It’s Time for a Typeface Change

[Update, 12/21/07 3:30PM EST: Previously I linked to Word 2003 versions of a document in Times New Roman and the same document in Calibri. I belatedly realized that that would only confuse matters, so I’ve now linked instead to PDFs.]

Brace yourselves—I’m proposing a change of typeface.

The Current Regime

I suggested in this November 2006 post that Times New Roman isn’t a thing of beauty.

And I’m not crazy about Arial either, at least not for purposes of business documents. And not at 10 point, the main advantage of which seems to be that one can cram more words onto a page. (For some background on Arial, see this discussion by the graphic designer Mark Simonson; he describes Arial as “rather homely.”)

But it has come to pass that liberal-arts types flock to Times New Roman and technical types cling to Arial—a trivial manifestation of the “two cultures.” That Times New Roman is so prevalent is due to its having been the default typeface in Windows from version 3.1 until Vista and in Word until Word 2007.

As for alternatives, the comments to my post on Times New Roman suggest Palatino, Garamond, Century Schoolbook, Futura Book, Bookman Old Style … . Whatever the aesthetic merits of these and other out-of-the-mainstream typefaces, they’d represent an idiosyncratic choice. And business contracts aren’t conducive to idiosyncracy.

The Prospect of Change

In my post on Times New Roman I said that I planned on changing typefaces, and I suggested as possible candidates the ClearType Font Collection, which is the new suite of typefaces included with the Microsoft Vista operating system and the Microsoft Office 2007 suite of applications. Now that Vista and Office 2007 have been with us for a few months, I finally decided to resume my hunt.

With that in mind, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to pick the brains of two people at Microsoft—Tanya Moore, senior director of IP licensing, and Simon Daniels, a program manager in Microsoft’s typography group. To the extent that I’ve been able to make sense of this issue, I have them to thank.

ClearType

The impetus behind the new typefaces is Microsoft’s ClearType technology. Here’s how Microsoft describes ClearType:

ClearType is a software technology developed by Microsoft that improves the readability of text on existing LCDs (Liquid Crystal Displays), such as laptop screens, Pocket PC screens and flat panel monitors. With ClearType font technology, the words on your computer screen look almost as sharp and clear as those printed on a piece of paper.

ClearType works by accessing the individual vertical color stripe elements in every pixel of an LCD screen. Before ClearType, the smallest level of detail that a computer could display was a single pixel, but with ClearType running on an LCD monitor, we can now display features of text as small as a fraction of a pixel in width. The extra resolution increases the sharpness of the tiny details in text display, making it much easier to read over long durations.

To help spread the word about the new typefaces, Microsoft produced a book entitled Now Read This: The Microsoft ClearType Font Collection. It explains how ClearType led to the new typefaces:

In the course of our work on ClearType and creating new typefaces for electronic books, we realized that the unique knowledge we have could be used to design new typefaces which took advantage of the way ClearType works.

We are committed to excellence. So it was obvious that if we wanted to create new ClearType-optimized typefaces, we should work with the best designers in the world. We asked type designers to submit draft designs to be judged competitively; we commissioned complete designs and then built computer fonds using the highest-quality technology we had—ClearType has evolved a great deal since we invented it in 1998.

The new Western fonts in this book are the result of that project.

Is ClearType worth the fuss? Now Read This cites a recent study that concluded that reading ClearType was, on average, slightly more than 5% faster than reading without ClearType. That might seem like a modest difference, but cumulatively it would have a substantial effect, particularly as a drafter is likely to read a given draft much more on screen than on paper.

The ClearType Font Collection

Here are the new typefaces:

  • Constantia (serif)
  • Cambria (serif)
  • Corbel (sans-serif)
  • Candara (sans-serif)
  • Calibri (sans-serif)
  • Consolas (monospace)

This Poynter Online article provides a convenient overview. Calibri has been designated the default for body text in Office 2007, and Cambria has been designated the default heading typeface.

Aesthetic Considerations

First, let’s consider the aesthetics. Given the resources that Microsoft has devoted to the new typefaces—Now Read This says that Bill Gates has made improving reading on the screen one of his personal “Top 5” priorities—I’m not surprised that I found them all to be attractive.

Of the serif typefaces, for purposes of business documents I have a slight preference for Cambria, as being more formal.

But the sans-serif typefaces were the real revelation. I found them all more agreeable than Arial, but the one that particularly caught my eye is Calibri, which is distinguished by its rounded ends. Generally, it could be described as a “humanist” sans-serif, in that it offers some variation in line width and so should be more readable than more severe sans-serif fonts. I found that label appropriate, in the way it suggests a mix of what draws technical types to Arial and liberal-arts types to Times New Roman. To my surprise, I’d be happy offering Calibri to both groups. It’s what I’d like to switch to.

