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What has been the role of computers in the proliferation of bad typefaces?
What has been the role of poorly-skilled type designers in the proliferation of bad typefaces? Don't blame the tools. The internet on the other hand...
Computers made it easier to make type. They didn't make it easier to make bad type; it has always been easier to make bad art than good art.
You can blame computers for everything: bad image editing, bad screenplays, bad movies ... bad forum posts ...
The tools don't make their product bad. But it is true that in the old days of hot metal, few people would attempt to design type. Those that did were likely to be gainfully employed by typefoundries.
When just anyone can design a typeface when the fancy takes him, then it would be quite reasonable to suspect that unqualified people would now attempt to design typefaces where they would not have done so before.
The computer is not at fault for doing anything to the type designs seen as bad, but their existence and proliferation may be a consequence of the new situation that the existence of computer typography has brought about.
The same as everywhere else: It made it possible and even easy. Bells, even I could nowadays rub together a bunch of outlines and call the result a font. I probably won't; I still have so much fun using them.
What has been the role of pencils in the proliferation of bad drawings?
The digital era has democratized type design. Anybody can do it now. That's a fine thing.
Yes, it means that the percentage of poorly-made junk has skyrocketed. But anybody can design type who wants to. The tools are freely available. The how-to resources are a bit scattered, but all there and affordable.
I hate crap. But the answer is to educate, inform and encourage good type design, not to keep the tools away from the masses.
The other effect of "digital" type design is that more and more, what I think of as hand lettering is now being offered as fonts. I Don't mean calligraphy, rather signage and the hand lettering you use to see in print ads.
As the letterforms of signage creep into fonts that are used for other purposes, many people haven't figured out the full effect of those letterforms. So, for example, we're getting fonts whose purported use is for text, but the fonts don't work well with traditional word spacing and leading used for extended text. Some do, most don't.
A typeface useful for many purposes is a matter of both letterforms and spacing. It's easy to come up with "fresh" letterforms. But getting proper spacing and fit of these characters, suitable for any text that can come along, is a different matter. Often, part of the spacing solution involves modifying the letterforms themselves.
I'm not saying this well. The point is good hand lettering is not the same as good type, and people who aspire to designing fonts need to understand just why that is so.
It's not the tool, but it is the ease of publishing. In the past you had to invest a lot more to put a font on the market, and there were people besides the designer standing to lose a job if it sold poorly – all that naturally set higher quality standards.
The main practical consequence of this is that choosing good type now requires more time.
I definitely agree with Thomas Phinney that making it easier to design type is a good thing, even though it has had the one bad result of more poor designs to look through.