What is the best font?
September 19, 2019 5:27 PM   Subscribe

I've drafted a style guide for my institution (a private museum archives situation) to use for oral history transcript formatting; the guide says to use Calibri as the font. But a cursory look around the web of authors I respect suggests that Calibri is "so ugly." So then...what is the preferable font?

My concerns are 1) that whatever formatting standard I implement now will survive into perpetuity, through whatever formats exist in the future. 2) that it not look bad. 3) especially that it not be a punchline (like Comic Sans).

What do you use in your workplace, and why? What's your take on Calibri--why is it terrible (or not)?
posted by witchen to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Avenir is fairly evergreen, readable, clean, and professional. It's my 's official font.
posted by seemoorglass at 5:41 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's been my recall that this can be different depending on format of reading: if it's printed, the general thought is that serif fonts are easier to read, and on the screen, sans-serifs. I assume you're talking about electronic?

This ties in a bit to what the visual format of your oral history transcripts are - large blocks? More like a script? Some people find Calibri tough in large blocks, but I use it for my medical notes (which have a lot of small paragraphs/one-two line blocks, with numbers and words intermingled.)

For electronic perpetuity (a rare bird indeed), a more common font, which translates well between browsers and OS, would be my go-to. Also consider availability and readability of special characters, if needed.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:49 PM on September 19, 2019

Calibri was Microsoft's attempt to make Arial (itself a shitty facsimile of Helvetica) reasonably okay, and they largely succeeded.

What you want in this circumstance is a typeface that is widely available and installed, and is Web-friendly. Unless you're willing to shell out lots dollars for a Good Font and figure out a system to have it installed, licensed and available, and figure out how to get it on the Web, you're going to have a hard time beating Calibri. Especially since it's an Office default, you won't have to deal with People Problems (it's hard enough getting people to adopt a style guide, forget about one that includes technical issues like typefaces...ask me how I know).

Calibri isn't the best typeface, but it's far from the worst (stares disgustedly at Arial). People will be typeface snobs, but it's totally fine, and you have this stranger on the internet's permission to continue using it.

1) that whatever formatting standard I implement now will survive into perpetuity, through whatever formats exist in the future
This will never be the case.
posted by General Malaise at 5:59 PM on September 19, 2019 [15 favorites]

Oh, to answer this: "What do you use in your workplace, and why?"

Current workplace: Verdana (because our actual font is licensed, expensive and see above re: People Problems), but I won't talk smack about it on this website.

Last workplace: Tahoma (ugh, actually hideous, but the uppercase I being distinguishable from a lower-case l was nice).
posted by General Malaise at 6:06 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Are the existing documents widely in use already in Calibri? Then stick with Calibri. It looks fine printed out and on-screen which matters, it's pre-installed in almost everything and you won't have to go back and update all the other material.

Otherwise you need to think about where the font is getting used. Is this a font for print or screen? If it's a font for print, choose a nice serif font that is pre-installed with Word. If it's a screen font, I like Verdana too as it prints okay.

Also the font needs to be able to look good across multiple weights and styles so you can assign it for headers and different reading formats in different line spacings, weights etc. Verdana, Avenir and Calibri will do that. I actually like Century Schoolbook and Palatino when I have to do a serif font in those circumstances and I want dense paragraphs with some fiddling.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:16 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thirding Avenir. I’ve used Century Schoolbook in the past, too.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:53 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

We use Overpass, a font Red Hat sponsored and is open under the open font license. More about that here.
posted by jzb at 7:24 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Calibri isn't the best typeface, but it's far from the worst

Just out of curiosity, what makes a good typeface and are there examples?
posted by Triumphant Muzak at 7:46 PM on September 19, 2019

Garamond. But, ubiquitous though it is, I default to Times New Roman -- perhaps it is the most suited for almost everything.
posted by noelpratt2nd at 7:49 PM on September 19, 2019 [10 favorites]

It's funny, I was hesitating to jump in because I'm not a designer or even a font geek, but had I had the courage to speak their names first, I was also going to suggest Times New Roman and Garamond. Both are widely-installed. Also, sans-serif fonts just lack a certain je-ne-sais-quoi...wait, I DO sais quoi! It's serifs. They lack serifs. This is a grave defect, IMO.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:54 PM on September 19, 2019 [13 favorites]

posted by Enid Lareg at 8:55 PM on September 19, 2019

Practical typography is a free opinionated (but generally good practice) guide. It has a 10 minute key point list. The author makes money selling fonts and is biased in favour of that, but does list system fonts in groups from most usable to Comic Sans.

