Generalized fonts

Before going on with this exploration of “chess fonts”, it might be worth thinking about how this concept of fonts generalizes to other areas of everyday life. In furniture, dishware, utensils, and anywhere else where we find a set of designed objects, there is a kind of “font semantics”.

Within any such set there are traits that clearly distinguish one member of the set from the others — the spoon is different from the knife is different from the fork — yet if the objects are well designed, there is no question that each object belongs within the set.

I’m sure you’ve all had the experience, when putting away dishes or utensils, of needing to put different sets with their own kind — this drawer for the fancy silver, the other drawer for the everyday stuff. Whenever you do this you are actually mentally analyzing somebody’s design of a generalized font.

Even the characters in South Park and The Simpsons are examples of a kind of generalized font design, as are Lego characters and the Na’vi in Avatar. It would be interesting to implement this generalized notion of fonts as a set of transformational filters, which would allow us to, say, start with the Na’vi version of a given person, and from that generate the Simpsons version.

4 thoughts on “Generalized fonts”

  1. This is a really interesting idea. I’m sure you’ve read Douglas Hofstadter’s book on the subject of metafonts. Mapping a realistic image to a cartoon or Lego would be pretty challenging. You’ve got to decide what elements to simplify, what to eliminate, what to exaggerate. I don’t think one could do a good job of it with today’s technology if you just could upload any input image (despite deceptive ads to the contrary). If you set it up so that the input was created with parametric sliders and bitmap surface textures though, so you limited what the input could be to what you have made a mapping for, it could work. You could have a gameworld where one player thinks they are playing a gritty urban fantasy while another thinks they are playing a lighthearted Lego game, and the system maps everything across.

  2. Exactly! I’m completely comfortable with the need to break things down into known dimensions, controlled by sliders. That’s part of the fun in the design space, as far as I’m concerned.

    And yes, I read Hofstadter’s book quite a few years ago. It’s wonderful, and I too recommend it.

  3. This sounds like a more sophisticated version of the different “skins” supported by various web sites now.

    Of course, taking the gritty urban fantasy dialog and character behavior and recasting it with Lego characters and scenery would have an entirely different effect—ironic, or comedic at the very least.

  4. True. And I can’t wait to see the upcoming debate between Lego Barack and Lego Mitt. 🙂

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