Matthew Carter, Type Designer, Is the Most-Read Man in the World

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Matthew Carter was in the news earlier this year when the MacArthur Foundation named him one of its geniuses and awarded him with a $500,000 fellowship to spend as he pleases. The Economist followed up with a profile of the 73-year-old that, as the designer of Georgia and Verdana fonts for Microsoft and Bell Centennial for AT&T's phonebook, is, in one sense, the most-read man in the world.

Despite his types' ubiquity and his position in the field, Mr Carter remains as surprised as anyone about the the preponderance of his Microsoft fonts. He anticipated a flood of specially designed Web faces would soon drown out his creations which were, after all, a product of an earlier technological generation. But Georgia and Verdana became embossed in the internet's visual culture. So much so that Mr Carter regularly hears people carp about a lack of alternatives.

These may emerge with the advent of electronic book readers, for which Mr Carter has yet to tailor a font. For now, Amazon's Kindle uses a single face from another designer for its dedicated reader and software versions, while Barnes & Noble's Nook reader offers three non-Carter choices. (Apple's Nook app does include a Georgia option, and three of Mr Carter's faces are available in the iBooks app for the iPhone and iPad.) 

In fact, Mr Carter doesn't own an iPad, Kindle, or other reading device, as he is waiting for them to mature. (He does own an iPhone.) He frets that, as things stand, reading devices and programs homogenise all the tangible aspects of a book, like size or shape, as well as font. They are also poor at hyphenation and justification: breaking words at lexically appropriate locations, and varying the spacing between letters and between words. This may sound recondite but it is a visual imprint of principles established over the entire written history of a language. "Maybe people who grow up reading online, where every book is identical, don't know what they're missing."

Read the full story at the Economist.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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