Computational approaches to typography

NYU ITP, Fall 2018. Instructor: Allison Parrish. Send me an e-mail.

Important links: Schedule, form for submitting homework.


This course considers aspects of the materiality of typography and type design in the context of electronic media. Students will gain an understanding of how letterforms, typefaces and the layout of text have been represented as data throughout the history of electronic media, and experiment with different ways to author, manipulate and misuse that data through computation. Our eclectic and opinionated historical cross-section of topics includes (but is not limited to) typewriter art, asemic writing, minimalist and concrete poetry, 8-bit home computer text modes, interactive/kinetic text, parametric and generative fonts, and emoji. Students will complete a series of weekly assignments for presentation and critique in each session. In addition to critique, each session will feature lectures, class discussion, and technical tutorials. Prerequisites: Introduction to Computational Media or equivalent programming experience.


Class schedule with readings, assignments, and due dates.

Ethos, methodology, structure, outcomes

This class combines components of seminar, workshop, and tech tutorial. Each week, we’ll examine a topic in the computational materiality of typography (through reading discussions, discussions of individual works of art and design, and in-class lecture), and then learn how to use a computational tool to make something that engages with or challenges the content of our discussions. We’ll also use class time to share work with each other and give feedback and criticism.

By the end of the last class session, students will be literate in a range of topics and debates at the intersection of computation, typography, type design, and layout. Students will have made several prototype projects that exercise this literacy and a final project that shows their mastery of the material presented in class.


Students are expected to have access to a computer running a recent version of macOS, Windows and/or Linux.

Attendance, lateness, and in-class behavior policies


You are expected to attend all class sessions. Absences due to non-emergency situations will only be cleared if you let me know a week (or more) in advance, and even then only for compelling personal or professional reasons (e.g., attending an important conference, going to a wedding). If you’re unable to attend class due to contagious or incapacitating illness, please let me know (by e-mail) before class begins.

Each unexcused absence will deduct 5% from your final grade. If you have two or more unexcused absences, you risk failing the course.


Be on time to class. If you’re more than fifteen minutes late, or if you leave early (without my clearance), it will count as an unexcused absence.

In-class behavior

Laptops must be closed while your fellow students are presenting work. You’re otherwise welcome to use laptops in class, but only to follow along with the in-class tutorials and to take notes. (Keeping all of this in mind.)

Assignments and projects

This class has seven deliverables:

  • Five tech sketches
  • Collective bibliography contribution
  • Final project

Turn in sketches and final project here.

Tech sketches

Five “sketch” assignments will be assigned, one each week (except for week 6). The goal of each “sketch” is to make a quick prototype project with the tools and concepts discussed in class that week. The word “sketch” is used to emphasize that these projects will necessarily be preliminary and small in scope. Students are expected to spend no more than a few hours completing these projects.

Sketches must be turned in at the beginning of the session listed as the due date in the schedule. Work turned in after the deadline will not be accepted.

You must write a public blog post to document each sketch. This post should talk about your experiences with the tool in question, along with a description of what you hoped to accomplish and along with an evaluation of how well your implementation matched your ambitions. The post should also include any source code written in the course of creating the sketch and (depending on the assignment requirements) a “playable” version or representative example of the sketch’s output.

If you feel uncomfortable sharing your sketch documentation with the general public, please talk to me and we can make alternate arrangements.

Bibliography contribution

Over the course of the class, you must contribute at least three readings or links to projects related to the content of the course. Add your contribution to the collective bibliography Google doc.

Final project

Because this is a two-credit class, the final project is necessarily limited in scope. The project has no set requirements, other to demonstrate emerging mastery of the concepts and techniques presented in class. But as a basic guideline, students are invited to further develop one of the tech sketches made previously in the class. Students must document their final project (using the same criteria given for the tech sketch assignments) and will present their final project on the final day of class. (Plan for a 5-10 minute presentation.)

Grading policy

Component Percentage
Attendance and participation 30%
Sketches 5 x 8% (40%)
Bibliography contribution 10%
Final project 20%

Here’s the breakdown of how grades correspond with percentages. Note that the completion of all components of the class is necessary to earn a passing grade.

Grade Percentage
A 90 to 100
B 80 to 89
C 70 to 79
D 60 to 69
F Below 60

For students taking the class as pass/fail (i.e., all ITP students), anything below a B (79% and below) will be graded as a fail. More information on ITP’s grading policy here.

Statements from Tisch School of the Arts

Statement of academic integrity

Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work as though it were your own. More specifically, plagiarism is to present as your own: A sequence of words quoted without quotation marks from another writer or a paraphrased passage from another writer’s work or facts, ideas or images composed by someone else.

Statement of principle

The core of the educational experience at the Tisch School of the Arts is the creation of original academic and artistic work by students for the critical review of faculty members. It is therefore of the utmost importance that students at all times provide their instructors with an accurate sense of their current abilities and knowledge in order to receive appropriate constructive criticism and advice. Any attempt to evade that essential, transparent transaction between instructor and student through plagiarism or cheating is educationally self-defeating and a grave violation of Tisch School of the Arts community standards. For all the details on plagiarism, please refer to page 10 of the Tisch School of the Arts, Policies and Procedures Handbook.

Statement on accessibility

Please feel free to make suggestions to your instructor about ways in which this class could become more accessible to you. Academic accommodations are available for students with documented disabilities. Please contact the Moses Center for Students with Disabilities at 212-998-4980 for further information.

Statement on counseling and wellness

Your health and safety are a priority at NYU. If you experience any health or mental health issues during this course, we encourage you to utilize the support services of the 24/7 NYU Wellness Exchange 212-443-9999. Also, all students who may require an academic accommodation due to a qualified disability, physical or mental, please register with the Moses Center 212-998-4980. Please let your instructor know if you need help connecting to these resources.

Statement on use of electronic devices

Laptops will be an essential part of the course and may be used in class during workshops and for taking notes in lecture. Laptops must be closed during class discussions and student presentations. Phone use in class is strictly prohibited unless directly related to a presentation of your own work or if you are asked to do so as part of the curriculum.