But see for yourselves: click here to see a PDF of a sample page of a contract using 12-point Times New Roman; click here to see a PDF of the same page using 11-point Calibri. I used 11-point Calibri because that’s Word 2007’s default font.

(Note that Calibri in a PDF document is nowhere near as clear on screen as Calibri in a Word document with ClearType. Also, note that the Times New Roman document uses underscore for emphasis whereas the Calibri document uses bold; for more on that, see today’s other post.)

One feature of Calibri might make it more palatable to drafters than the other new sans-serif typefaces—as a default, it uses lining numerals rather than old-style numerals. (Click here for a comparison of lining numerals and old-style numerals.) For one thing, users of Times New Roman and Arial would be used to lining numerals. And although old-style numerals blend well with lowercase letters, in contracts you generally want numbers—whether used to state amounts or used to enumerate blocks of text—to stand out.

Space Considerations

Of the two sample pages that I link to above, the version with Calibri squeezes a couple more lines on the one page than does the Times New Roman version. If both versions used 12 point, the Times New Roman version would be the one fit a couple more lines on the page. That’s because, in typographer speak, Calibri has a slightly larger x-height, wider letter-spacing, and more in-built interline spacing (also known as leading).

I may tinker with Calibri’s size, to see if I prefer 12 point. But for the sake of simplicity, and in order not to scare off anyone who doesn’t like the idea of changing to a font that takes up more space, for the moment I’m happy sticking Word 2007’s default, 11-point Calibri.

Compatibility with Word 2003

The notion of changing typefaces raises the issue of cross-platform font compatibility.

My first question in that regard was whether only those who’d installed Office 2007 would be able to use the new typefaces. That’s not the case—I realized that although I haven’t yet installed Office 2007, the new typefaces were available to me in Word 2003. That’s because I’d installed the Microsoft Office compability pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 file formats. Anyone using older versions of Word or even a competing word-processing program can do so too, in only a few clicks.

Mac Compatibility

A less tractable issue is compatibility with Macs. If you send a Mac user a document that containing any of the new typefaces, they’d be able to open it, but it would probably display in a fall-back font such as Lucida Grande. That by itself would be a nuisance, as it would interfere with, for instance, exchanging signature pages. Furthermore, it would complicate negotiations, as the line breaks and page breaks in the recipient’s version would likely be different from those in the sender’s version.

Here’s my take on this: Macs have only a toehold at law firms. (Click here to read a recent Lawyers Weekly article about this.) So the life-enhancing quality of working with a classy typeface that’s designed to work with ClearType far outweighs the inconvenience of having to switch back to Times New Roman or Arial on those rare occasions when you’re dealing with a Mac user.

And a couple of factors could turn this from a minor issue to a non-issue. First, the Mac user you’re corresponding with might have elected to run Windows as well as the Mac operating system. And second, the upcoming 2008 versions of Mac Office will likely resolve this issue.

Printer Speed

Times typefaces are embedded in laser printers. That makes for quicker printout, as you don’t need to download Times New Roman to your printer each time you print a document.

In theory, that means that if a large organization were to switch all at once to one of the new typefaces, users might notice a drop in printer speed.

But with the speeds offered by current hardware, this is less of an issue than it once might have been. And I gather that discussions are ongoing regarding licensing the new typefaces to printer manufacturers. That would resolve the issue entirely.

Weighing Change

So in favor changing to Calibri (or, if you prefer, one of the other new typefaces) you have aesthetics and the fact that unlike Times New Roman and Arial, it was designed to work with ClearType. In favor of standing pat you have trivial cross-platform compatibility issues and … inertia. Sounds familiar.

I would remind those inclined to cling to Times New Roman that its current prevalence has nothing to do with its inherent qualities. Instead, it has everything to do with decisions made at pivotal moments in the recent past by companies responsible for developing our reading and writing technologies.

Similar factors favor a more worthy candidate, Calibri. Seeing as it’s one of the default typefaces for Office 2007, opting for it couldn’t be considered a nonconformist decision.

Furthermore, changing typeface would be a lot easier than changing contract language, in that the other side would have no basis for objecting to the change. And within any given firm, the change wouldn’t have to be made lockstep—any lawyer could make the change whenever he or she has the urge.

But I won’t do anything irrevocable—such as asking Payne Consulting Group to revise the MSCD options in the Numbering Assistant—until I’ve digested any feedback I receive.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.