When I was first starting out on this senior thesis project and before the idea for The Untitled Typeface Generation System even came to be, I somehow ended up with the topic of Internet culture and ugly aesthetics. As a part of my research, I went online and asked people what they thought was the worst font ever. Many answered Comic Sans.
Comic Sans: the quintessential meme font. People love to love it and hate it at the same time.
However, it would be totally unfair to Vincent Connare, the evil genius behind the creation of Comic Sans, to say that it is the worst typeface in history. Not everyone hates Comic Sans. I, for one, secretly love the font even though I would not necessarily use it in any of my designs. Yes, the Internet may drag Comic Sans all the time, but it really isn't until you start college that they tell you that it is not okay for you to use the font anymore.
So can we actually say that Comic Sans is a no-no? If so, why do people still use it so much? What if there is no such thing as bad design but just personal tastes? What is bad design and who decides what bad it is, anyway?
At this point I was very confused and pretty much questioning everything I had learned over the last few years at school and at work as a struggling young graphic designer. After several breakdowns and many sleepless nights, I found my light at an unexpected source: Pokemon Fusion.
Created by web developer Alex Onsager in 2010, Pokemon Fusion is a website that basically does what its name suggests: fuse together Pokemon. Through a quick Google search, I found out that the idea for hybrid Pokemon has always been a popular fad among the fans of the video game franchise. However, Onsager's website/game was the first to transplant the fan culture into a somewhat fully functioning generating system.
What I found the most interesting about this little gem was how accessible it was for everyone. All the user needs to do is to choose the Pokemon they like from the list and the website does the rest for you. Even though the characteristics of the Pokemon used for the fusion and the amount of work the user actually does in this creative process is very limited, it creates an illusion that the users are creating something unique and personal.
Before I knew it, Pokemon Fusion whammed the idea of making a font generator into my brain, and I was diving head first into the concept.
How the generator works was pretty simple: the users will choose two different fonts, the website will automatically generate a morph spectrum between the two fonts, the user will choose the percentage of the two fonts, the website will make the font into a downloadable file, and the user will download or share the font. The tricky part was trying to figure out which fonts to have available on the generator. I decided that if I really wanted to go with the whole chaotic evil of typefaces, I'd go for the display fonts that no one wants to use. However, trying to create a database from all these random display fonts online proved to be a painfully slow process. In the end, I decided to connect the generator to Google Fonts instead, having the database be somewhat refined but also still equipped with unconventional display typefaces.
I knew from the very beginning that it would be impossible for me to code the generator because A: I had to finish everything within a very tight schedule and B: I couldn't afford to hire a developer. I had figured out a way to make (fake) this morph spectrum through the morph tool on Adobe Illustrator, which was not perfect, but did the job well enough for me to recreate the font through it as a reference.
After the morph spectrum was ready, I created the screens to later use for the demo video. I chose an unconventional color scheme for the UI, yellow and purple, mostly because I wanted the colors to be original and not remind the users of something else.
The title "The Untitled Typeface Generation System", meaning the project is a typeface generation system that did not have a title yet, had been the working title for the project from the very beginning. However, the title stuck and I decided on calling the user made fonts "Untitled Typefaces", changing the meaning of the title into a generation system that creates untitled typefaces.
After the demo video was ready to go, I created samples of the untitled typeface in action. Since this whole project was mostly meant for an audience without extensive education in graphic design, I came up with trivial things like lost dog posters and flyers for a laser tag event. I put them up on the street and on bulletin boards around the New School area. While I was putting up one of the lost dog poster, an extremely nice and worried lady came up to me to ask where I lost my puppy, and I had to explain to her that the poster was just a part of my project and that there was actually no Luke Dogwalker, Male, 3 years, that I was desperately looking for.
Before the final thesis presentation, I did test runs with mostly non-graphic designers. There were mixed reactions towards some of the design choices that I had made, but the reaction towards my concept and thought process had gotten a positive reaction. Nevertheless, I was ready for some designers to be offended by the generator since I was basically shoving the role of a graphic designer into a shredder by letting people make their own according to their own tastes.
The final presentation, in short, was a total disaster. The panel of designers that were present at my presentation were awfully offended by how I started out with Comic Sans to prove my point and by the time I was talking about how I would let the users take charge in the design process, they almost seemed angry. During the critique, one designer on the panel even decided to go political and talked about how The Untitled Typeface Generation System is like Donald Trump and why people voted for him. Because they did not know better. He wanted to know why me, a graphic designer, would want to listen to what the non-designers think.
Maybe I was not clear enough in my presentation, but The Untitled Typeface Generation System is meant mostly for the non-designers. Also, the somewhat elitist reactions in the panel may have been why I wanted to create the generator in the first place: because I believe that anyone could become a designer; because in a sense, design is a practice, not a field of study.
At the end of the day, graphic designers are creating things according to their own tastes, too.