Monday, March 31, 2014

I'm Just a Font of Useless Knowledge, So to Speak

You probably don't ever think about it, but there's a lot of thought and science that goes into the design of what you read. The way the individual letters are formed into fonts is carefully designed to make the printed words easier to read, and the pitch, or size of the font, adds legibility and - when needed - emphasis to the text. The average word-processing or graphics program comes with a bazillion different fonts* in all sorts of styles to help you express your thoughts in exactly the right way. Blogger allows you seven different fonts (Arial, Courier, Georgia, Helvetica, Times, Trebuchet, and Verdana), and I imagine there's a way to use lots of others for those smarter at html coding than I.

But in addition to style, there's an economic aspect to fonts that most of us never think about. You already know that printer ink is really expensive ... over $4,000 per gallon, according to this New York Times article from back in 2009. But did you know that the font you select can have a great impact on your ink usage?

CNN recently reported on a study done by 14 year-old Pennsylvania middle school student Suvir Mirchandani for a science fair project. Mirchandani's analysis revealed that by changing the default font his school district used in its documents from Times New Roman to Garamond, which has thinner strokes, the district could reduce its consumption of printer ink by 24%, saving as much as $21,000 annually. Here's a sample that shows the difference between the two fonts, both presented in the same pitch without bolding or other enhancement:

Mirchandani went on to extrapolate the potential savings to the level of the Federal Government, estimating that the US Government could save as much as $136 million per year simply by changing its default font. When the Federal budget is measured in the trillions of dollars, 136 million may seem like chump change ... but at the level where it can be applied to help Real People, it's a lot of money. It could pay for improvements to education, extra investments in scientific research, environmental clean-up, more tax breaks for big business and the wealthy, or lots of other things more worthy than printer ink.

As far as I can tell, the difference in legibility between the two is negligible, and it's clear that the Garamond font requires less of that $4,000-per-gallon ink. I have already changed the default font that I use on my personal documents to Garamond, although anything work-related I do at home will still need to used good old Air Staff-approved Times New Roman, 12-pitch ... at least until the leadership realizes that printer ink is a lot more expensive than jet fuel.

Have a good day. Choose your fonts carefully. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Do you suppose that the cheese of choice for printers and typesetters is fontina?


Duckbutt said...

Fascinating! I wonder who comparatively Georgia is to some of the others.

And what about Comic Sans?

eViL pOp TaRt said...

I need to look into the comparative impressions that different style fonts have. Also, does the use of colors help, or diminish credibility?

Mike said...

I read that article. The kid did some real in depth research.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

This story reminded me of a friend of mine. When 3,000 of us were furloughed he took a job with the gov't. He said to me one day that they gov't spends more time and money on the paper type and the font they are using than whatever is being written on the paper. He said he had to get back into our industry because this shit drove him mad. I may have to sent him this post. :-)

Grand Crapaud said...

I hope the government does adopt this cost-cutting measure.