Verdana Pro (and Con)

Although Matthew Carter is overseeing the project and David Berlow of The Font Bureau is leading development, I’m feeling twitchy about Verdana Pro, a new print family from an old screen face.

Start there: Verdana was born of the screen. In particular, as all reading this know, it was born of the needs of the crude, non-anti-aliased, 72/96 ppi desktop screen of the mid-1990s. At Microsoft’s behest, Matthew Carter created the original cross-platform Verdana with its generous x-height so computer users, whether PC- or Mac-based, would have a sans-serif that was easy to read at small sizes.

Verdana Pro, a new print family from an old screen face.

Verdana is a font that looks gorgeous at 11px in a non-antialiased environment, and handsome at 9px and 10px in that same setting. Make it any bigger than 11px, and it looks grotesque. Set it via ems or percentages rather than pixels—as most accessibility-conscious designers do—and you ding its perfection. View it in a sub-pixel antialiased environment (i.e. on a modern platform) and, if it is small enough and near enough to an exact pixel size, it still looks nice and reads well … but not nearly as nice or as well as it does in the environment for which it was originally created.

Yes, if you are a genius like Matthew Carter or David Berlow, you can take a screen font, even one of the two definitive screen fonts of the 20th century—the other being Carter’s Georgia, which also looks best at exactly 11px in a non-antialiased environment, though it survives handsomely in modern environments and at inexact, percentage-based sizes—and build a true print family around it. But the idea makes me twitchy.

And that screen guy’s twitch I can’t quite shake makes me start to understand how type designers may be feeling as they watch their gorgeous high-resolution creations, rooted in hundreds of years of craft and technology, take the first small steps toward a new world of web fonts.