Microsoft has named the next default font for its productivity applications, such as Word and Outlook, after testing five candidates it introduced in 2021. Since then, it’s been called Bierstadt. Now it’s getting a new name: Aptos.
The move amounts to a subtle refinement for some of the most popular software in the world. Microsoft doesn’t take such steps lightly, because its Office products fetch almost 24% of its revenue. They’re growing faster than other parts of the business, such as video game content and search advertising, as Microsoft seeks to line up more end users and get existing clients to spend more.
If the core applications look fresh, Microsoft can make a better argument when the time comes to renew subscriptions to Microsoft 365, formerly known as Office 365. The company is now ready to do that, after accepting input from end users about the five new fonts.
“Today we begin the final phase of this major change where Aptos will start appearing as the new default font across Word, Outlook, PowerPoint and Excel for hundreds of millions of users,” Si Daniels, principal program manager for Office design at Microsoft, wrote in a blog post published Thursday. “And, over the next few months it will roll out to be the default for all our customers.”
Aptos will remain available in the font list under the old Bierstadt name for people who are accustomed to it. Users can also choose to set any other font as the default. That includes older standards, such as Times New Roman, Arial or even Calibri, which has been the default since 2007, before the launch of Office 365 in 2011. Many people perceive Microsoft as a friendlier place since Satya Nadella replaced Steve Ballmer as its CEO in 2014, but that updated identity isn’t necessarily reflected when someone starts writing an email in Outlook with a font that predates Nadella.
In 2019, Microsoft asked font designer Steve Matteson to develop a font in the grotesque sans-serif style that includes the classic Helvetica. The company didn’t let on that it was considering it as a possible successor for Calibri, Matteson said in an interview with CNBC this week.
At the time, Matteson was still working for the font company Monotype, and he and his colleagues gave Microsoft four or five proposals to look at, without including the names of the contributors. That’s important because the designers didn’t want his connection to Microsoft to influence the software maker’s decision, he said.
Matteson’s work with Microsoft goes back to the 1990s. He helped with Microsoft’s TrueType fonts for Windows 3.1 and created the Segoe font Microsoft uses for its current logo and marketing materials. He also contributed to the aptly named font Curlz. That was not his proudest moment, he said.
Of the bunch that Matteson and his colleagues sent to Microsoft, they picked his, which at that point was dubbed simply Grotesque No. 2. Then Microsoft gave it a codename, Koyuk. Then he came up with the name Bierstadt, taking the name of a mountain in Colorado, where he lives. In German, Bierstadt means “beer city.”
Some people didn’t take the name seriously and Microsoft decided to come up with a new one for the font, Matteson said. Aptos, an unincorporated town in Santa Cruz County, California, came to his mind.
“Aptos has this unique coastal climate, where it’s a beach, and all the way up to the redwoods,” he said. “It’s what I loved about California is the diversity, and it kind of told me that there’s all these different moods and experiences you can have. Similarly, with Aptos, you have all these different voices you can speak in without distorting the message.”
Matteson came up with a serif version of the font, along with a monospace version that can work for typing out code. He’s worked on monetary symbols and support for Greek and Cyrillic languages. He collaborated with Microsoft to ensure it will work well in different scenarios. If one were to convert cells in an Excel spreadsheet from Calibri to Aptos, it’s unlikely that numbers in a cell will overflow into the one next to it, he said.
He hasn’t seen every response to the font. But he has observed people saying that in Bierstadt, a lowercase L and a capital I can’t be mistaken for each other.
Still, Matteson has nothing but respect for Calibri and its creator, Lucas de Groot.
“I can understand Microsoft wanting to, you know, make a change, but I don’t think there’s ever been anything wrong with Calibri,” he said.