I Guess No One Cares About Fonts

Last week, I
wrote about Segoe UI,
the new font used to render the user interface of Office 12 and Windows Vista.

I intended it to be a little fluffy “FYI” piece.  Little did I anticipate
the flurry of comments and feedback and e-mail and blog entries.  Font
this, font that!  Font font font font font!!!

So today, a little more about Segoe UI, starting with a mea culpa
To save time, I pulled the picture of Segoe UI I published last week from the beta version of the
Windows Vista UX
Guidelines in MSDN

That was a mistake.  It turns out that whomever made the picture used Segoe
(Microsoft’s corporate branding font) and not Segoe UI (which is the font we are
using in the Office 12 interface.)

Simon Daniels, lead fonts program manager for Microsoft Typography, sent me mail
to correct my mistake.  He also provided me with an updated picture of Segoe UI,
which I reproduce below.  (I’ve also updated the picture in the original

Segoe UI is the new user interface font for Office 12 and Windows Vista

Simon, who knows 500x more about fonts than I do, has been one of our point
people on the Segoe UI effort for Office.  He wrote the following short
background on Segoe UI which I hope you’ll find interesting:

“Segoe UI is a four member typeface family included with Windows Vista
and Office 12 for User Interface use.  Its used widely by Windows
Vista components but can also be specified by third party apps running on
Windows Vista that may wish to take advantage of it in order to have the
Windows Vista look and feel.  Efforts are underway to enable third
party apps running on Windows XP to access the fonts too.

“Each Segoe UI font includes well over 2,200 characters, supporting Unicode
4.1 coverage of Latin, Cyrillic and Greek based languages and includes
support for IPA (international phonetic alphabet) and combining diacritics.

“The Segoe fonts are provided as TrueType flavor OpenType fonts, and as such
can be used to author regular documents or create graphics, but the fonts
themselves have been tuned for use as UI fonts at 8pt, 9pt, and 10pt under
the ClearType rendering environment.

“Although the fonts have been optimized for ClearType (the Windows Vista and
Windows Presentation Framework default experience), concessions have been
made for regular bi-level (black and white or aliased) rendering, or for
regular grayscale antialiasing.

“Segoe UI was drawn in the humanist sans-serif style evoking natural, almost
hand drawn letter shapes.  As a humanist sans design it shares
characteristics with Adobe Myriad, Verdana, Corbel, Lucida Sans and the
father of the humanist sans movement Frutiger.  Unlike Verdana and
Frutiger the typeface has a lively true italic, not based on an obliqued or
slanted regular style.  Also unlike the humanist sans faces designed
primarily for print-use the fonts include distinctive letter shapes that
help the user distinguish between easily confused characters like lowercase
l and uppercase I.

“Finally, Segoe UI is just one part of the extended Segoe family of
typefaces.  This family also includes contextual cursive handwriting
fonts (Segoe Script), a hand drawn non-cursive font (Segoe Print), special
fonts for TV use (Segoe TV), a symbol font for hardware decals (Segoe HW)
and a fourteen member set used for branding and corporate communications.

“One final note: The original Segoe fonts were not created for or by
Microsoft.  It was an existing Monotype design which we licensed and
extensively extended and customized to meet the requirements of different
processes, apps and devices.”

There you have it, direct from the expert.  Thanks, Simon!

Comments (26)

  1. S. Liu says:

    When the cleartype is off the font looks awful

  2. notnow says:

    Segoe UI Regular and Italic are differnt! Look at the "a"…

  3. Ilya Birman says:


    First of all, it’s normal and it’s the way it SHOULD be. Check most of the font families, regular and italic a’s ARE different (start with Times New Roman, then try Trebuchet MS). And this is what Simon points out himself:

    "Unlike Verdana and Frutiger the typeface has a lively true italic, not based on an obliqued or slanted regular style."

    See? Please check Google for difference between "italic" and "oblique".

  4. Eric K. says:

    In a way, it can be said that I don’t care about fonts. Then again, I do to some extent.

    As a user and a developer, I don’t look to fonts to accomplish anything more than enhance the readability of the text or code that I’m working with. Nothing more, nothing less. I’m not looking to fonts to evoke a particular mood unless that mood has something to do with concentration.

    I’m expressly trying not to see the *font*, but rather the characters and their meanings. Fonts are a tool to enhance my ability to do so.

    For reading, I prefer a proportional font that’s very clean and clear and presents the individual characters in such a way that there’s no chance at all I could confuse one letter for another even for the briefest moment. I want a font that, at its tiniest, is still very readable.

    I want the same things for programming, though I want a monospace font instead, with just barely enough whitespace around each letter that they’re visibly separated, but not so much that lines appear double-spaced as do many monospaced fonts.

