Microsoft Calibri font designer Luc de Groot on its substitute

Luc (as) de Groot in Berlin.

Sonja Knecht

On Thursday, Microsoft announced an imminent change to some of its most visible software. A new default font is selected for its office applications such as Word and Excel. And that means people won’t see as much of the font that has been the default font since 2007 – a sans serif font called Calibri.

The change is another indication that this isn’t the old Microsoft. Since the measured Satya Nadella replaced the loud and proud Steve Ballmer as CEO in 2014, it has become easier for partners to work with Microsoft, strategically leverage third-party platforms rather than stubbornly ignoring them, and has grown to become a formidable competitor – Expansion of the cloud computing business. A change in the appearance of the Microsoft software is probably appropriate.

But Luc (as) de Groot, the Dutch type designer behind Calibri, was surprised.

“I didn’t expect it to be replaced,” he said during a video interview from his home in Berlin.

He did not expect to be consulted on this decision and is glad that Microsoft is investing in new fonts to make the software more valuable. He believes that choosing a change was more about keeping up with contemporary style trends than improving Calibri’s readability.

De Groot started working on Calibri back in 2002. An intermediary had asked him to come up with a proposal for a monospace typeface for an unnamed customer. He was not informed that the customer had also solicited suggestions from other people. He was also asked to develop a sans serif font, so in addition to the monospace work, he sent some sketches for Calibri.

As a customer, it turned out that Microsoft accepted both suggestions. In 2003, de Groot traveled to Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington to meet with designers, consultants, and members of the company’s typography team.

At the meeting, de Groot said he argued that the company should include old-style characters – characters of varying heights – to help with reading, and Microsoft employees agreed.

The five new fonts commissioned by Microsoft are available in Word for Office 365 subscribers. The first section of text is displayed in Calibri and the second paragraph is displayed in the new Seaford font.

Jordan Novet | CNBC

Finding the name wasn’t easy. Microsoft wanted names that began with the letter C for both fonts.

As de Groot put it in an email, “I had suggested Clas, a Scandinavian first name associated with ‘class’, but then the Greek adviser said it meant ‘fart’ in Greek. Then I suggested curva or curvae which I still like, but then the Cyrillic advisor said it means “prostitute” in Russian, it is indeed used as a very common curse word. “Microsoft legal staff also checked every possible name to determine whether it was not yet registered as a trademark.

The company was called “Calibri” and when de Groot first heard it he thought it was strange. It was similar to Colibri, a genus of hummingbirds. But then Microsoft employees said it was related to the calibration of the rasterizer in the company’s ClearType font rendering system.

After sending Calibri, he didn’t know how it would be used. First he heard that it would be included in a programming environment. It wasn’t until a few years later that he learned that this would become the standard in Office with 1.2 billion users. By default, Calibri worked with line figures with uniform characters, although users can enable old-style figures in Word.

Calibri hit millions of PCs with the release of Office 2007, following the 20th century sans serif serif font Times New Roman. Soon it was everywhere. It became a popular choice for resumes. It was used to solve counterfeit cases and was part of a 2017 Pakistani corruption investigation involving then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Former President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., used Calibri to post an email exchange about a meeting with a Russian lawyer to gather information on Hillary Clinton, who ran for president against Trump in 2016.

Over the years, de Groot has done additional work on Calibri. He developed heavier weights, added support for Hebrew, and three years ago submitted a prototype for a variable Calibri font that included multiple styles in a single font file, even though Microsoft did not publish it. He was only working on Calibri updates two weeks ago.

Then he received emails from journalists about the news: The Microsoft design team published a blog post on Thursday revealing five fonts it had commissioned, one of which will eventually replace Calibri. Calibri, they wrote, “has served us all well, but we believe it is time to move forward.”

De Groot couldn’t help but look at the five fonts. He downloaded them to his PC and tested them out.

He said he liked Seaford, a typeface developed by Tobias Frere-Jones, Nina Stössinger, and Fred Shallcrass of New York-based Frere-Jones Type. “It has a very strong design and I would like to see it as the new standard,” he said. “It’s not completely neutral, but I think it’s a very nice design.”

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