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A Font-ing We Will Go

That screaming you heard last month originating from the Toluca Lake/Burbank area was just me. It sounded like this:

“Caliiibriiiii Whhyyyyyyyy!!?!?!”

Yep, that was me. I heard that the U.S. State Department was switching from its serif font, Times New Roman, to a sans serif for all official communications. Its reasoning is sound: On a screen, where let’s face it we do most of our reading (even though we shouldn’t), it’s easier to see a font without its fancy doodley doos. Sans serif also works better for people using assistive technologies to read.

Source: Wikipedia

(I should mention here this post is about to get really nerdy. We’re gonna get into some history and some strong feelings about minor quibbles. I won’t be offended if you scroll by, but please give it a “like” before you leave.)

I don’t have a problem with sans serif fonts, especially if they can help people. It’s just that the government could have picked any sans serif font. Arial’s an option, but so is the classic Futura or the pricier Avenir. No, they had to go with CALIBRI. Calibri is the child of Comic Sans and Arial. It is the visual equivalent of vocal fry.

In the English language serifs have their roots in old calligraphy, and with the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press they carried over into the invention of movable type. Serifs serve many functions. They make tiny type easier to read. They add a signal to better differentiate letters (think lower case l and upper case I.)

Sadly, most of us do our reading on screens now. The lonely serif is finding itself unemployed across the Internet where you can simply zoom in to make your text bigger.

But before our digital age, serifs helped lead the eye from one font to the next. That’s why on typewriters you never saw a sans serif typeface (that’s what a font’s called on a typewriter) until the art deco movement in the late 1920s. The Royal typewriter company introduced a Vogue typeface on their portable models in 1927, but the thin typeface was discontinued just a few years later and, quite literally, went out of vogue.

Courtesy: Typewriter Chicago and Just my Typewriter on YouTube.

Readability is another reason why printed books are still being produced in Times New Roman.

Calibri is the default font for Microsoft products released after 2007. It is the white copy paper of the font world; the “California Roll” of your word sushi, the Richard Kind of typefaces – you know it’s always been around, you just can’t name anything it’s in or why you know you’ve seen it before.

Maybe that’s unfair … to Richard Kind. Calibri is now the Kevin Hart of fonts for the U.S. Government (meaning it’s small, and powerful, and seen everywhere). Being the government, I bet they came to this decision by turning on a laptop, opening Word and seeing the default “Calibri” at the top.

“Uh, how’s this one, sir?”

“Sounds good, Major. Job done. You’re getting the Distinguished Medal of Linguistics for this!”


What’s your favorite go-to font? Leave us some examples in the chat!

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