New Fonts in Windows Vista
People can get very worked up about fonts. It's hard to believe the detailed
shape of letters and numbers can be the cause of passionate and often heated
debate. An Australian man from the sophisticated city of Melbourne, Stephen
Banham, conducted a survey of signage in the centre of the city. He looked at
one thousand signs on cafes, street signs, illuminated signs, posters, and shop
signage. The results of Banham's survey confirmed his hunch; 30% of all signs
were in Helvetica. Of the literally thousands of fonts to choose from, the creators
of signs chose the blandest of fonts, with no distinguishing features. Banham,
a graphic designer and typographer, has a hatred for Helvetica, describing the
font's proliferation as a kind of plague. He discovered that Helvetica was used
as the corporate font of Lufthansa, Toyota, Evian, the New York Subway, the
Commonwealth Bank, the US Tax Office, and even the Italian Communist Party.
The fear of Helvetica taking over the world prompted Banham to write a book
about the dangers of Helvetica, and he started making money selling t-shirts
emblazoned with the slogans and “Helvetica Thin - Just Say
No”. Banham doesn't believe there's anything particularly wrong with
Helvetica, other than its overuse. He believes it's being used as a “lazy
way to be cool”.
For every Banham, there is a Lars Muller. A Norwegian graphic designer and
typographer, Muller wrote a book called Helvetica, Homage
to a Typeface. He believes the font is an icon of modern design. (You can
160 page book from Amazon.) Muller founded his graphic design studio in
Switzerland, the birthplace of Helvetica. The font was designed by Max Miedinger
in 1957 to be a clear, clean and legible font; the face was so bland and neutral,
it was named after the Latin word for Switzerland, Helvetia. A
neutral name for a neutral font.
It's not just Helvetica that gets people hot under the collar. In an article
in The Age newspaper, James Button pointed out the
chequered history of arguments over typefaces. George Bernard Shaw demanded
that his books be produced in the Caslon font, although in the 18th Century,
Caslon was thought to make readers go blind! Adolph Hitler banned the use of
some fonts because he believed they were Jewish in origin.
Yes, people get mighty passionate about fonts. And not just in the world
of paper. In the world of online publishing, a question about which font is
most readable on screen will generate a passionate discourse that can run for
weeks. The trees are about to be shaken again, because Microsoft is making changes
to the fonts it uses in its Windows interface.
When Windows 95 was introduced, the font used for the user interface (for
the Western locale versions at least) was “MS Sans Serif”.
It was a Helvetica-like font, which remained legible at very small resolutions.
When Office 97 was introduced (in late 1996), it used a different interface
font: “Tahoma”. Tahoma was different in that it was
designed specifically for display on screen. (The most common fonts are centuries
old, and designed for print.) The typographer commissioned by Microsoft, Matthew
Carter, optimised the font for on-screen reading at small point sizes. Tahoma
spread to become the primary font used in the Windows 98 interface, and in most
Microsoft software through to Office 2003. Meanwhile, Verdana, the font (also
designed for Microsoft by Carter) on which Tahoma was based, became the font
used throughout Microsoft's enormous Web site. In the Help world, WinHelp's
standard of Helvetica was replaced by the HTML Help standard of Verdana.
Since Verdana and Tahoma were designed, an important reading technology has
been developed: ClearType. Monitor technology has also improved, and LCD displays
have now almost entirely replaced CRTs in new computer sales. The change in
environment has resulted in Microsoft rethinking the use of fonts. In fact,
Microsoft commissioned the design of a number of new fonts:
These new seven fonts will make their public appearance in Office 2006. Segoe
UI will be used as the Office user interface, and will also be the font used
throughout the Windows Vista user interface. For documents produced by Office,
Calibri (a sans serif font) is recommended for headings, with Candara (a humanist
sans font) recommended for sans body text, and Cambria for serifed. Consolas
is a monospaced font, while the remaining two having characteristics that suit
particular types of paragraphs.
A description and screen shots of the new fonts can be found at the
Blog of Jensen Harris (a Microsoft User Experience manager).
From a Help or Web developer's point of view, the big news is “Segoe
UI”. The use of this font is not being restricted to Vista and Microsoft
products. To quote from the lead fonts manager at Microsoft, It “can
be specified by third party applications running on Windows Vista that may wish
to take advantage of it in order to have the Windows Vista look and feel”.
This means that it can be used, if necessary, for Help systems and Web pages.
However, bear in mind that Segoe UI is designed for the user interface, and
this usually means being best when displayed small bits of information at smaller
sizes. It may not be the most appropriate for larger tracts of text, but will
be well suited for tool tips and other small items of user assistance information.
Microsoft didn't design Segoe; it is licensed from Monotype. As well as Segoe
UI, there are three related fonts in the Segoe family: Segoe TV, Segoe Print,
Segoe HW, and Segoe Script. Segoe UI is a TrueType font, optimised for ClearType
8pt, 9pt and 10pt.
If you've just started getting used to Tahoma, then prepare for some changes.
Perhaps you can take a position, get some t-shirts printed, and put a bit of
fervour into your life!