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More MS faces for the screen...

The first typeface Microsoft packaged with their browser was Comic Sans, designed by in-house designer Vinnie Connare. Comic sans is a playful design reminiscent of comic-book lettering. It's casual, bold, and has few straight lines but lots of personality. It's also surprisingly easy to read on-screen. Comic Sans and bold is included in Microsoft's free Internet Explorer and can also be downloaded from the Microsoft web site.

Connare's newest design, Trebuchet, is a full family sans serifs with a lot of personality, and true italics. While not as easy to read as Verdana at small sizes, Trebuchet has a lot of character and charm. It's somewhat retro flavor, like that of highway signs. Connare says:

"I was influenced by sans serif faces designed from 1900-1920s. I wanted the look of a good face that might be used for signage and documents, the way Gill Sans, the US highway signs, Frutiger and Myriad can be used as signs, clean forms or documents."

Q: Did you design this primarily for the screen?

The project was to design a good screen font. I new exactly how the bitmaps had to look to be well read, functional, and look different than MS Sans and Verdana.

Q: Did you start from outlines or bitmaps first?

I started with bitmaps. But I knew I could hint the outlines so they'd look exactly like my bitmaps and still make the outlines how I wanted them. The outlines weren't forced by the bitmaps. This is one of the nice things about controlling the whole development process. [Connare both designed the hinted the font himself.]

Q: Where did the name Trebuchet come from? (according to Webster's dictionary Trebuchet is: a medieval military engine for hurling missiles with great force.)

One of the software engineers, Dean Ballard, was telling us of a posting on the internal puzzle email list. The puzzle was: Is it possible to build a Trebuchet that could launch a person from main campus to the Redmond West campus? And what is the data, probably ignoring friction? I said "Trebuchet would be a good name for a font!"

Q: How long did the design and hinting process take?

Trebuchet was started mid-February, the regular font was ready in March, and hinting was finished for the regular and bold in early May. The hinting process is entirely manual--just like writing code.

Q: Do you think other designers will start to concentrate on the screen?

I doubt small type designers whose main customers are traditional print publications could just switch to making fonts look good on low resolution screens. They would need to become more technical or hire software engineers and type engineers to produce and test these fonts. The work needed to make a font for print is simpler than making one for software and screens. --DWH

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Copyright 2003 Daniel Will-Harris, www.will-harris.com