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Microsoft Calibri font designer Luc de Groot on its replacement

Luc (as) de Groot i Berlin.

Sonja Knecht

On Thursday, Microsoft announced a change that will soon come to some of its most visible software. It chooses a new default font for its Office applications, such as Word and Excel. And that means people will no longer see as much of the font that has been kept as the default spot since 2007 ̵

1; a sans-serif font called Calibri.

The change is another indication that this is not the old Microsoft. Since the measured Satya Nadella replaced the loud and proud Steve Ballmer as CEO in 2014, Microsoft has become easier for partners to work with, has strategically embraced third-party platforms instead of stubbornly ignoring them, and has turned into a formidable challenger in the ever-expanding cloud computing business. Presumably a change in the appearance of Microsoft software is in order.

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

“I did not expect it to be replaced already,” he said during a video interview from his home in Berlin.

He said he did not expect to be heard about the decision and that he is pleased that Microsoft is investing in new fonts to make the software more valuable. He reckoned that the choice to change was more about keeping up with modern style trends than about improving the readability of the Calibri.

De Groot started working at Calibri in 2002. An intermediary had asked him to come up with a proposal for a monospace font for an unnamed client. He was not informed that the client had also sought suggestions from other people. He was also asked to come up with a sans serif font, and then he sent some sketches to Calibri in addition to the monospace work.

The client turned out to be Microsoft, who accepted both of his proposals, and in 2003, de Groot traveled to Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington to meet with designers, consultants, and members of the company’s style team.

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

The five new fonts that Microsoft has ordered are available in Word for Office 365 subscribers. The first paragraph of the text appears in Calibri, and the second paragraph appears in the new Seaford font.

Jordan Novet | CNBC

It was not easy to come up with the name. For both of his fonts, Microsoft wanted names that started with the letter C.

As de Groot put it in an email, “I had suggested Clas, a Scandinavian first name and associated with ‘class’, but then the Greek adviser said it meant ‘farting’ in Greek. Then I suggested Curva or Curvae, as I still like, but then the Cyrillic adviser said it meant ‘prostitute’ in Russian, it is actually used as a very common swear word. “Microsoft’s legal staff also checked every possible name to see if it was already the trademark.

The company came up with the name “Calibri”, and when de Groot first heard it, he found it strange. It looked like Colibri, a genus of hummingbirds. But then Microsoft employees said it related to calibrating the rasterizer in the company’s ClearType font rendering system.

When he sent the Calibri over, he did not know how it would be used. First, he heard that it would be included in a programming environment. Only a few years later did he learn that it would become standard in Office, which has 1.2 billion users. By default, Calibri worked with line characters with uniform characters, although users can enable old characters in Word.

Calibri came to millions of PCs with the release of Office 2007 and followed the quiet font Times New Roman from the 20th century. Soon it was everywhere. It became a popular choice for resumes. It has been used to solve forgery cases, and in 2017 it was raining a Pakistani corruption probe that captured then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Former President Donald Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. used Calibri to release an email exchange about a meeting with a Russian lawyer to gather information about Hillary Clinton who had run as president against Trump in 2016.

Over the years, de Groot has done additional work with Calibri. He came with heavier weights, added support for Hebrew, and three years ago, he said, he sent a prototype of a variable Calibri font that contains multiple styles in a single font file, even though Microsoft has not released it. He was working on Calibri updates as recently as two weeks ago.

Then he started receiving emails from reporters about the news: Microsoft’s design team had published a blog post on Thursday revealing five fonts they had ordered, one of which would eventually replace the Calibri. Calibri, they wrote, “has served us all well, but we think it’s time to evolve.”

De Groot could not help but look at the five fonts. He downloaded them to his PC and tested them.

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

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