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Microsoft Word's subtle typographical change affected millions. You realized?| GuyWhoKnowsThings

When you read (a book, a road sign, a billboard, this article), how much do you really notice the letters? If you're like most people, the answer is probably not at all.

But even if you don't really notice them, you can feel it if something has subtly changed. That's a feeling some people have had in recent weeks when they turn on their Microsoft Word programs.

After 17 years of Calibri as Word's default font, many users suddenly found themselves typing a new font called Aptos. The change also affects the appearance of PowerPoint, Outlook and Excel.

Letters are letters, but for designers and typography fans they are very important.

Why the change?

“We wanted to bring something new and fresh that was really natively designed for the kind of modern era of computing,” said Jon Friedman, the company's corporate vice president of design and research, who led the effort.

(Technically, Aptos and Calibri are typefaces, while “font” refers to a particular face or size, such as italic or bold. But in practice, “font” is often used synonymously with “typeface.” , including by Microsoft employees interviewed for this article.)

The big divide in the typography world is between serif, or letters with little lines or tails attached to their edges, and sans serif, letters without those lines that have a softer look.

Like Calibri, Aptos is a sans serif typeface but with something a little more, says Microsoft.

Centuries ago, in the early days of printing, almost all typefaces had serifs. “Sans serif was intended for billboards,” Friedman said. “They were big, blocky letters, and they called them 'grotesque.' They were bold and easily readable from a distance.” At that time, a sans serif was rarely used for more than one or two words or a single sentence.

Aptos would be classified as a “neogrotesque” source.

“The neogrotesque was when art began,” Friedman said, referring to a time in the mid-20th century. “Designers started choosing sans serif fonts. That was the birth of Helvetica and Arial, which were used more widely and were sans serif fonts.”

It helped that most people thought sans serifs looked better on a computer, which was quickly becoming the preferred writing instrument around the world.

As for Aptos, “we wanted it to be a little more quirky and whimsical” even though it was a sans-serif piece, Friedman said. “Sans serif fonts are fairly straight, clear and easy to read, but sometimes they lose some of the whimsy that serif fonts can have.”

The designer, Steve Matteson, “took a little more into it: He called it 'imperfections': small changes that are slightly different from a typical sans serif font,” Friedman added.

“You know, you have to try to introduce a little humanity,” Matteson said in a Microsoft report. statement about change. “I did it by adding a little swing to the R and double g.”

In most sans serif fonts, “the uppercase 'I' is a line and the lowercase 'l' is a line,” Friedman said. “The weight is slightly different, but most people can't see it. In Aptos, the lowercase 'l' has a slight curve at the bottom. Illinois. Illustration. It is very clear what you are reading, even in sans serif format.”

“It's quirky and creates a more natural feel that gives it some of the 'je ne sais quoi' serif font,” he added.

In another subtlety, above the lowercase i and j there are circular dots instead of square ones as in Calibri. You can notice this when you write “je ne sais quoi” in Aptos.

So how exactly do you design a font? The answer is one that creatives around the world could appreciate: “You have to start somewhere,” Friedman said.

“A font designer might start by sketching out roughly the entire alphabet,” he said. “Others might start with a particular lyric that they find challenging.”

“You think a fountain is such a small thing,” he added. “They are just letters. But it requires deep thought; It is not a trivial concept.”

The end result, Aptos, is registered intellectual property of Microsoft.

“Although some people may see the difference and care passionately about it, and others may not seem to care, the moment we change it, people notice that something has changed,” Friedman said.

Some of those people came forward on social media with a litany of complaints. (Others said they liked the new font.)

Switching to a familiar product often sparks protests. When the New York Times added color On its 1997 print cover, some people complained that the staid newspaper had become unnecessarily flashy, although those complaints quickly faded as readers became accustomed to the change.

As for those who never learn to appreciate the neogrotesque, there is a solution. Remember what “default” means.

If you are using a Windows device, navigate to Start and open the Fonts Dialog Box Launcher. On a Mac, go to Format and click Font. Change the font to one you like better. Set it as default. Aptos will no longer darken your door.

However, the New York Times maintains its color.

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