Posters with Type


The Figure/Ground Relationship in Typography

Skills: For most, but not all, this will be their first semester of type. On average, about three will have some difficulty following a lecture, instructions, or an in-class critique. Most of the students will have beginner-level software skills, but some may be more advanced.


Time: One and a half to two hours; balance can be homework.


Objectives: (SWBAT) Students will be able to understand what the figure/ground relationship is and recognize it in different circumstances using combinations of shapes, combinations of words…an example would be a large poster…and combinations of the white of the page and the black of the text, in which the characters themselves “sit in a matrix of white space” to paraphrase Mike Parker. Increased visual sophistication and awareness of spatial relationships, risk-taking, iteration, software skill-building.


Deliverable: 12 x 16 poster gridded into 12 squares demonstrating figure-ground relationships between each letter and its container and/or several squares together. Two colors (black and red)


Materials: Introductory slide show demonstrating different kinds of examples of the f/g relationship. Further demo “desktop how-to” videos show how to divide the poster into a grid and crop the letters using Illustrator.


Specific vocabulary: Figure, ground, positive, negative, void, crop, glyph, character, matrix,



1. Start with slide show accompanied by conversations and questions. The slides start with familiar optical ‘tricks’ to get the students used to changing their ‘focus’ or emphasis. Most of the students will recognize the images in the beginning. (activating the schema)


2. The slides continue showing paintings in which the importance of the colors or shapes can be interpreted as equal (Ellsworth Kelly), followed by well-known logos that use negative space such as Federal Express, NBC, etc. Students recognize and are sometimes surprised to “get” the use of space.


3. Discussion of why the human brain wants to recognize patterns, sort, and categorize. Slides continue with examples of layout and typography. Suddenly it’s REAL and useful to them.


4. Demo of manipulating letters in a square (in illustrator), with reference to the Alfred Roller monograms seen in the slide show. Depending on time, students can make a similar monogram with their initials in a 4-inch square in Illustrator.


5. Discussion of glyphs and characters; how to access the glyphs palette.


6. Demo of cropping process in Illustrator Create letters cropped into squares that can be combined into a poster.


7. “Desktop how-to” mini-movie shows students how to divide the 12 x 16 poster into a grid of four-inch squares.


8. Students experiment with finding the relationships between the letter and one four-inch `tile’, then with tiles together as a poster. I think the best results come from getting the students off to a good start in the class, but asking them to finish it as homework, so they can ponder and play.


9. Drafts of the poster can be printed on 11 x 17 tabloid paper, but the final should be printed on the big Epsons on good paper.
They can see their work as rich and bright as it should be.


10. Voila!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *