When Mark Shut­tle­worth announced the rebrand­ing of Ubuntu, it seemed nobody noticed that he men­tioned a new sys­tem font was being devel­oped. Cur­rently Bit­stream Vera Sans is the default (if I’m not mis­taken), appear­ing on menu bars, title bars, but­tons — pretty much every­where. I’ve always thought it has served its pur­pose well, and was frankly a lit­tle wor­ried that they wouldn’t get the new sys­tem font right. Type design is extra­or­di­nar­ily tricky.

Now how­ever details are start­ing to emerge. OMG! Ubuntu! describes how to get a boot­leg copy of it. And at UDS back in May, Bruno Maag gave a ses­sion enti­tled “Mak­ing Beau­ti­ful Fonts” in which he elab­o­rated on the cre­ation of the new font. There is now video of that ses­sion, as well as the slides, which were sadly not included in the frame.

My first impres­sion is that it feels a bit too stiff, rigid, and tech-y. Of course there’s no way to tell until you use it on your desk­top. Reas­sur­ing, how­ever, that they’re giv­ing it proper italics.

“My first impres­sion is that it feels a bit too stiff, rigid, and tech-y.”


What is fas­ci­nat­ing is that with all of the Droid and (appar­ently) above focus on con­text (which _is_ whole­heart­edly required), it appears to be a con­text from the dis­tant past (READ: 2–4 years).

The ques­tion I offer is:

If 300 DPI is a print stan­dard that dis­plays the sub­tleties of ser­ifs and such, why is it that we seem so vehe­mently focused on the 90 DPI zone?

To me, as a pure lame duck, this looks like a mon­u­men­tal amount of effort to effec­tively cre­ate a set what amounts to a bitmapped font.

To the peo­ple look­ing for­ward, I’ll put my money on high den­sity dis­plays becom­ing the norm within a year on mobile and like devices. If such is the case, expect to see more well crafted type to emerge with­out the Juras­sic era ratio­nal­ist rigidity.

Some­one, some­where, for some rea­son, appar­ently decided that dis­play type would make a won­der­ful body copy type. It cer­tainly looks like the hobgoblin’s con­sis­tency (likely moored in a dis­mal bit of the­ory) rear­ing its ugly head.

Makes per­fectly good sense doesn’t it? That’s why Apple set all of their iden­tity work in Chicago right?

Troy James Sobotka · 21 Jun 2010

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