Calibri, we barely knew you. Microsoft’s default font for all of its Office products (and built-in apps like WordPad) is on the way out, and the company now needs your help choosing a new one. Let’s judge the options!
You probably don’t think much of Calibri, if you think of fonts at all, but that’s a good thing in this context. A default font should be something that you don’t notice and don’t feel the need to change unless you want something specific. Of course, Times New Roman’s move in 2007 was controversial – the shift from a serif default to a sans serif default ruffled a lot of feathers. In the end, this turned out to be a good decision, and TNR is still usually the default for specified serif text anyway.
To be clear, these are the default values for user-created items, such as Word files. The font used by Microsoft in Windows and other official branding elements is Segoe UI, and there are a few other defaults mixed in as well. But from now on, creating a new document in an Office product would use one of these by default, and the others will be there as options.
Replacing Calibri with another user-friendly universal sans serif font will be a considerably less dramatic change than in 2007, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have an opinion on it. Oh no. We are going to get into it. Unfortunately, Microsoft’s only options for seeing text, other than writing it in your own 365 apps, are tweet (doesn’t have all the letters) or colorful but not informative graphic presentations. So we (and by us I mean Darrell) made our own little specimen to judge by:
You may notice that Grandview is missing. We will come back to that. Starting from the top:
Calibri, here for reference, is a harmless, rather narrow font. He gets his friendly appearance from the ends of the letters, which are polished as if they’re afraid the children will meet them. At low resolutions like we did in 2007 this didn’t really happen, but now it’s more obvious and actually a little weird, which is kind of like fridge magnet letters.
Bierstadt is my choice and what I think Microsoft will choose. First, because it has a differentiated lowercase l, which in my opinion is important. Second, it doesn’t try anything cute with its terminals. The t ends without curling up, and there’s no distracting tail on the a, among other things – unfortunately, the most common letter, lowercase e, is ugly, like a chipped theta. Someone is fixing it. It’s convenient, clear, and gives you no reason to choose a different font. First place. Congratulations, designer Steve Matteson.
Tenorite is my backup choice, as it’s fine but less practical for a default font. Geometric sans serifs (look at the big ‘dog’, all circles) look great at a medium height, but small they tend to create an odd, wide spacing. Watch how Bierstadt makes narrow and wide letters of comparable width, while in tenorite they are super unequal, but both are almost the same overall length. Also, no, we haven’t changed the kerning or added any extra spaces at the end of “This is Tenorite”. This is how it happened. Someone is fixing it! The second place.
Skeena, besides looking like some kind of monster that you fight in an RPG, it feels like a throwback. Specifically in Monaco, the font we all remember from early versions of MacOS (like System 7). The varying thickness and muted tails make for an interesting look in large print, but small it just looks awkward. The best e of the bunch, but something’s wrong with the g, maybe. Someone might need to fix it. Third place.
Seaford is interesting, but it tries too hard with those angular loops and terminals. The lowercase k and a are horrible, like broken pretzels. The j looks like someone who kicked an i. The da looks like he has too much to eat and rests his stomach on the ground. And don’t get me started on the bent bars of the italic w. Someone is fixing it. I like the extra strong fat and the g actually works, but I would really mind using it every day. Fourth place.
Grandview did not render correctly for us. It looked like regular Dingbats, but was nicely in bold and italics. Someone is fixing it. Fortunately, I have no doubts that this will not be the next flaw. It’s not bad at all, but it’s inhuman, robotic. Looks like a terminal font that no one uses. Do you see how an opportunity exists for a straight line? Fine for a logo – looks structurally strong – but a paragraph of it would look like a barcode. Use it for H2 stuff. Last place.
So what should you “Vote” for by tweeting loudly to Microsoft? It probably doesn’t matter. I guess they already picked one. Bierstadt is the smart choice because he is generally good while the rest are all situational. If they just wanted to fix this damn e.