Will Garamond Save the Government 300 Million?

There is a 14 year old up in Pittsburgh area named Suvir Mirchandani that did an analysis on different fonts.  Since I play with fonts in creating web pages, it rang a bell with me.

In short, most of the government documents in the US are printed in Times Roman.  It’s that “default” font you get when you have text with little tags on the ends of the letters that are called Serif.  Garamond looks similar to Times Roman and its derivatives, but it’s a lighter font.  The idea is that if they switched to Garamond at the same point, you end up saving money.

True, but… A 10 point Garamond is shorter and thinner than a 10 point Times Roman character.  To get the same height, you’d have to bump the size up on your text to a 12 point.

You should still save money but maybe not quite as much.  Since printer ink is ludicrously expensive, around $4285 a liter, any savings add up.

Does it matter?  Maybe, depends on how much you print.   You certainly will save money using the Light or Condensed version of the fonts, but you may not notice it.  If you’re printing out the resume, you don’t care, you just want it to look good.

I don’t tend to care anyway, I print very rarely, and besides I strongly prefer Gill Sans or similar like Trebuchet.  That’s the “Keep Calm” Poster font.  London Underground is another similar font. The M in Trebuchet is wrong, but that’s why I call myself a Font Geek.

What is more important than whether our 14 year old friend is completely right, or slightly wrong, is the idea that if you look carefully at a situation, small changes can make for a big difference in the end.  This is why things have gotten thinner in the manufacturing process.   Cutting costs, or even cutting corners, will save the manufacturer in the end.  If it is something to be thrown out and disposed of like packing peanuts, use the absolute minimum quality that will get the item to the ultimate person using the item.  It’s trash anyway, and trash is a massive problem.  Make enough of them and save a dollar a piece and it ends up being real money in the end.

The flip side of the packing peanut problem is the thickness of something like sheet metal in a car can be a life or death situation.  Thinning the grade of the sheet metal in a body panel of a car can be fine, if the car is never in an accident you won’t care.  If someone leans against the quarter panel of your brand new car and it crumples like a sheet of aluminum foil, you aren’t going to be safe in a crash.

The Warranty of Merchantability or Implied Warranty is a concept that fits well here.   The warranty states that a manufacturer “warrants” that a product is suitable to the reasonable use for its intended purpose.  You don’t expect to use your computer screen as a wheel chock to stop your car from rolling down a driveway, but you do expect to get a couple years at a reasonable brightness at a certain setting.  You know, so you can look at all those pretty letters, and fonts, and pictures of cats.

English Common Law is a wonderful thing, in this and many other cases.

So what do you take away from this?   As a web designer and consultant, I design things so they look good to me.  If I intend to print something out, will I be saving it for multiple uses?  Then splurge on the “bigger” fonts.  Once only?  Try not to print at all.  In the middle? Judge your audience.  Web only?  Make it pretty and change it when you get bored.

That last bit is why this page renders in one font and then snaps to another when it has finished loading.  The background there is that there are only a few web fonts.  Arial and Helvetica is one family, Times Roman (remember that one?), Trebuchet, and a few others in another family.  The font I picked for the blog looked good a while back when I changed my template.  It’s something called Cuprum in 14 point.  As one of the Google Open Fonts, I can use it freely, without royalties, and on any machine that supports the format even in commercial usages.  Blogger does the translation behind the scenes so that you, my reader, don’t have to have Cuprum on your computer.

Whether that saves ink if printed, I don’t know.  I could change the color to a dark grey and the result is I’d use less ink if I chose to print it out. 

Maybe our 14 year old friend should check that out?  What if you keep the font at the same size and weight, but change the color from black to grey?  From #000000 to #888888 for the web developers in the crew.

As long as it never gets printed, it just doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that you still have to be able to see it and after all if you can’t see it, it’s a waste of time, isn’t it?

Googlle or the Google Doodle that confused people

Today, September 27, 2009 is Google’s 11th Birthday.

Get it?  Googlle?   If you hover over the Google Doodle, you get a hint to what they’re on about.

Its written that way as a typographical nod to their anniversary.   When we used to use manual typewriters, we used to have one font for the most part, Courier.   Many typewriters, including the Post War Era beast of a manual that I grew up using for term papers and the like simply did not have a 1 key.   A discrete key for the digit One was overkill because a lower case l (L or “Ell”) looked like a one and people just typed that way.   The whole Leet Speek is an echo of that where they use numbers to represent letters in an effort to confuse those outside of their own clan.   Spelling Elite as 1337 and the like.  

Personally I prefer Gill Sans and use it everywhere, but people sometimes wonder why my printed correspondence looks like it was written by London Underground.