IMO, Calibri is like a bacon cheeseburger from a decent pub. Everyone knows it ain't McDonalds, and everyone knows McDonalds sucks. A handful of people who are really into burgers will sniff that the pub omits some of Heston Blumenthal's 38 ridiculous steps or that the beef isn't wagyu or that there's a better burger available at some random strip mall you probably haven't heard of, but honestly, those folks will never be satisfied - and certainly never all satisfied by one specific burger. Most people will eat the burger, think "that's a pretty good burger" and 24 hours later, they'll only remember the conversation they had, which is actually the point.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:04 PM on September 19, 2019 [13 favorites]

If you’re transcribing long texts for later readers, a serif face is easier on the eyes. Garamond is nice, I don’t care for Times or its variants, but Caslon and Jenson are pleasant and relaxing in a long text.
posted by a halcyon day at 9:05 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

I am currently in love with Montserrat.
posted by Cobalt at 9:17 PM on September 19, 2019

I’m a professional typographer who has been working with type since the 1980s. Others here have good advice, but here’s my 2¢:

Calibri is fine, assuming the proportions of the text block suit it (as with any font). While the early Microsoft TrueType fonts were crap, Microsoft made up for it by commissioning original faces that are good.

In general i recommend serif fonts for body text, but a good sans serif can work if used properly. This is a topic too big for me to expand upon in a MeFi comment.

As far as selecting a font in a style guide goes, the big decision at the start would be if you are creating a guide that you expect any member of the org to be able to use, thus (for most offices) limiting yourself to the fonts included with Microsoft Office, or, if this guide will be used by a small number of users, opening up the possibility of using a high-quality font purchased/licensed.

Note also that names like “Garamond” (especially) and “Jenson” have been used for fonts that are really not the same. I once made the mistake of specifying “Garamond” to someone who i thought was knowledgeable enough to know which Garamond fonts are decent, but instead got a file using a shitty TrueType version of ITC Garamond (bad original face, bad digital version of that face, ugh). Be careful to specify specific versions (by name and foundry) if you are using a font name that has been used by different foundries.

I would NOT specify Times New Roman or any other Times variant unless it will be used carefully by someone who really knows typography or the users are strictly using a template document designed by a professional.
posted by D.C. at 12:31 AM on September 20, 2019 [6 favorites]

Calibri is by no means ugly. It's a perfectly capable middle-of-the-road rounded sans that'll work fine for most purposes on screen and paper. Which is why it was chosen as the default font in modern versions of MS Office (that's the reason some designers might look down on it).

For organisational use where you're exchanging documents in formats that don't have embedded fonts (so everyone has to have the font installed on their machine), I would have thought it's ideal.
posted by BobInce at 4:34 AM on September 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

Calibri along with all the 'C' named Microsoft fonts were part of the ClearType Font Collection designed to look good on a monitor running Microsoft ClearType. So they have always looked third rate on other devices e.g. Apple computers.

With the rising popularity of tablets and large mobiles we have a lot of people using devices that can be rotated by 90 degrees - ClearType does not work when rotated and there is not yet any way to turn it on and off as a device is rotated.

On printed material you can use whatever font you can afford to licence, but for electronic documents you have to consider what fonts your target audience will have available. My vote would be for Georgia it's a great font by Matthew Carter that is available and works everywhere and hasnt been as overused as Calibri.
posted by Lanark at 5:10 AM on September 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

My work uses Adobe Garamond Pro for body text and Proba Pro (alternately: Gill Sans) for header text.

Is this for digital or print materials? If it's for print, please use a serif font. If it's digital, Calibri is fine.
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:56 AM on September 20, 2019

It would be awesome if you could keep accessibility in mind as you make your font decision. Here's WebAIM's discussion of font/style choices and accessibility. For many of the reasons mentioned in that discussion, Georgia (serif) and Verdana (sans-serif) are recommended by a number of the projects and institutions I work with.
posted by Hellgirl at 9:09 AM on September 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'd pick Lato or Roboto over Calibri, and I have a background not unlike D.C.'s. Both are legally free fonts.

If it's to be a long document meant to be read, maybe sans-serif headers and serif text would be best.

I agree with D.C.: Times, while ubiquitous, is actually pretty hard to typeset nicely. Palatino (aka Book Antiqua) is better. Default Garamonds (i.e., not ITC) are also tolerable.
posted by zadcat at 10:47 AM on September 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

One question...Does this place have a designated typeface for its other materials? They may be saying “Use Calibri” because that’s the “company” font.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:32 PM on September 20, 2019

My favorite for years has been Trebuchet. I use it for all of my classroom worksheets, emails, private correspondence, etc. I find it clean, neat, and easy to read.
posted by OkTwigs at 11:28 AM on September 21, 2019

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