Design Cross-Training Exercises, #1: DIY Type

Dig into the first of 10 design exercises featured in the Summer issue of HOW Magazine and share your creations on Twitter or Instagram with #DesignXTraining. 

Design Exercises: DIY Type

Time limit: 60 minutes

You probably know a designer with a typeface obsession. You may be that designer, scrolling endlessly through well-made typefaces online and finding the thinnest of excuses to use one in a project. If you can’t find the typeface you need, you can always make it yourself. But what if you were asked to craft a custom typeface, and were limited to just a few shapes to construct it?

You’ve been asked to create a typeface to help promote a conference for the Maker Movement, which is for do-it-yourself inventors, designers, makers, artists, hackers and tinkerers. Your client handed you a box of items and wants you to use their shapes as the basis for the typeface.

Click to download the image as a pdf

Take a look at the items here, and create a typeface whose letterforms are constructed solely from their shapes. You can use multiple items across any number of letterforms, but you can’t have a single letterform made solely from multiples of one item.


Ask someone to fill a box with at least 12 random items and give it to you. Make a second typeface from the shapes of those items.


Incorporate half of the letterforms from your first typeface with half from the second.

In the Summer issue of HOW, David & Mary Sherwin present a series of 10 essential design exercises to keep your creativity agile, energetic and powerful. Each one is paired with skill-building next steps and creative cross-training activities to help you work out different parts of your brain. Why is creative cross-training important? As Sherwin writes,

“Cross-training taught me a different sort of discipline as a designer. You can work on improving specific skills that come up as part of projects: Arranging elements in a page spread, crafting a compelling identity or icon, laying out a responsive website, or animating graphics for a video. But your biggest gains will come from design cross-training—moving through a variety of different design exercises that help you build and extend your skills.”

Keep an eye out at for more exciting design exercises, and check out all of them in HOW Magazine!