This mainly refers to serif and sans serif typefaces used for everyday body text, not “wacky” display typefaces.
I’ve been looking at a lot of typefaces today and it occurred to me that there are SO many that looks similar. Now I know I’m not a “typeface connoisseur” and that there are such subtle differences between them but surely there will come a day when most legible font have been “made”?
let’s say in 100 years from now, the amount of people getting into computing/design grows exponentially and the amount of people creating new typefaces day in day out just gets bigger and bigger. Surely there are only so many variations of a legible font possible?
e.g. There are so many typefaces are out there that basically look the same as things like Helvetica/Arial but with such subtle differences. How long can we keep tweaking fonts for?
Will the day come when there is no possible way to create a typeface that looks different from another without having to purposely alter it to be different?
It is not really going to stop (but the reason is not nesseserily design per se). The reason you have many similar different manufacturers of same looking font is same as why you have lots of manufacturers of subtly different nails.
Ownership is defined in this case as copyright, so if you wanted a font that is subtly different, you need a entirely new font. Let’s say you have the wrong kind of umlauts for the language group you’re interested in. Because the maker of the font is most likely not going to do the change for you, you need to build the entire font anew. Thus a very minor change ends up in a new font, the design was not really meant to produce a new font but ended up doing so to claim copyright. So this is a side effect of our regulatory framework.*
Technologies change, with changing technology fonts need more features. Maybe we will finally have duo colored fonts for example. Another example is that you need a new kerning table or sharper corners as your manufacturing process becomes better. Also there’s a new wonderful world of 3D fonts where you design the embossed corners too.
So somebody would take a existing designs as basis, but build the missing pieces. These are all new designs, perhaps not ideas per se but still. There is infinite room for variations in this space just because of the sheer number of combinations.
Is there room for new looks and feels? Yes, but its a incredibly slow process of getting acceptance. So body fonts may not appear to change all that much. Will it ever stop? No, changes will continue to happen.
Soon we will have emoji in the fonts etc.
* By now you should recognize that our insanely long copyrights is a problem, since in 30 or so years, whenever you need a small change, you need to build the entire font anew for a trivial change as the typefaces shape itself is not protected and not just the implementation. Anyway I’m not against copyright per se.