The State Department now wants memos in Calibri, not Times New Roman

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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs keeps up with the times. According to a report by The Washington Post, employees are instructed to use 14-point Calibri when writing certain documents instead of the traditional Times New Roman. The mandate will start in February.

In a memo brutal title “The Times (New Roman) are changing,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly told employees that the change is intended to make documents more accessible, saying Times New Roman’s serifs “could introduce accessibility issues for individuals with disabilities who optical Character Recognition Technology or screen readers.”

There is some merit to the idea. Fonts with serifs, described by Blinken as “wings” and “feet” added to letters, can make small, printed text easier to read, and can also “look authoritative and professional and suggest the weight of history” or experience, according to Adobe. But in an age of screen reading, the flowers may have some drawbacks — accessibility papers from both the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Penn State say sans-serif fonts are considered more readable when viewed on a computer, though the rules are not exactly hard and fast. It’s also worth noting that there are fonts specifically designed to be accessible that are very different when compared to Calibri or other similar sans-serif fonts.

The change apparently led to some discussion in the department; a foreign service officer told the After that they “anticipated an internal revolt,” while another contributor said the font had both strong proponents and mild detractors. That’s not necessarily a surprise, since people often have a lot of feelings about fonts. The way something looks as you write it can really affect the experience; I remember there was quite a lot of celebration here The edge when our redesign introduced a serif font (although the software we use to write them still uses a sans-serif font, in case you were wondering).

Despite the complaints and headlines from certain outlets suggesting the State Department is ignoring bigger issues to push for accessibility, it seems likely that this will be largely a non-issue in March. Changing a word processor’s default font is trivial, and I really think most people who read documents using the new style will appreciate at least the size of the font. A few years ago I decided I would switch to using a 16-point font in just about every writing app on my computer, and I haven’t regretted it for a second; In fact, I’d recommend that most people try it for a day or two just to experience what it’s like to use a larger font.

Still, I wouldn’t blame the State Department employees for wanting to pour one out for Times New Roman. It is a font that has been around for a long time and was invented in the 1930s for the British newspaper The times, and shot to digital popularity when Microsoft made it the standard in Word for about a decade. However, with Office 2007, Calibri has replaced it as default – unless, of course, you manually revert it to Times New Roman, which I assume was very common at the State Department, which apparently has been using Times New Roman since 2004. (Calibri itself will be replaced at some point, but as far as I know, it’s currently still the default setting.)

PS: I don’t want to hear about fonts versus typefaces; I know the difference and I don’t care because I want the average reader to really understand what I’m talking about. But I will recommend that all know-it-alls read Ars Technica‘s description because it is delicious.

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