Microsoft’s Calibri font has been the default for the technology company for 15 years. Over the past two years, the company embarked on a journey to find its replacement. This journey is full of customer experience design antidotes and provides a glimpse of how the new font, Aptos, could shape brands in the years to come. Brands and retailers using Calibri should take note.
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Introduction – Journey From Calibri To Aptos
The Calibri typeface was created by Lucas de Groot back in 2002. It was introduced across all Microsoft Office suite products like Word, Excel, etc. by 2007. In the years since the sans-serif font reached iconic status as a default font for millions of PCs and is considered the successor to Times New Roman.
Since it is the default font in Microsoft Office, many companies, students, and professionals use it for their daily use. It replaced Arial as the popular choice for job applicants, used to solve forgery cases, and in 2017, cracked a Pakistani corruption probe. Over the years, de Groot continued evolving the typeface with heavier weights and added support for Hebrew.
Microsoft Word Home screen featuring the Calibri font as the default. Source: Larry Leung
In 2021, Microsoft started a new journey on the Calibri replacement. Microsoft commissioned five new fonts: Bierstadt, Grandview, Seaford, Skeena, and Tenorite. These fonts were added to the Office suite in April 2021. The technology company then tracked user feedback and usage data to determine which of these five fonts would replace Calibri.
In July 2023, Aptos, rebranded from Bierstadt was chosen as the winner.
What is Aptos?
What is Aptos (formerly Bierstadt)?
In a blog entry published in April 2021, Microsoft described Aptos as “a precise, contemporary sans serif typeface inspired by mid-20th-century Swiss typography. A versatile typeface that expresses simplicity and rationality in a highly readable form, Bierstadt is also notably clear-cut with stroke endings that emphasize order and restraint.”
The typeface was designed by Steve Matteson whose work also included the famous Microsoft’s Segoe, Toyota Type, and Google’s Open Sans fonts.
Microsoft interviewed Steve about his inspiration for the font.
Steve: “Microsoft had requested a new typeface in the “grotesque sans serif” genre, a style defined by block-style letters without calligraphic flourish or contrast between thick and thin strokes. Helvetica, created by Switzerland’s Haas Type Foundry in 1957, is the most famed example.
Swiss typographers gravitated to grotesque designs like Helvetica because of their suitability for grid-based typography. In today’s world, I believe a grotesque typeface’s voice needs a bit of a human touch to feel more approachable and less institutional. Bierstadt’s systematic design contains organic touches to help humanize digital environments and soften the regimented order of grid typography.
Microsoft already has Arial—which has many attributes from grotesque types preceding Helvetica—and my approach was to design a sans serif that would contrast with Arial by being far more mechanical and rationalized. The terminal endings are precisely sheared at 90 degrees—a modern note contrasting the softer, angled endings in Arial—and a lack of somewhat fussy curves found in Arial’s ‘a’, ‘f’, ‘y’, and ‘r’.
As for the name, Bierstadt is named for one of Colorado’s 14,000 ft peaks. When I think of Swiss-type, I think of the Alps, and since I’m based in Boulder, my Alps are the Rockies.”
Differences Between Calibri and Aptos
Users are instantly reminded of Arial when they first encounter Aptos. This is a departure from Calibri which has a narrower width in comparison. While Calibri only has 6 different variations featuring light, light italic, regular, italic, bold, and bold italic, Aptos features 14 different types including display, semibold, and extra bold, and their variations are staples in new fonts.
Differences between Microsoft Office default font, Calibri (2007-2023), to Aptos (2023-Now). Created by: Retail Mashup
Time For Brands To Switch To Aptos?
While font familiarity is one of the key ingredients to brand design and management, knowing when it is time for a brand renewal is also important. For brands, retailers, and other companies using Calibri as their default external-facing font, it might be time for them to rethink switching over to Aptos or be seen as not evolving along with society.
Given how much the Aptos font will be used after Microsoft updates the Office Suite, the general public will quickly build an inherent association and comfort built from high-frequency usage. The time of adjustment is the perfect opportunity for brands to jump on board with their brand refresh exercise. Besides telling its customers that brands move along with societal changes, the stage is set for them to use the refresh to showcase new initiatives, products, and services.
Should airlines change to the Aptos font? Source: Microsoft
Before investing resources in a new font, brands should lean on customer demographic data to determine if a modern rounded font like Aptos would suit their needs. A heritage brand will like not to benefit from an abrupt switch from Times New Roman to Aptos without alienating existing customers. Other considerations brands should place include printing, designing, packaging, training, etc.
The audience will find comfort in Aptos immediately as the font reminds people of Arial. Source: Microsoft
In a Medium post to showcase the new font to the world, Steve said, “the font has an understated personality that couldn’t be “overtly” neutral. There had to be some warmth. “It’s kind of like listening to a GPS voice versus a human voice. People would rather listen to a human than a robot telling you to turn left, that’s my ethos getting put into the design,” Steve said. His process begins with a pencil and sketch pad. All fonts get ideated through scribbling on paper. To him, working strictly on the computer becomes too “ephemeral” and the why behind the ideas becomes easy to forget.”
Brands have a responsibility to build a customer experience strategy and associated processes that are a mix of warmth, support, can-do attitude, personality, personal care, and more. Whether it is in print or digital forms, a brand’s font could be an important engagement point to turn a non-believer into a future loyal customer.
Apto may be the answer brands are looking for in their journey to locate and build the next customer connection.
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