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Can Font Design Be Crowdsourced?

Studio Hato embraces the Internet to help design a perfect font. Does the crowd get it right?

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Thanks to U.K. design firm Hato, the annual Pick Me Up graphic arts festival has some innovative new branding: a crowdsourced font, created through an online tool that lets anyone design and submit a letterform.

The tool, which can be found at Pick Me Up's official website, asks users to submit their name, then design a letter based on their first initial. The overall shape of the letter is taken from a sans serif glyph, and users can specify its length, density, and width, as well as dragging its shape to create different angles. After the letter is submitted, it joins an online gallery, which Pick Me Up will use to select various parts of its brand identity.

This year's Pick Me Up Festival is happening at Somerset House in London, and will address the theme of Utopia, celebrating the 500th anniversary of Thomas More's novel introducing the term to the English language. Hato's letter design tool imagines a way of creating typefaces that is purely democratic, and where anyone can contribute.

The truth is that while any type of design can be crowdsourced, the results usually suck. What makes Pick Me Up's effort more successful is that the crowd is made up entirely of either graphic designers, or graphic design enthusiasts. And the crowd's contribution is only part of the branding—not a replacement for the work of professional designers.

"The potential audience here was a huge part of the brief," says Ken Kirton, creative director at Hato. "We wanted to reach people who loved graphic art and design, but weren't artists or designers themselves. So we created this tool to be an entry point of font design." The earlier iterations were more technical, allowing users to create letters from scratch, but eventually, Hato opted for a more streamlined approach, where letters could be designed by anyone of any skill level.

So what will be done with the finished letters? Hato says that they'll be used in the Pick Me Up festival's branding materials, as well as in a digital online exhibition. And since the finished letterforms are mostly dictated by length, density, and width, Hato might even be able to make a font out of the finished glyphs, including bold, italic, and headline versions of all the letters.

To design your own letter, check out the tool here.

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