Matthew Carter – Microsoft Typeface Extraordinaire

Matthew Carter is somewhat of a legend in the publishing industry – well, in any industry, really. His life’s work is visible practically anywhere you look, from the TV screen to the corner bodega to the book in your hand. Carter designed some of the most prolific and popular fonts to ever grace the screen (or the page) and their popularity, even after all of these years, isn’t going anywhere.

Carter began his career in the 1950s, when typographic design was a highly skilled and technical art form. He designed his original typefaces for print, including the typeface used in US telephone directories, Bell Centennial. Carter had been tasked with designing a typeface that would allow for more characters per line, thus reducing the amount of paper needed to compose each phonebook. The result, Bell Centennial, was designed to reduce the space needed for all of the necessary information as well as to overcome the poor printing quality of the newsprint that the phone books were composed of.

As the digital-era started to boom, Carter was again sought out for his typographic design skills. In the mid-1990s, Microsoft’s Windows program was taking off and wanted to address the issue of screen readability. The software giant asked Carter to created two fonts for them, one serif and one sans-serif, that would be included in all Windows packages. The fonts that Carter came up with were Verdana (sans serif) and Georgia (serif). Verdana was a run-away hit for Microsoft, owing to the detail that Carter put into its design. The designer spent time analyzing why the popular typefaces of the day were so difficult to read on the screen and designed Verdana to fix those issues. Specifically, he designed the characters i, j, l and 1 as simply as possible, to increase their readability on small screens.

After the release of sans-serif Verdana, Carter focused on his serif assignment. The result was the typeface Georgia. The typeface had a heightened x-height, lightened capital letters and numerals that dropped below the baseline. The font was well received upon its release in 1996, but its popularity didn’t take off until the 2000s, when digital typefaces were abundant and designers were starting to look to historic designs for inspiration. The design of the typeface was classic yet contemporary. It was focused on-screen readability, but at the same time, was bursting with the character and charm that Times New Roman had so long-ago grown out of. Since its creation, Georgia has been popular with newspapers, bloggers, websites and resume writers who want to insert a little oomph into their otherwise professional material.

Today, Carter continues to create fonts for both himself and for Microsoft, including the typeface Tahoma and most recently the typeface Sitka that was created for Windows 8. Despite all of his typeface design success, Carter wouldn’t describe himself as a designer. As he says, “much of his career has been defined by solving a technical problem, only to have technology advance and eliminate the problem.”

That, though, appears to be the beauty in Carter’s designs. The technical reasons for the creation of the typeface may have disappeared, but their popularity hasn’t waned.

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