13 March 2013

Typography is the area within graphic design which deals specifically with lettering and typefaces.

Typographers specialise in fonts and lettering and its role in graphic design. Image: University of the Creative Arts
Typographers specialise in fonts and lettering and its role in graphic design. Image: University of the Creative Arts

What do typographers do?

Typography is part of graphic design. Graphic design creates visual messages, using words and images. Typography is the part which deals specifically with lettering and typefaces.

When choosing lettering, the typographer has to decide on:

  • typeface (style)
  • size
  • spacing, between lines and between letters
  • colour
  • line length
  • movement, if the lettering is for film, TV or animation

The typographer also has to consider who the message is aimed at and what its purpose is. The message may provide information for advertising, safety, identity and branding, or editorial and publishing needs.

Lettering is everywhere. Just some of its uses are:

  • book covers
  • posters
  • maps and signs
  • logos
  • magazines
  • exhibition materials
  • packaging
  • websites
  • vehicle instrument panels.

Nowadays a lot of typography is IT-based. However, it can also include lettering by hand and in other contexts such as architectural inscriptions (on stone, for example).

What is the job like?

Typographers may work for the design department of an organisation, or for a design company or agency. Some are freelance.

You need an interest in how people react to messages, particularly the written word.

They often work in an open plan studio along with other designers. Much of the work involves sitting in front of a computer screen. There may be some travel to meet clients.

In a smaller agency, you are more likely to work directly with clients. In a larger organisation, client contact may be through account managers.

Although the work is mainly normal office hours, Monday to Friday, you may have to work longer hours close to deadlines.

How do I become a typographer?

As with all graphic design, it is essential to have an eye for design and an interest in the way things look. It also helps to be interested in how people react to messages, particularly the written word.

You also need to be able to:

  • pay great attention to detail
  • communicate your ideas
  • come up with creative ideas, but listen carefully to what the client is asking for
  • work to a brief, within the constraints of a budget and deadline
  • deal with your designs being rejected and be prepared to rework them if necessary, sometimes at very short notice
  • work as part of a team or on your own, as required.

IT skills are essential. You need to be interested in keeping up-to-date with developments in IT.

Employers will usually expect you to have a portfolio of your work to show them at interviews.

What training and qualifications do I need?

Although there is no set entry route, this is a competitive field to get into.

Degree courses

Most typographers have a degree, often in graphic design. There are courses specialising in typography, including:

There are graphic design degrees at many universities across the UK (some with typography modules). Some courses have other, related titles such as Visual Communication, GraphicCommunication and Multimedia Graphics.

If you study for a more general graphic design degree, you may want to continue your studies by taking a Masters which allows you to specialise in typography. You may be able to study during a career break or by part-time or distance learning.

The UCAS website lists all the courses available in the UK. D&AD also has information about design courses.

For a degree, you usually need at least two A levels (or equivalent). Some design degree courses may also ask for a Foundation Diploma. This is a one-year course offered by many colleges and some universities.

Training and vocational routes into typography

You could enter through an apprenticeship in Graphic Design at Level 2 or 3. Employers will expect GCSEs, usually in English and Maths. They may also want Art and Design or IT. Some may ask for one or more A levels (for Level 3 apprenticeships).

After a graphic design degree, you could specialise in typography with a Masters.

There are often short courses in typography offered by several colleges and universities, or by freelance typographers.

Although they may be an introduction to the subject, or help you brush up your skills, these do not usually lead to recognised qualifications. You should check the fees and course content carefully before applying.

As you develop your career and begin to specialise in typography, you could join the International Society of Typographic Designers.

What can I earn?

As a trainee in graphic design, you may start on the minimum or apprentice wage. A junior designer/typographer could start on around £14,000 to £17,000 per year, rising to £25,000 with experience.

A senior designer could earn £30,000 to £45,000 per year.

Freelance designers are paid an hourly or daily rate (for the days they are working) which could often be from £200 to £300 per day.

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