Design

Aspiring Font Nerds, Adobe Has Free Online Courses for You


Letterpress types, made of wood, in a vintage print shop

Photograph by Jan Sochor/Latincontent/Getty Images

Letterpress types, made of wood, in a vintage print shop

(Corrects to reflect that Adobe is focusing on typeography, not type design, in the headline and first paragraph)

Adobe Systems (ADBE), the company that made desktop publishing possible, now wants you to care about typography, and not in the nerdy way we all do. The company that made Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator now wants users—pros and otherwise—to be a little more sophisticated about their fonts. (Under the right conditions, even Comic Sans can save the day.) To that end, Adobe has launched a free, online crash course in typography.

This Codecademy-style effort comes at what could be called Peak Font. Beginning with Gary Hustwit’s 2007 documentary, Helvetica, typeface design has moved out of the realm of the design elite and into the world of the mildly interested. And with good reason: Because the look of everything, from websites and apps to business cards and annual reports, is the culmination of small type-design decisions, which in turn define a company’s brand. Yet most of us don’t give fonts their due.

“Typography can seem intimidating,” says Tim Brown, who oversees Adobe’s library of fonts. “But we all start somewhere.” That somewhere could be Typekit Practice, which is structured to ease beginners into the basics of typography, including what the heck it is, before graduating to the process of shading, or creating shadows or 3D effects.

Adobe made waves last year, when the software company discontinued its Creative Suite and migrated all its software tools to the cloud. Brown says the free lessons are geared toward users who subscribe to the cloud-based model for a $30 monthly fee. “If a customer doesn’t find value in our software and services, she’ll just cancel her Creative Cloud subscription,” he says.

If you decide the nuances of type aren’t for you, rest easy. Knowing the difference between a typeface and a font isn’t a prerequisite for being a great business leader; you just need to appreciate the value of hiring the right designers. But for those who do want to split hairs over the typeface-font debate: Helvetica is the typeface, and the size (12 point) and style (italics, bold) are fonts.

Lanks is the design editor of Businessweek.com.

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