The quest for an average font

In September 2011 Viennese designer Moritz Resl published a typographic experiment called Average Font on his website. The project received widespread attention on the internet, drawing both criticism and praise. The idea is to show what a font would look like if it were made up of all the Typefaces on his system at the time. Resl achieved this by layering over 900 different fonts each with a low opacity, one on top of the other. The result is a blurry, yet recognisable rendition of each character:

Average Font by Moritz Resl

As Stephen Coles of Typographica points out, the quest to find an average font is not unexplored territory. In 2006 visualisation expert W. Bradford Paley from New York put together an exploration of Face Variations, layering the outlines of 166 fonts in different combinations. Paley notes that this stems from his fascination with finding the “perceptual boundaries” around objects such as letters:

Face Variations by W. Bradford Paley

Another approach comes in the form of The neutral typeface – the result of a 2005 graduation project by Dutch designer Kai Bernau entitled Neutrality. The measurements for the design of the typeface are derived from averages reached by comparing popular existing sans serif typefaces:

The neutral typeface by Kai Bernau

The latest arrival at the average font party is Avería, a font released in October 2011 by Dan Sayers combining 725 existing fonts. Sayers explored different methods, eventually opting for a programmatic approach to the task by splitting each letter perimeter into hundreds of equally-spaced points, then finding the average between the corresponding positions of each:

Avería by Dan Sayers

Avería by Dan Sayers

Also take a look at Font Path Viewer, a web app Sayers built in order to view the outlines and control points of fonts during his process.

Fonts come in an endless array of personalities and proportions, weights and styles. Maybe it is the sheer overwhelming variety, or maybe our inborn desire to simplify and reorganise, but whatever the reason may be, people seem to be captivated by the idea of finding a neutral average. The search continues.

By Imar

Imar Krige is a professional graphic designer and typography enthusiast from Cape Town, South Africa.