578 – Let’s talk about fonts

clip_image002Most people don’t really think too much about which font they’re using in written works. The novelty of having different font designs, weights and sizes soon wears off, especially if you like to try all of them in the same document.

clip_image004Some strange choices do persist, though – Comic Sans on a warning sign at an electricity substation?

Yet, there is a lot of thought which goes into creating a font, especially when considering how it’s likely to be used. Typeface design goes back to the earliest days of printing, with fashions changing from heavy and elaborate block type to lighter and perhaps easier to read lettering. To serif or to sans?

The author Simon Garfield has written extensively on the subject of typography, including articles on What’s so wrong with Comic Sans? or The 8 Worst Fonts In The World and his really excellent book, Just My Type, which delves into the history behind lots of common typefaces and how or why they came about. It really is fascinating.

Even the design of the text used on road signs was a hot topic in the 1950s, with the UK facing a need to choose a standard for the upcoming motorway network, which could be easily read at speed. Designers Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert came up with many road signs and the typeface design still used today (theorising that at 70mph, a driver looking for Birmingham won’t actually read the letters, but will recognise the shape of the word). Trials were done by fixing words to the top of a Ford Anglia and driving it past a group of seated, bemused volunteers, to test the fonts’ efficacy.

A lot of technology we take for granted today has its roots in the 1970s at Xerox’s PARC research establishment or was materially advanced there – ethernet, bitmapped displays, laser printers, the mouse, the GUI, object orientation, distributed computing and so much more – and the two founders of Adobe, who went on to define PostScript, started their work together there. This font-rendering software – along with the Apple Macintosh & LaserWriter and the Desktop Publishing software PageMaker – laid the way to revolutionise the printing industry.

clip_image006Most fonts used until the 21st century had been designed to look good in print, but 14 years ago, Microsoft shipped a new font in Office 2007 and Windows Vista. Designed specifically to be easy to read on-screen, presuming that most documents and emails will be read on a display rather than printed out, that font was Calibri. It became the default font used in Office applications and has remained so since.

But that’s all about to end.

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Cloud Fonts” are available to Microsoft 365 subscribers (more info here) – in Word, go to File / Account and look for the optional settings.

Five of the Cloud Fonts collection are being considered to be the new default font for Office apps in the future… which would you choose?

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