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Calibri and Me: A Romp Through a Typeface

Some time ago I received a draft of a legal document to review. It was in a typeface I had never before noticed. It was a san serif typeface, from “sans” without, and “serif”, a line. The serifs are those little vestigial horizontal strokes at the bottom of the letters reminiscent of early writings with quill pens. A sans serif typefaces has a more modern look than a serif typeface. It is as if those the quill strokes of the earlier calligraphers have been removed.

I looked up at the font window and saw the word “Calibri”. There was something very friendly about the typography – a nice rounded look, not mechanical, almost like a hand-drafted version of a san serif typeface. It was personal and not geometric. The document I was working on, a separation agreement for someone’s divorce, was very serious. A couple was getting divorced. They were entering into an agreement about how to divide the property and the children. It is not a very happy time in peoples’ lives, and is very stressful.

I looked at that nice, warm typeface and thought how nice it was to present the very serious, difficult separation agreement in such a warm, friendly way.

I started thinking of the famous quote by Marshall McLuhan, “the medium is the message”. The fact that the “medium”, this lovely typeface, was presenting the “message”, an agreement that was the template for the end of the marriage, seemed a very good thing for the clients. It is a subliminal message that in essence, all things are right in the world, the world is safe, and happiness is present, or at least around the corner. A good message to present in a divorce.

Calibi was invented for Microsoft by a Dutch type designer, Lucas de Groot [who calls himself Lu(cas) de Groot] in 2003. For Lu(cas)’ very fascinating website where you can see his other type designs, visit www.lucasfonts.com. You won’t find Calibri on Lu(cas)’ site, because it is a proprietary typeface, designed for Microsoft, but you will find other interesting typefaces and material on de Groot’s work.

On its website, Microsoft describes Calibri a member of the san serif typeface family with “subtle roundings on stems and corners”. It has “many curves” and a “warm and soft” character.

Sans Serif typefaces are organized in several categories:

There are the “neo-grotesque” (also called “realist”) such as Helvetica and Arial.

These are very common, and are relatively straight in appearance. They have not much line width variation, have a very plain appearance, and are sometimes called “anonymous sans-serif” as a result.

The second category of sans serif typefaces is the “humanist. Calibri, Verdana and Tahoma fall into this category. They are the most calligraphic of the sans-serif typefaces, with some variation in line width and more legibility than other sans-serif fonts.

Geometric typefaces, such as Futura and Avant Garde are characterized simple letter constructions built on geometric shapes, as in the letter “O” which is optically circular in Futura.

Grotesque typefaces, such as Franklin Gothic, are the early sans serif designs, developed around 1900.

Calibri made the news in February, 2009 when Lucille Hester, sister of Dallas Cowboy football star Bob Hayes read a letter purportedly written by Hayes on national TV. The letter was dated 1999, three years before Hayes’ death. A close look at the typeface revealed that it was Calibri, which was invented in 2003, and wasn’t available to the public until 2007, when it was included in Microsoft Office 2007.

Since discovering Calibri a few years ago, I have been increasingly using it in my work as a lawyer, especially for contracts and agreements between people. (By the way, I recommend 12 point, not 11 point.)

I am convinced that the warmth and friendliness of the typeface increases the chance of people being able to come to agreements in a more congenial way due to the subliminal message the design of the word letters forms impart. Yes, Marshall McLuan, you were right. The medium is the message, indeed.