Of Children and Typefaces on This Makes Me Happy

Of Children and Typefaces: Running a Type Design Workshop With Kids

A few weeks ago I was very happy to receive a message in my facebook inbox asking me if I’d be interested to run a type creation workshop for young kids, randing from second to fifth grade in age. I used to work with children when I was a Junior and Senior in high school as a youth group leader, and I always loved interacting with kids and positively having an effect in their lives—even years after I stopped doing this kind of work I had my former kids, then teenagers, come to me ro reminess about my tenure as their group leader. So it was an easy “yes” to get me back to work with kis, and even more so since I love typography and I thought it would be a nice challenge to teach kids about the process of designing typefaces.

The Beam Center in Brooklyn was the host; the organization whose mission “is to guide kids and teens to build their future and brihten the world through collaboration and creation” runs a two-week summer camp, each week with a diferent theme. I was invited to participate in the week of multiples, where each day they ran a different workshop that related to the topic. The kids did playing cards and hats on two of those days and I covered the idea of letters.

Of Children and Typefaces on This Makes Me Happy

In the morning we did a short introduction on what is graphic design and typography, as well as how typefaces are designed. I asked the kids a lot of questions to gauge their intrest and knowledge, and was very pleased—and entretained—with most of their answers that showed either knowledge or creativity on what graphic design and typography are. I once heard someone say—and unfortunately I can’t remember who to give them credit—that nowadays everyone—even our grandmothers—knows what a font is because we all use Word and it’s harder to educate the client about what we do as designers, but these kids were very open to learning, and to sharing what they knew about the subject.

We only had a couple of hours in the morning before the lunch break, so we quickly jumped on the first project: I assigned each kid a few letters and they were instructed to draw them however they wanted. There were no parameters beyond which letters they were to draw, so the kids came up with very creative solutions. Some letters were very easy to read right away, while others required context to decipher. We wrapped up the activity with a show-and-tell where the kids gave their impressions and we discussed how hard it was to work with a set of letters that was so disparate. I was very impressed both with the drawings and with the level of discussion we had.

Of Children and Typefaces on This Makes Me Happy

After the lunch break we switched modes. Each kid was given a sheet with outlines of the vowels and were instructed to experiment with developing a theme to produce a decorative typeface. After trying at least three themes, they were to pick one and expand it to a full alphabet based on a grid of outlined letters. Again, the parameters were limited and the only instructions were to come up with a theme and apply it to the whole alphabet. Some themes were more concrete, such a monsters or animals; others were more abstract with lines and spikes; and some were more cute and decorative, including hearts. After each kid was done decorating their grid of letters, they made copies of their alphabets, cut them out, and glued them down to make words.

At the end of the day, we met for a final show-and-tell, where each kid talked about their theme and showed their letters and words. Working with children can be challenging because their level of involvement with an activity can vary drastically, but overall the results were great and it offered a fresh perspective on the regimented discipline of typeface design. The kids were very excited to see their typeface in action and being able to wrtite words and sentences based on their theme. I was challenged with great questions about the process of typeface design and saw some amazing letters drawn in a short span of time.

As a surprise ending, while the kids were working on their alphabet, the Beam team and I worked in the background to digitize the letters they drew in the morning and put them together in a font. The results were silly and fun, and the kids had a blast typing on the keyboard and seeing their letters come to life.

Of Children and Typefaces on This Makes Me Happy


Photos courtesy of Alen Riley at the Beam Center.

What Are Your Indicators Of Happiness?

