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Should type designers fear AI? (Survey)

Should type designers fear AI?  

24 members have voted

  1. 1. How will AI influence the font market?

    • I believe AI could kill the font market as we know it today.
      9
    • I believe AI could enhance the production of fonts but will not disrupt the font market in a major way.
      5
    • I believe AI fonts and traditional type design will co-exist peacefully.
      8
    • I don’t think AI will have a significant impact on the font market.
      2


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Ralf Herrmann

AI is currently all the rage because of its ability to create stunning paintings, writing essays and so on. But this is just the beginning. It will surely completely transform many fields of work. But what will it mean for the field of typography and the creation of new typefaces?

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If you watch a type designer draw letters, it could feel like a purely artistic and creative task that software might not be able to replicate. But the underlying process is actually rather rule-based—and therefore perfectly suited for AI. It’s just a matter of training the AI. 

If we talk about common typefaces (and exclude highly experimental designs) there are three main parts to the underlying “logic of type design“: The writing tool, the letter skeletons and the modifications

Even though most type designs cannot be written anymore and are specifically designed to be used as “prefabricated letters” (=fonts), their visual appearance is still rooted in handwritten letters. So, a type designer chooses a certain writing tool (like a broad-nip pen with a specific width and a specific writing angle) and then this tool is being drawn along the letter skeleton of the entire character set. Early fonts and some of today’s fonts stop here. But as I said, most fonts cannot be written anymore. So, there are additional modifications being added: serifs and other types of stroke endings, ink traps, optical corrections and so on. Correction fluid was the designer’s best fried for this purpose before the use of the computer. So, in theory, the type design process would go through all these stages: pick a tool; move it along the letter skeletons; add modifications to the result to finish the design. 

Experienced type designers can directly draw the results of the process outlined in the last paragraph on paper or with the help of a computer. That’s the craft we call type design! And for a type family, individual parameters can easily be modified. Different weights of a type family just require a different width of the (physical or imaginary) writing tool. Different widths use letter skeletons that are scaled to be more narrow or wider. But for every style, the rules of the specific type design are applied to the entire alphabet. That gives the type family the necessary consistence. 

The execution of these principles can take months, if not years for very large type families —not counting the years of practise the type designer needs to be able to draw such designs effortlessly. 

And this is where AI could come in. AI can easily learn the letters of many writing systems (and even invent new letters). It can be trained on tens of thousands of existing fonts to learn the various type design styles. And it could draw entire alphabets in seconds. It already does. See these examples from DeepVecFont for example:

synth.2023-01-10 17_16_07.gif

From just four input glyphs, an entire alphabet is being generated—in whatever style the four input glyphs use. What will this mean for the future of type design? I can see go in a few different ways. 

 

In a (more optimistic) scenario, AI would just become another tool in the type designer’s toolkit. It could free the designers from repetitive tasks but leave them in charge of the design, the fine-tuning and so on. 

But it is also easy to imagine that AI fonts could become so good that commercial type design as we know it today will eventually become unnecessary and be replaced. It might not happen overnight, but AI fonts could flood the market and end-user software applications which use fonts could even have all these capabilities included, so font users could just create their own quality fonts whenever they want. This would make the current tedious process of designing typefaces uncompetitive. Paying for font licenses wouldn’t be justifiable anymore. At least not in the sense of today’s broad font market.  

 

So, how do you think it will play out? Vote in the poll and let us know below in the comments. 

  • Like 1
  • very interesting! 2
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  • 2 weeks later...
Marcus S.

I believe there will be a AI-free” Label of some sort to mark creations that have been made without the involvement of artificial intelligence. People then can decide for themselves.

  • very interesting! 1
  • wink 1
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  • 5 weeks later...
Enrico Sogari
On 1/25/2023 at 10:01 AM, Marcus S. said:

I believe there will be a AI-free” Label of some sort to mark creations that have been made without the involvement of artificial intelligence. People then can decide for themselves.

That would be the ideal scenario IMO but only assuming that designers self-labeled AI-free” are honest people. I'm puzzled by designers with a portfolio of 50 or more fonts, I wonder if a lifetime is enough time to produce so much.

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  • 3 months later...
Ralf Herrmann

I wouldn’t even call it mimicking. Or mere “algorithms”. Imagination is a label for an an emergent property of brains in certain species. The issue reminds me of how religious people often question how a brain, made up of “just physical matter”, could ever be conscious without a soul or something else “super-natural”. But in the end, it’s just an emergent property of the complex structure of a brain, made up of simple parts and mechanisms. If nature could develop those structures over time, I see no reason why there couldn’t be technological structures leading to the same results. In fact, without the need to have it all come into existence through natural selection in purely natural systems, I would expect that the technological versions could advance much faster and could outperform human imagination rather quickly. 

We even already see those “ghost in the machine” effects where AI systems develop capabilities they were never programmed or instructed to have. 

  • Like 1
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khaibitgfx

To me AI was enviable, this "stuff" has been the spook since HAL in 2001.

 

It has great potential there is no doubt, however when people start to become unemployed because of it that's an obvious problem like any form of automation, greed first, people last.

 

How far off are we aka the human race before some government somewhere puts automated defenses systems in the hands of some AI automated system, a la Terminator kind of scenario.

 

 

  • very interesting! 1
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khaibitgfx

And you are correct, however companies like Adobe can use AI to their advantage in getting rid of people aka (you're fired) who do.

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  • 1 month later...
spaceprobe
On 1/25/2023 at 3:29 PM, Marcus S. said:

Nobody has mastered that yet! 😉

Believe it or not, Commodore (as in the makers of the Amiga and '64) had a brilliant kerning technology in the early 90's - the early days of "outline fonts" as they were known back then. It worked beautifully 99+% of the time. If this thread is still being watched and someone is interested I can give you a brief explanation of how it worked. (Or you may be able to find something via Google.)

  • very interesting! 1
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  • 2 weeks later...
Ralf Herrmann

Something is brewing …

Quote

Harnessing the power of AI technology, Creative Market is exploring revolutionary new methods for generating fonts, unlike anything you’ve seen before. Imagine endless possibilities for customization, from the smallest details to the most complex designs, all at your fingertips. We are focused on making the process of creating custom fonts easier and more accessible than ever.

https://fonts.ai

  • very interesting! 1
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SapereAude
12 hours ago, Ralf Herrmann said:

We are focused on making the process of creating custom fonts easier and more accessible than ever.

That may be a good thing, or it may be a bad thing. Depending on who is running the process and making the decisions, the results may be spectacular ... or they may be spectacularly bad.

 

I am reminded on an article I read in the early days of desktop publishing (mid-1980s) in which the author bemoaned the fact that desktop publishing for the masses had unleashed what he called the "slick but bad" presentation -- a tour de force of technological achievement, but painful to look at.

  • very interesting! 1
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