How many fonts are installed on your computer? A hundred? A thousand? Simply knowing the differences between all these options is a daunting enough prospect, much less knowing which one is the “right” choice for a design project. Dan Sayers wondered what would happen if all the visual attributes of these typefaces were computationally averaged together. “The field of typography has long fascinated me, and I love playing with creative programming ideas, so it was perhaps inevitable that the idea came to me one day of ‘generative typography,'” he writes. After a month’s work with Imagemagick and PHP, Sayers had his result: Avería, “the average font.”
Although Sayers began his design explorations by simply layering semi-transparent glyphs on top of each other (which others have done), he didn’t stop there. He wanted his interpolated typeface to be solid and usable, not just a piece of ghostly looking eye candy. But imagining what the love child of a serif and a grotesk would look like turned out to be harder than it seemed–so Sayers built an elegant webapp just for the purpose of analyzing the curves and vertices of the hundreds of fonts on his system. “However, this was a rabbit hole I might never get to the bottom of–particularly when considering some of the more unusual varieties of font,” he explains. “Perhaps there was a simpler idea that was evading me.”
In the end Sayers used algorithmic brute force to average hundreds of system fonts together (one version of Avería is based on 725 distinct fonts) by splitting the perimeter of each letterform into 500 equally spaced points. Avería is a Spanish word that means “mechanical breakdown or damage,” but the typeface itself is surprisingly humanistic and soft-edged, as if drawn by hand, yet solid and modern at the same time. Sayera says up front that he “isn’t a type designer,” but imagine if geniuses like Hoefler & Frere-Jones added Sayers’ programming-augmented methods to their creative process. What new kinds of “generative typography” would result?