In a recent meeting about business strategy, I was asked how much I would like to earn and I had a hard time giving a straight answer; while we often associate money with happiness, I have learned that there are other more important factors to determine how positive I feel about myself. Yes, having money to cover expenses and not have to worry about certain things brings us joy, but more money doesn’t equate to more happiness. As an example, my first job after undergad was in Philly, I loved where I lived and I had a great opportunity to be involved with all aspects of the design process, and even had to run some of the business operations, and parallel to that I was on the board for AIGA Philadelphia (the professional association for design) where I was making a positive impact on the design community; after grad school I had an enviable job in NYC where I was making twice as much. I wasn’t swimming in money, but I was was able to afford to live on my own in a small studio in Manhattan, paid all my bills, had a personal trainer to work out once a week, and even had a small amount of money saved up in the bank, but NYC wasn’t the right place for me and I wasn’t happy. If money is an indicator of happiness, why wasn’t I happier with more money? I even had a higher profile job to come along with the bigger paycheck, but that didn’t help and I ended moving back to Philly where I am much happier now. I felt very guilty at first admitting I wasn’t happy in New York becasue everyone else said that’s the place to be (I later learned that it is very common for people to not be happy in NYC for several years), or saying I wasn’t happy with my job because at one point it was my dream job and everyone was jealous (I still think it’s my dream to work with them as a contractor but it wasn’t the right place for me as a full-time employee), but I realized that I couldn’t force those aspects to define my happiness, and making a decent living wasn’t making it work for me, because they weren’t the right indicators of my happiness.

We think a certain milestone will make us happy, but sometimes when we reach it we realize that we are no happier after accomplishing it than before. Often times we buy things only to realize they are status symbols or a caprice rather than a source of delight. We spend hours trying to achieve something, only to realize we are not satisfied with the results. Sometimes we seek the symptoms of happiness rather than the cause, so when we get there we are not satisfied.

The health industry is known for being misleading in the search for happiness. Gyms sell memberships on the premise that if you join you will lose weight, build muscle, and be happy. As someone who underwent a significant transformation, at one point dropping 50 lbs and five pant sizes (and unfortunately gained some of it back), I can tell you that it’s not as easy as they portray it and if you focus on the wrong goals you will never be happy—after making a commitment to my health two and a half years ago, I have yet to sport abs. If a six pack were my measure of happiness, I’d be very depressed comparing the efforts I put into to the visibility of my abs; for a while I was actually very frustrated, but then I focused on the positive impact fitness had in my life and how I am healthier, feel better, and how I fell into endurance cycling, and that makes me happy. Many fitness experts suggest that rather than relying on your body image to dictate how you feel about your accomplishments, you should focus on your health, on the changes you see, or even on how taking control of your life (via taking control of what you eat and how you move) translates into positive changes. Furthermore, an article published online by the New York Magazine titled Happiness Isn’t Guaranteed After Weight Loss suggests that we often seek weight loss as a way to solve our lives, but once we achieve it we realize it’s not the solution we wanted; we think we’ll live happily once we are thin, but then we learn that all of our problems aren’t solved. Instead of putting thinness on the happiness pedestal, we should focus on other aspects of our lives, or use other indicators for happiness. If you need any further proof, take a look at endurance cyclists: many of them have a belly and can still run laps around the muscle-centric sportsmen and are pretty happy at it.

In Judaism, a way to wish someone a happy birthday is by saying, “to one hundred and twenty”, meaning that we wish them a long life. We equate a long life with happiness, and many a story plot involves the search for eternal life. But as we age, our bodies weaken and we are more prone to getting sick; if that is the case, why do we associate living a long life with happiness? Are we really wishing happiness when we wish that a person lives beyond the century mark? My grandmother was very wise and often said that instead of wishing her a long life, you should wish her a good life; no point in shooting to live too long if you are suffering, but rather enjoy the years you have.

So when will you be happy? What will determine that you have achieved happiness? Do you think the indicators you select will really bring you happiness or will they sidetrack you on your path to happiness. Will the effort you put into achieving a goal benefit you the way you think they will, or would you be better served by investing in the right goals instead? Before sooting for happiness, why not aim for the right target?

The Joys of No

Saying no comes off as negative. We think that saying no is a sign of reluctance, lack of disposition, or negative attitude. We like hearing yes because it sounds friendly and nice. But while saying yes may make the listener happy, saying no can bring joy when used responsibly. Continue reading

Fake It ‘Till You Make It


This is an oldie, but I keep referring to it and I think it’s worth watching over and over again. Amy Cuddy researches body language and how it affects other people’s perception of us and our internal thought process. In this video, Amy shares her personal story, a powerful reminder we have the ability to control our own lives regardless of what others think and teaches us that with the right attitude, fake it ’till you make it is a good policy. So next time you’re down, pretending you are happy may be the solution.

