US State Department abandons Times New Roman for Calibri

US Department of State will soon change the default typeface from the stiff, stern Times New Roman to the more fun, youthful Calibri. It’s a move the State Department said aims to improve readability of internal communications between embassies and elsewhere in the department. The order was given in the form of an email sent by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at the time blocked by John Hudson in washington articles. After Hudson tweeted about the email, font fanatics on the internet took notice, praising the move, decrying it or responding with a resounding, “Huh?”

As an update of the 21st century, Calibri makes sense. It is a digital-first typeface, as opposed to Times New Roman, created in 1931 for print and later reverse engineered as a digital font. Calibri also has a larger character set, allowing it to be used for more languages ​​and in more use cases than Times. But while it’s younger than Times, Calibri isn’t the most modern font. Microsoft used Calibri as the default typeface in 2007, but in 2021 the company has indicated plans remove it.

Fred Shallcrass is a type designer at the New York studio Frere-Jones who helped design Seaford, one of the fonts Microsoft is considering working on new default font. He says that people are passionate about fonts, even if they don’t realize it right away. “When you change a typeface, you change someone’s subconscious understanding of the text,” says Shallcrass. “We are very attached to these things.”

The move rekindled a long-running debate about the merits and readability of serif fonts versus sans serif fonts. Times New Roman is a serif typeface; it has small curves, uppercase letters, and curves at the edges of the letters that give the typeface its distinctive look. Calibri is a sans serif typeface; it has much clearer letterforms that lack all the markings. The common wisdom in modern times is that sans serif fonts are easier to read on screens, which is why the State Department said it initiated the change.

Shallcrass says: “Words with complicated serifs get a bad reputation. “The new screen is sharper, so it’s much less disturbing than before. In some ways, this is a date approach. This would have made more sense if it had happened 10 years ago.”

There is no one typeface that fits every experience. Our brains may find it easy to read a piece of prose in a typeface where some characters have complex shapes or look like others. But those with reading difficulties or poor eyesight may find such a typeface a chore to navigate. No single typeface is ideal for every type of visual or cognitive impairment, but the State Department’s choice of Calibri will greatly help in making text easier to read for most people. .

“The reality is the government is having a conversation like this about accessibility,” said Jason Santa Maria, an expert. designer and the author of the book On Web Typography. “You want your government agencies to be interested in this kind of content, if this kind of thinking spreads to other places where text and accessibility are paramount.”

Fonts adapt to the technology we use to read them. What works on screens today may feel outdated in a few years. The State Department’s decision to adopt an upcoming typeface may cause concern among font loyalists, but government agencies are notoriously slow and sloppy, so the move to Calibri is mostly as not surprising. However, there may not be a default that is perfect forever.

“Typefaces fall into the same category as clothing, furniture, and ornaments,” says Santa Maria. “Fashions change, moods and sensibilities also change over time. Fonts also need to adapt.”


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