What does a font cost? The very question is meaningless.
A paper by a young American of Indian origin has demonstrated that the US would save at least $400 million annually if all official documents were printed in the Garamond typeface. Wonder what the legendary typographer Mike Parker would have thought of this slender justification for choosing the font that he popularised. A sensitive man who believed that fonts enrich communications, he died peacefully in February. Just in time.
For Suvir Mirchandani, the talented school student who authored the paper, this was probably an exciting five-finger exercise. He was taking newly-learned scientific and logical skills out for a spin. But the story is being blown out of proportion by the world’s media on account of dodgy coverage. The study, which appeared in the Journal of Emerging Investigators, a project founded by Harvard students to seek talent in schools, refers to inkjet and laser printers. It is silent on printing presses, which generate the bulk of government paper.
And while a saving of millions looks handsome in absolute terms, it is a tiny fraction of the budgetary deficit. Americans could save their government billions more simply by walking instead of driving, not smoking, switching off lights diligently, going off beef, and so on. There are a million ways, including saving those $400 million and more by throwing away printers and going completely digital.
There, now, we mustn’t get carried away by the efficiency argument, either. Typographers design multiple fonts not because one is more efficient than another but because they say different things. They speak in different accents and registers. They express different emotions. To expect all documents to speak in Garamond would be like having all of humanity wear the same interesting shade of beige. It would be an efficient way of driving us all mad.