Watch Amy’s talk on TED.

You are not supposed to keep terrariums by a window—experts say this will bake the plants—but I couldn't help but style it this way for the post.

DIY: Potted Terrarium

My thumbs are far from green—I bought a hanging planter a couple of years ago and managed to dry out the plants in what was supposed to be a low-maintanance system—which is why I haven’t had plants around the home for years. Recently I was gifted a few plants for my new apartment, so when I saw this beautiful glass dome at West Elm—on sale!—I thought I’d have to give owning plants the green thumb. After some research and some winging it, I decided to simplify the process by doing a potted terrarium.

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DIY: Fruit Donuts

I recently started following Cocorrina after I spotted her outstanding illustrations and calligraphy. While Corine is out on vacation, guest blogger Ashley from Sugar and Cloth posted a great recipe for Fruit Donut Bites—donut-shaped slices of fruit drizzled with yoghurt and sprinkles. I loved the idea, but wanted to adapt it for my No Sugar No Grains( NSNG) and Paleo friends by using sugar-free and additive free ingredients; while I’m currently off the wagon, I tried NSNG for a while with great results and still try to adapt recipes to be NSNG-friendly. I made some modifications and enjoyed the results so much I had to share.

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What Would Make You Happier? on This Makes Me Happy

What Would Make You Happier?

I love giving my friends advice. I’m not one to go around meddling and sticking my nose where I shouldn’t, but when they come to me I enjoy helping them out and I like solving problems. I’m happy when I can see in their faces that my advice helped them, but the part that I enjoy the most is the look of surprise they give me when I ask them one simple question: “What would make you happier?”

We often evaluate our options based on external factors: What’s the price attached to each choice? What’s the cost? What will people think? Which route will require the least effort? Can I even afford it? What we often fail to acknowledge is that the ultimate goal of that decision is to make us happier. When debating whether we should buy the new iPhone or save the money for something else, we could look at it as a financial problem—it’s at least $300 and it ties me to my phone company for two years—or a matter of effort—I will have to work an extra 20 hours next month to pay it off and I will have to go stand in line for it—or necessity—my phone is only two years old and it still works—but we never ask ourselves, “will I be happier with the phone or saving the money?” or “will I be happier working the extra 20 hours and having the phone or using that time for other fun things?”

I’m not advocating for a life of Hedonism here. I think we should look at the bigger picture when it comes to happiness; instant enjoyment is not the same as happiness. Yes, I would very much enjoy eating a whole cake in one sitting, but would that make me the happiest? Is the taste of that cake so good it offsets the belly ache, the sugar headache (since losing weight, sugar and fat combined have that effect on me) and the potential for regaining weight? Perhaps what would make me happier than eating a whole cake would be eating just a slice. I also don’t think we should be reckless with our pursuit of happiness; impulsively buying a car may make us happy at the moment, but if it’s beyond our reach we will suffer trying to pay off over the next few years.

My friend Kristen once mentioned that she enjoyed coming to me when she needed to make a choice because no one else had ever asked her to decide based on what would make her happier. I know it’s easy to loose perspective sometimes—I myself get drowned in options and forget to ask myself what would make me happier—but isn’t happiness our ultimate goal? Having a good job with a big house and a loving partner is only good if it brings us joy; what’s the point of making a ton of money and having nice things if we are miserable at it?

So next time you are posed with options, instead of weighing the pros and cons and all the variables involved, stop for a second and ask yourself, “what would make you happier?”

The Franklin Flea Market on This Makes Me Happy

Philly Love: Franklin Flea Market

This past Saturday I spent a lovely time at the Franklin Flea Market, a curated monthly market focusing on vintage wares, delicious foods, and a handful of local crafters and designer. The day was somewhat overcast, but the fun booths, the music, and good vibes made it a lovely morning. Continue reading