Verdana is a humanist sans-serif typeface designed by Matthew Carter for Microsoft Corporation, with hand-hinting done by Thomas Rickner, then at Monotype. Demand for such a typeface was recognized by Virginia Howlett of Microsoft's typography group and commissioned by Steve Ballmer. The name "Verdana" is based on verdant (something green), and Ana (the name of Howlett's eldest daughter).
Bearing similarities to humanist sans-serif typefaces such as Frutiger, Verdana was designed to be readable at small sizes on the low-resolution computer screens of the period. Like many designs of this type, Verdana has a large x-height (tall lower-case characters), with wider proportions and loose letter-spacing than on print-orientated designs like Helvetica. The counters and apertures are wide, to keep strokes clearly separate from one another, and similarly-shaped letters are designed to appear clearly different to increase legibility for body text. The bold weight is thicker than would be normal with fonts for print use, suiting the limitations of onscreen display. Carter has described spacing as an area he particularly worked on during the design process.
Distinctive visual identifiable characteristics
Characteristics of the typeface are:
- Lower case
- there is a square dot over the letter i
- the lowercase j has a serif on top that protrudes left
- the a is double-story
- Upper case
- the capital Q's tail is centered under the figure
- the uppercase J has a serif on the top that protrudes left
- the uppercase I has serifs on the top and bottom
As an example of the approach of making similar characters easily distinguishable, the digit 1 (one) in Verdana was given a horizontal base and a hook in the upper left to distinguish it from lowercase l (L) and uppercase I (i). This is similar to the digit "1" found in Morris Fuller Benton's sans-serif typefaces News Gothic and Franklin Gothic.
Released in 1996, Verdana was bundled with subsequent versions of the Windows operating system, as well as their Office and Internet Explorer software on Windows, classic Mac OS, and Mac OS X. Since at least Mac OS X 10.4 it is even bundled with macOS itself. In addition, up until 2002 it was available for download from Microsoft's web site as freeware (".exe" files for Microsoft Windows and in ".sit.hqx" archives for Mac OS) under a proprietary license imposing some restrictions on usage and distribution, allowing it to be used by end users in any system supporting installation of "exe" or ".sit.hqx" files and supporting TrueType fonts. The downloadable files are still available legally from third-party web sites; see the External links section. However, these files include only old versions of Verdana and updated versions are not available as a freeware.
According to a study of online fonts by the Software Usability and Research Laboratory at Wichita State University, participants preferred Verdana to be the best overall font choice and it was also perceived as being among the most legible fonts. However, Microsoft's font manager Bill Hill wrote of it that "with its large x-height and very generous spacing, it never felt comfortable as an eBook font", and noted that Microsoft had commissioned an alternative, version of the pre-existing typefaces Berling and Frutiger, for its Microsoft Reader e-book product. Despite this, Verdana was initially used as one of the bundled book-reading fonts on the iPad before an update in 2011.
Verdana Ref is a custom version of Verdana for use with Microsoft Reference. It is used in Microsoft Bookshelf 2000, Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe 99, Encarta Virtual Globe 99, Office 2000 Premium, Publisher 2000. MS Reference Sans Serif is a derivative of Verdana Ref with bold and italic fonts. This font family is included with Microsoft Encarta.
Microsoft licensed rights to Verdana to Font Bureau for a new Verdana Pro release, published in 2013. Verdana Pro adds light, semi-bold and black styles with italics, as well as condensed styles with italics across all weights. The expanded family was designed for organisations which had made extensive use of Verdana due to its availability but desired additional versions for greater flexibility. It is sold separately through print and web licenses, being sold by Font Bureau and Ascender. A similar Georgia pro release was announced at the same time.
Combining characters bug
In the past Verdana (v. 2.43) had an incorrect position for combining diacritical marks, causing them to display on the following character instead of the preceding. This made it unsuitable for Unicode-encoded text such as Cyrillic or Greek. This bug didn't usually reveal itself with Latin letters. This is because some font display engines substitute sequences of base character + combining character with a precomposed character glyph. This bug was subsequently fixed in the version issued with Windows Vista. It is also fixed in Verdana version 5.01 font on Windows XP by installing the European Union Expansion Font Update from Microsoft.
In 2006, the Verdana typeface was named in the list of British design icons in the Great British Design Quest organised by the BBC and the Design Museum. Carter's typeface appeared on a list which included Concorde, Mini, Jaguar E-Type, Aston Martin DB5, Supermarine Spitfire, World Wide Web, London tube map, Routemaster bus and the K2 telephone box.
In 2009, IKEA changed the typeface used in its catalog from Futura to Verdana, expressing a desire to unify its branding between print and web media. The controversy has been attributed to the perception of Verdana as a symbol of homogeneity in popular typography. Time magazine and the Associated Press ran articles on the controversy including a brief interview with an IKEA representative, focusing on the opinions of typographers and designers. Design and advertising industry-focused publications such as Business Week joined the fray of online posts. The branding critic blog Brand New was one of those using the Verdanagate name. The Australian online daily news site Crikey also published an article on the controversy. The Guardian ran an article asking "Ikea is changing its font to Verdana – causing outrage among typomaniacs. Should the rest of us care? Absolutely." The New York Times said the change to Verdana "is so offensive to many because it seems like a slap at the principles of design by a company that has been hailed for its adherence to them."
Speaking about the topic in 2013, Carter said "Ever since there was that big ruckus about the IKEA catalog changing from Futura to Verdana, which I had nothing to do with and didn’t even know about, people ask me about that everywhere I go. I give a talk about something historical and then at the end someone will get up and say: “I started a petition to go back to Futura. You’re a villain!” You get blamed for something you had nothing to do with. There’s a strange misunderstanding. A friendly guy came up to me at a conference recently and said: I signed that petition to go back to Futura. So I asked: what caused you to do that? And he said, well, Verdana is a screen font. You mustn’t use it in print. So I said: OK, well, so you open the IKEA catalog, it’s set in Verdana, with the big prices and everything… how do you tell it’s a screen font? What is it about Verdana that says: this is a screen font? He had no idea. He just knew it because he’d been told. There are many people who make judgments without really understanding what the typographic issues are. Students are interesting — they’ll say things to me like: my professor told me I cannot use Verdana and Georgia in print because they’re screen fonts, but I tried it and it looks perfectly all right. And I can only say: 'Thank you! Go ahead!'"
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