    To professionals in the field of typefaces, fonts may be an art form, but to the rest of us, it’s like camerawork at a dance competition: If the cameraman’s so busy showing us his art and all the camera angles and motion and tight zoom shots he’s capable of, how can we properly enjoy the dance competition that’s the viewer/user’s real interest?

    If I’m busy paying attention to the font, I’m not paying attention to the words.

  5. Gabe says:

    Why do you speak of rendering at 8/9/10pt sizes, when the real issue is how many pixels tall they are? I mean, even an 8pt font will be 280 dots tall on a 2540dpi imagesetter! Isn’t the point that you want the font to look good at 10 pixels tall no matter what the resolution of the output device?

    Also, what is a TV font? Is it one that’s specially designed for titles, or does it just have lots of TV network logos?

    BTW, I really like the italic version of Segoe.

  6. Si says:

    8/9/10pt at 96dpi – so these are 11, 12 and 13 ppem (pixels per em).

    The TV verison is used by MSNTV and MSTV devices for displaying content on TVs.

    Cheers, Si

  7. Si says:

    >If I’m busy paying attention to the font, I’m not paying attention to the words.

    Eric’s comment hits the nail on the head and also goes a long way to explain why we picked a neutral humanist sans serif typeface free of the quirky gimmicks we see in many sans faces – for more on the neutral sans concept see this article – http://www.creativepro.com/story/feature/22491.html

    That’s not to say quirky sans don’t have their place – http://www.ascendercorp.com/pr/pr2005_10_18.html

  8. Hmm.. I suppose that is a nice enough font. How clean is it at 10-12pt?

    My new favorite font is Myriad Web Condensed, for some reason Segoe UI puts me in mind of Myriad Web. It is nice to take a break from Arial, Verdana and Tahoma.

  9. Fadi says:

    Times New Roman is the most widely used font in Lebanon. I love Comic Sans MS.

  10. rb says:

    How do you pronounce "Segoe"?

  11. Si says:

    See-Go is close enough, have heard Seg-Oh too. When Monotype originally made the font they were naming them after street names, other examples being Albany, Thorndale and Cumberland. Segoe was named after a street in Madison, Wisconsin, and my understanding is the locals pronounce it See-Go.

  12. Jason says:

    Being a local of Madison Wisconsin, See-Go is the correct pronounciation (or at least that’s how I say it.)

  13. Si says:

    For those who might be interested Segoe Street in Madison is named for city-planner Ladislas Segoe…


  14. Dave Solimini says:

    Having found a copy of Segoe UI online and set it as my default system font… i have to say its awfully nice and pleasing to read. well done. (Cleartype on a laptop 14.1 LCD)

  15. Mario Goebbels says:

    Regarding the fonts, you guys kinda ruined Calibri by taking out old style lined numbers. 🙁

  16. Si says:

    The OSF’s are still in the font – you just need to use the OpenType feature to get them.

  17. Marius Greuel says:

    To comment on Julie’s post: I also prefer the standard font smoothing over the ClearType one. ClearType *does* look fuzzy to me. I am typing this on a Viewsonic VX2000 LCD connected via DVI and I spend a lot of time trying to optimize the ClearType settings with no success: I do see irritating shadows and wrong colors when using the ClearType engine, and I am not sitting to close to the screen (according to the guy who is in charge of ergonomics). I had several co-workers look at ClearType, and there are a few that hate ClearType just as I do. Those are the same that can tell the difference between an LCD hooked up via an analog cable or via DVI.

    In my opinion, the standard font smoothing engine is very much superior especially at displaying small font sizes such as GUI font sizes. For instance, if there is a vertical line that is one and one-third pixels wide, the standard rendering engine does the right thing: It displays just a *single* line of vertical pixels, instead of adding a grey line (or whatever color) of vertical pixels in order to make up for the ‘missing’ one-third pixel width.

    Unless we have resolutions of 16000×12000 on a 20" display in the future, I strongly hope that Microsoft will always provide an option to turn ClearType off.

    Thanks for listening! -Marius

  18. Si says:

    Hi Marius,

    As this is a comment attached to an old post you might want to re-post your thoughts over at the fontblog…


    …with respect to turning off ClearType in Windows Vista, I’m sure someone will post instructions on how to hack this for the Windows Vista GDI based text. But then you’ll be presented with ClearType tuned fonts under bi-level rendering and I think you’ll find these will look significantly worse *to you* than ClearType.

    Then there’s WPF (formerly Avalon) which is ClearType only. It doesn’t have a bi-level rendering mode. So in the case of WPF apps you’ll only see ClearType.

    So given the fact the new Office default fonts are ClearType fonts, that WPF only supports ClearType and that Windows GDI UI components will use ClearType-targeted fonts, it will be very difficult to remain in the bi-level world even if you don’t upgrade to Windows Vista.

    Cheers, Si

  19. k-märkt says:

    The result is a font called "Segoe UI" which will ship in both Office 12 and Windows Vista. It…