The pen manufacturer BIC has constructed a website that invites people to submit samples of their own handwriting. An algorithm adds then adds their sample to a massive collective dataset and identifies the 'average' of all those handwritten marks for each letter of the alphabet. Users of the site can drill down to datasets organised by gender, or country or handedness, or profession. The 'average' typeface, as might be expected, is fairly anodyne. It is a clever marketing exercise, but whether it has anything signicant to say about the way we write around the world is rather less certain. The eventual uber-average typeface will no doubt eventually find its way into designer toolkits.
The urge to design typefaces is a universal one, not just the province of traditionally design oriented cultures. Some of the most interesting recent work is coming out of Latin America and Spain. The surge of interest in type design has led to increased demand for type design tools, many of which are relatively expensive. Font Forge is free and quite capable, and supports all of the major font formats. The author of the program is continually improving and updating the source code.
fonts.com has put together an excellent resource for those interested in learning more about type design and typographers. An exacting, precise craft, high-level type design requires extreme attention to detail and the ability to slog through endless iterations, individual kerning pairs, multiple weights, extended character sets and nowadays, the promotion of one's work. The best type families combine beauty and workaday functionality, and if admired and appreciated, will often enjoy a life far longer those that of their creators.
To get an idea of the amount of time that goes into the design of a large font family, check out this promotional site. FF Mark is the result of a long-term collaboration between some of the brightest lights in modern European typography. The designers are intimately aware of typographic history and prepared to slog through the minutiae of sketching, adjusting and kerning thousands of characters in ten weights.