The US Department of State will quickly change its default typeface from the stalwart, stodgy Times New Roman to the youthful, cooler Calibri. It’s a transfer the State Department says is meant to enhance the readability of its inner communications between embassies and elsewhere within the division. The order got here within the type of an electronic mail despatched by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, which was then intercepted by John Hudson at The Washington Post. After Hudson tweeted concerning the electronic mail, font fanatics throughout the web acquired keyed up, both praising the transfer, decrying it, or reacting with a powerful, “Huh?”
As a Twenty first-century replace, Calibri is smart. It is a digital-first typeface, versus Times New Roman, which was created in 1931 for print newspapers after which reverse-engineered right into a digital font. Calibri additionally has a bigger character set, permitting it for use for extra languages and in additional use circumstances than Times. But whereas it’s youthful than Times, Calibri just isn’t probably the most trendy of fonts. Microsoft adopted Calibri as its default typeface in 2007, however in 2021 the corporate indicated plans to phase it out.
Fred Shallcrass is a typeface designer on the New York studio Frere-Jones Type who helped design Seaford, one of many fonts Microsoft is contemplating making its new default typeface. He says individuals get obsessed with fonts, even when they don’t understand it immediately. “When you change a typeface, you change somebody’s subconscious understanding of the text,” Shallcrass says. “We get very attached to these things.”
The transfer has re-sparked an extended operating debate concerning the deserves and readability of serif versus sans serif fonts. Times New Roman is a serif typeface; it has little bobs, caps, and curls on the edges of letters that give the typeface its distinctive look. Calibri is a sans serif typeface; it has a lot cleaner letterforms that lack all of the bunting. Prevailing knowledge within the trendy age is that sans serif fonts are simpler to learn on screens, which is why the State Department says it initiated the change.
“Complicated serifs get a bad rap,” Shallcrass says. “Newer screens are sharper, so it’s far less of a concern than it used to be. In some ways, this is a dated approach. This would’ve made more sense if it was 10 years ago.”
No one typeface will work for each expertise. Our brains might discover it manageable to learn a bit of prose in a typeface the place some characters have complicated shapes or appear like different characters. But individuals with studying comprehension difficulties or impaired imaginative and prescient might discover such a typeface a chore to navigate. No single typeface is right for each kind of visible or cognitive impairment, however the State Department’s alternative of Calibri ought to go far in making textual content simpler for virtually everybody to learn.
“The fact that the government is having a conversation like this about accessibility is kind of heartwarming,” says Jason Santa Maria, a designer and writer of the e book On Web Typography. “You want your government agencies to care about this kind of stuff, if this kind of thinking trickles out to other places where text and accessibility are paramount.”
Fonts adapt with the know-how we use to learn them on. What works on screens as we speak might really feel dated in a number of years. The State Department’s resolution to undertake a typeface that’s already on its means out might trigger considerations among the many font devoted, however authorities companies are famously gradual and stodgy, so the swap to Calibri is hardly stunning. Still, it’s potential that no default will ever be good perpetually.
“Typefaces are kind of in the same category as clothes and furniture and decor,” Santa Maria says. “Fashion changes and moods and sensibilities change over time. Fonts also need to adapt.”