Microsoft is replacing its default font for the first time in 14 years and asking the public for feedback on potential replacements.
Calibri was chosen as the default font for Microsoft programmes like Office, Powerpoint and Outlook in 2007. At the time it replaced Times New Roman.
Now Microsoft says that “it’s time to evolve”. It has commissioned five original, custom fonts in its search for a new default.
One of these options will replace Calibri, but all will be available to use on Microsoft programmes. Calibri will also still be available.
We need to talk. What should our next default font be? pic.twitter.com/fV9thfdAr4
— Microsoft (@Microsoft) April 28, 2021
A lively debate has taken place on Twitter since Microsoft announced it was looking for a successor to Calibri yesterday. The company says, “The seemingly minute difference in typography can create visceral responses.”
While some fonts may have more of a cult following, Microsoft believes that default fonts “communicate a distinct personality in their own quiet way”. “Default fonts are perhaps most notable in the absence of the impression they make,” Microsoft says.
It adds: “A default font is often the first impression we make; it’s the visual identity we present to other people via our resumes, documents, or emails. And just as people and the world around us age and grow, so too should our modes of expression.”
Eric McLaughlin and Wei Huang have designed Tenorite as a potential replacement, described as a “traditional workhouse sans serif” with a “warmer more friendly style” by Microsoft.
Its large dots, accents and punctuation make the font comfortable to read at small sizes, according to Microsoft.
The designers say that they were “craving something very round, wide, and crisp” after years of Calibri’s “soft corners and narrow proportions”.
Tenorite has a focus on “generous character spacing”, McLaughlin and Huang say, which is particularly important for long paragraphs of text in Word. Inspired by fonts like Trade Gothic, Tenorite’s “tighter fitting allows for more words to fit on a line”, they add.
McLaughlin and Huang say that Tenorite’s punctuation was “particularly fun to create”. Here, the look is “large and circular” so that punctuation was never “too faint, tightly spaced, or easily confusable for on-screen rendering”, they add.
Steve Matteson’s Bierstadt is a “precise, contemporary sans serif typeface inspired by mid-20th-century Swiss typography”, Microsoft says.
Matteson is based in Boulder, Colorado and the font is named for one of the state’s 14,000 foot peaks. “When I think of Swiss type, I think of the Alps, and since I’m based in Boulder, my Alps are the Rockies,” he adds.
He explains that Bierstadt is an addition to the “grotesque sans serif” genre, a block-style of lettering that mixes thick and thin strokes, of which Helvetica is the most famous example.
While these typefaces were previously adapted for grid-based typography, Matteson says that a current verion “needs a bit more of a human touch to feel more approachable and less institutional”.
According to Matteson, Bierstadt contrasts with another of Micrsoft’s well-known fonts: Arial. In particular, Matteson says that Bierstadt’s terminal endings are “precisely sheared at 90 degrees” which offers a contemporary contrast to the “somewhat fussy curves found in Arial’s ‘a’, ‘f’, ‘y’ and ‘r’.”
John Hudson and Paul Hanslow have designed a humanist sans serif font, Skeena. Hudson says that it’s a “fresh take” on the genre, which has been “dominated in the past decade by neo-grotesques and geometrics”.
The type designers aimed to include “generous proportions and a higher than usual stroke contrast”, Hudson adds. In particular, he says that the font’s “diagonally sheared terminals” and curving of entry and exit strokes in letters like ‘n’ and ‘a’ “enchance Skeena’s distinctiveness”.
The default font is designed for both text and display fonts, and Hudson says that the latter features a high stroke contrast in Skeena. “The display fonts, used at large sizes, while clearly related to the text fonts, have a more dramatic impact,” he adds.
Tobias Frere-Jones, Nina Stössinger and Fred Shallcrass have designed Seaford, which “is rooted in the design of old-style serif text typefaces”, Microsoft says.
The aim for Seaford was to create a “comforting, warm, inviting, animated” personality, Frere-Jones says.
The design team looked at pictures of old armchairs and family heirlooms as well as old-style serif typefaces throughout the process.
“We didn’t want to be too literal with these references,” Frere-Jones adds. “But many of their themes guided our work, such as a preference for differentiation of shapes over repetition and symmetry.”
The armchairs did provide inspiration for one aspect of Seaford, according to Stössinger. “When it comes to italics, it turns out there are parallels between chair ergonomics and typography: rather than inflating and making it softer, trust the rigid moments that are good for your back,” she says.
The fifth option is Grandview, created by Aaron Bell. The sans serif typeface is inspired by “classic German road and railway signage, which was designed to be legible at a distance and under poor conditions”, Microsoft says.
Bell says that initially he did not think it was possible to create a font that channelled the “spirit and personality of the German Industrial Standard (DIN) and was more readable for body text”.
DIN was designed for short runs of text and not longer sentences, he explains. “I was concerned that by trying to force the Grandview design to become more text-centric, it would no longer retain the same feeling,” he says.
Working from a DIN-inspired prototype, Bell altered measurements such as height and width and tested it for readability and legibility. He says that the final version “works exceptionally well for long-form text settings”.
Bell is particularly excited to see how the community engages with Grandview, as DIN’s mechanical stylings are “popular across a wide range of design implementations, from data visibility and gaming to document settings”, he says.
Microsoft says that it will be “evaluating these five directions” over the next few months. All five fonts are available to download via the cloud for use across Microsoft apps. It is also encouraging people to provide feedback and commentary on social media.
What do you think of the potential replacements for Calibri? Let us know in the comments below.