Today I passed by the various shops on Thompson Street in Greenwich Village that sell chess sets. These shops are truly extraordinary. You can get all the variations on Staunton and other traditional chess sets, abstract minimalist, as well as Alice in Wonderland, Civil War, Tolkien, Dinosaurs, or just about any theme you can think of.
I had passed by these shops many times before, but for some reason today my first thought was of my little 3D printer at home, and the possibility of using it to design and print out my own chess set.
This created a chain of thoughts in my head, centering around the fact that once you have a 3D printer, much of design moves from a hardware problem to a software problem. All the major decisions about design are made in a computer simulation, at the end of which you essentially just hit “print”.
And it occurred to me that it would be an interesting exercise to create software to design chess sets, as well as families of chess sets, much as we now design text fonts and families of text fonts. In particular, one could create a software tool for designing chess sets, so that you could do the two opposing things that are important for font design: (1) Allowing for global changes that affect all chess pieces, in which common design decisions are applied to every piece (e.g.: make every piece taller and slimmer, or add weight to the base, or move the narrowest point of the stem higher up), and (2) Allowing for custom changes to any individual piece (e.g.: the knight) that nonetheless remain consistent with the overarching design parameters that categorize your chess set.
Once designing chess sets is moved to software, all of this becomes more practical. Essentially, just as we now have families of text fonts, we could have families of chess fonts.