follows users’ own tastes and decisions and, in doing so, uncovers strengths and weaknesses that may not have surfaced without this personalized, interactive learning. With a website, users can return to the site as many times as they’d like, and will feel this sense of excitement each time they play.

    To teach users how to pair typefaces, Type Connection personifies typefaces and uses the metaphor that users are matchmakers for typefaces looking for love. Like human beings, typefaces are built with common DNA; they share basic anatomies (arms, legs, x-heights, apertures, counters, etc.) that students can analyze and compare. I chose to anthropomorphize typefaces so that, from the outset, users would get a sense of a typeface’s physique, voice, and personality. The metaphor puts the user in a familiar context. Everyone can sympathize with what it’s like (and what’s at stake) when searching for a potential companion. I hoped that users would become more emotionally invested in the success of their pairings if they were matchmakers, the ones responsible for the combinations, rather than graphic designers performing a task. Users learn by playing, a strategy that differentiates the site from other educational resources on typography. If users have fun while learning, they are more likely to return. Personification and metaphor inspire users to think creatively about pairing typefaces. They make an esoteric subject like typography approachable and fresh.

    Personification and metaphor inspire users to think creatively about pairing typefaces.

    By creating humanlike personalities for my typefaces and challenging users to help them find love, I risked disrupting Type Connections’ ultimate purpose: presenting users with reproducible strategies for pairing typefaces. For entertainment and engagement purposes, I added creative writing and nonessential layers of information through which users would have to grasp these strategies. To allow for personification and metaphor, I decided Type Connection would not (and could not) give clear formulas. I did not want to provide strict rules on how to pair typefaces, but because of this more open-ended, imaginative strategy, I risked convoluting the topic and confusing my users.

    I worried that my users might become confused by the metaphor, so I reduced that risk by separating Type Connection’s creative writing from the practical writing about type. When I personified a typeface, I looked at the typeface as an image, not as a functional letterform, and interpreted the body and appearance of the typeface to be suggestive of human character traits. Type specimens and the reverse sides of character cards speak to the typefaces as people, and because I treated the text as a visual composition, the specimens and character cards showcase each face as a palette of weights and styles. “Family portraits” and “happy couples” snapshots allude to activities the typefaces would enjoy if the typefaces were people, but more apparently, the portraits and couples illustrate the pairs in practical applications. I separated the language of love from the language of typography, and this allowed me to incorporate extra levels of information that would enrichnot stifleuse of the website.

    Type Connection uses another method for teaching the pairing of typefaces: the selection of strategies. Once users select a main character to pair, they choose whether to “rely on family, “seek the similar, “embrace the other, or “explore the past. Their choice guides the subsequent options for daters and the degree to which I deem certain options correct (or not). From an educational standpoint, I introduced the strategies as measuring sticks to help the users evaluate the appropriateness of their pairings. This choice is monumental in the game. It orients users’ thinking about potential daters. It forces the users to make a judgmentone the users will likely repeat in real life when creating their own pairingswhile making the users aware that there is more than one rationale for pairing typefaces. It encourages users to think strategically before responding visually, so that they will learn how to justify their own type decisions to others.

    The challenge of forcing Type Connection’s users to choose a strategy before proceeding with the game is that it gives the impression that users have more control in the game than they really do. If unable to break rules or make genuinely free choices, users might rethink how much fun they’re having. They may question whether Type Connection can really be considered a game if it consists of a series of closed loops. Users could feel manipulated, as if they are being cornered to take specific paths. In requiring users to make a choice—and one that is not truly open—I risked frustrating users to the point where they would stop playing.

    In designing a closed loop for Type Connection, I guide users down paths in order to give them helpful feedback.

    I mitigated the possibility of users resenting (and leaving) the game by reinforcing the choices that they make each step thereafter. Instructions at future steps embrace users’ choice of strategy, whether I instruct them to “make themselves at home” and learn more about a typeface family or ask them to evaluate a pairing based on that strategy. In designing a closed loop for Type Connection, I guide users down paths in order to give them helpful feedback. Each response is tailored to users’ exact choices and imparts certain lessons. The illusion of a customized response creates a delight that outweighs any possible frustration. By requiring the user to choose between a few purposeful options, Type Connection focuses users’ thinking so users feel they are learning valuable lessons while enjoying the metaphor of matchmaking.

    When I launched Type Connection online, I felt proud that the project was complete and oddly comforted that no one knew about it yet. I hoped that teachers would recommend the game, students would enjoy playing, and that designers would pass it around in their close circles. I submitted a website link to eight design blogs, believing that their editors would deem the project worth sharing. Immediately after hitting Send, I worried about broken links, typos, and errors. I worried that visitorsespecially typeface designerswould passionately disagree with my logic and pairings.

    I felt proud that the project was complete and oddly comforted that no one knew about it yet.

    That same day, Quipsologies and Swissmiss featured Type Connection, and the site received 9,873 visits. Messages swarmed on Twitter, to my shock. The number of international visitors impressed me most. Out of 106,000 unique visitors so far, only 42% are from the United Statesthe remaining spanning 150 countries. I was ecstatic to read that people found the site informative, innovative, and funny. They enjoyed playing. Each visitor spent an average of three minutes doing so. Twenty-five percent of visitors are return visitors.Some demanded more typefaces be added to the site. Friends questioned how I could monetize the site’s traffic and content.

    I created a Type Connection Twitter username, and I have nearly 400 followers. I have no clear vision of where the brand should go next (if anywhere). I am far more excited about the opportunities that Type Connection has allowed, from offers for freelance work to job interviews. I hope that Type Connection will give me the chance to work on new projects that require a similar depth of thinking.