For nearly 15 years, Calibri has reigned as the default and therefore dominant font choice for Microsoft systems. It has appeared countless times in unformatted Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, and Excel spreadsheets, a typographical reprieve for the decision crippled. But now there’s a new sans serif in town. In fact, five of them: Microsoft ad that it plans to replace Calibri as the default font with one of the five new fonts released this week.
It’s the end of an era, but Calibri designer Lucas de Groot doesn’t hesitate to let his font rest for a bit. “It’s a relief,” he says.
De Groot created Calibri in the early 2000s, as part of a collection of fonts for improved screen reading. “I designed it very quickly,” he says. “I already had a few sketches, so I adapted them and added those rounded corners to give it a designer feel.” For a long time, computer screens did not have the pixel density to faithfully render all fonts; the rounded corners did not appear like an arch but like a staircase. That changed in 2000 with Microsoft’s new ClearType technology, which optimized resolution on LCD screens and made fonts like de Groot easier to read. The company liked Calibri enough to make it the default for Windows Vista in 2007.
Since then, Calibri has performed his duties with absolute modesty. It never became a typographic darling like Helvetica, but it also didn’t create a lot of enemies. “We don’t see customers turning on it, which is what happens with fonts,” says Simon Daniels, senior program manager at Microsoft Office Design. Nothing is wrong with Calibri. It’s just that after almost two decades Daniels thought maybe it was time to try something new.
“I often think of that quote from Roger Black, who says that fonts are basically clothes for your ideas,” Daniels says. “What we are saying is that Calibri is out of fashion.”
Rather than settling into a new look right away, Microsoft is taking the time to consider the options. Daniels ordered five new fonts from major typefaces, each bringing a new take on what a default font might be: Tenorite is crisp and circular, with round punctuation marks. Bierstadt is more sober, paying homage to mid-century Swiss typography. Skeena is a “humanist” sans serif; Grandview, an “industrialist”. Seaford is inspired by the shape of the armchairs: comfortable but ergonomic.