Smart typography tools

Tue, 9 Apr 2024

As I mentioned in a recent interview, inventing typographic intelligence technologies is what I do at work. So I thought I’d elaborate: Imagine spell check for design, with advice about choosing fonts, setting line spacing, rearranging text, and more. I’m guiding a small team as we decide what to check for, how to make changes, and how manual/automatic the controls should be.

The hard part is, well, all of it. Design decisions are interrelated, and there are no correct answers (despite what snobs may say). Landing an acceptable user experience is tough. And the deafening roar of “AI” makes it challenging to focus.

But although it’s difficult, creating smart typography tools is worth doing because human beings need to take better care of one another. Better tools can help designers scale their empathy and show the business value of being more considerate.

Good typography means many different things to many different people. While there is no “correct”, there are contexts, conventions, and cultures. By designing from many different flexible, multiscriptual, accessible points of view simultaneously, we can craft compositions that respectfully respond to fit individual readers. Practically speaking, this is unreasonably complicated. But with assistance it becomes possible.

If a computer is a bicycle for our minds, then typography is a bicycle for our words, helping them to reach further and have a greater impact. Smart typography tools will let us go up a few gears, providing sensitive, high-level controls to manage low-level details. The algorithms that power these controls can be fine-tuned by experienced users, and can provide targeted domain-learning materials to help everyone stay sharp.

Typography is way too hard these days. While doing a good job should require some effort and investment, it often feels like we waste our energy and money poking through nests of angry features, trying out fluffy apps that claim to save us time, or setting up (and maintaining) elaborate systems that aren’t much fun. There must be a better way to apply our skills and knowledge.

Flexible, digital creations could match and, over time, even transcend the design quality of history’s finest printed works if we exercise care, honor diversity, and elevate the baseline functions of our design tools. Typography can show us the way.