Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Microsoft Office’s New Default Font: Aptos

Tom Warren (Hacker News):

Microsoft is replacing its Calibri default font with Aptos, a new sans-serif typeface that’s inspired by mid-20th-century Swiss typography. Previously known as Bierstadt, Aptos has been part of Microsoft’s hunt for its new default font over the past couple of years. The software giant commissioned five new custom fonts for Office in 2021, and the Aptos font was picked as the default after years of feedback.

Si Daniels:

As we shared before, Microsoft commissioned five new fonts: Bierstadt, Grandview, Seaford, Skeena, and Tenorite. It was our hope that one of them would be our next default font for Microsoft 365. All of them were added to the drop-down font picker. From there, as you got a chance to use them, we listened to your impassioned feedback and chose the one that resonated most which was Bierstadt. But as there was a change of guard so too the name. Bierstadt is now known as Aptos.


The typeface was created by Steve Matteson, one of the world’s leading type designers. His previous work includes the development of the original Windows TrueType core fonts and the creation of Segoe. Steve renamed the typeface he designed from Bierstadt to Aptos after his favorite unincorporated town in Santa Cruz, California, whose widely ranging landscape and climate epitomizes the font’s versatility. The fog, beaches, redwood trees, and mountains of Aptos summed up everything that he loved about California. Getting away from digital and evoking the outdoors was akin to getting back to pencil and paper. Drawing letters by hand would play a pivotal role in Steve’s creative process.

Nick Heer:

Still not getting it. But thanks to a handful of tech companies, I am learning way more about Californian geography than I thought I ever needed to.


It is ridiculous that the closest we see to Aptos in-use is on a series of posters and things which look like signage. In the real world, we will most often see it a few hundred words at a time at body text size with the default Microsoft Word margins.

John Gruber (Mastodon):

So I took matters into my own hands, and created rudimentary specimens for each of Microsoft’s five new typefaces (and Calibri to boot). A–Z in upper- and lowercase, 0–9, and the most common punctuation marks.


I don’t know why Microsoft states as fact that Calibri somehow needed to be replaced as their default font just because it’s 15 years old. A good default font should stand the test of time for decades, if not a literal lifetime. But if Microsoft feels the need to chase fleeting fashion rather than timeless style, Aptos is the trendiest of the bunch: grotesque sans serifs are having a moment. Aptos is by no means a rip-off of Apple’s San Francisco, but it is, by far, the most San-Francisco-esque of any of these typefaces. Noteworthy characters: J (stunted and ugly), Q (small tail), R (inspired by Univers?), g (double-story, reminiscent of Franklin Gothic’s), and the numeral 1 (curved hat, a la, of all fonts, Arial). But the most distinctive character is the lowercase L, which has a curve to differentiate it from the uppercase i and numeral 1.


Seaford strikes me as the only other font in the bunch that might conceivably have been chosen as the new default. If Microsoft had better (any?) taste, they would have chosen Seaford.

Nicolas Magand:

As a font, Calibri is fine. But as a font for documents like letters, reports, CVs, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations? It looks a bit dull and amateurish, completely out of place in the type of documents one tends to produce with Microsoft Office. With this decision to use Calibri in 2007, Microsoft really made sure that users who did not care would instantly be recognised as such, while they could more easily go unnoticed with the previous default font (Arial) for instance. One of these careless users even went to jail because of this mistake.

To me, this situation was a bit grotesque, a bit like if a wedding certificate was set in Impact, or if a movie poster was set in Papyrus. I see Aptos as a huge improvement over Calibri: bland but elegant, modern, generic, and variable; this looks like a real Swiss knife of a font, which is not surprising considering the strong mid-20th-century Swiss typography — read Helvetica — heritage.


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Great. Just when the world finally reached a point of reasonably consistent document display across systems and platforms, I guess it's only natural to want to start a new era of help desk calls about why one person's document looks funny on another's computer because they don't have identical fonts installed on their computers.

Sans serif fonts are a usability impediment. If you can't tell the difference between Iain and lain, then your font is wrong and shouldn't be used.

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