the aesthetics of georgia

September 7, 2006

Assuming your browser is properly configured and and you’re not using some wonky Linux distribution, text on this blog should appear in a font named Georgia, designed at Microsoft solely for electronic viewing by a very talented man named Matthew Carter. I won’t bore you with the history of its conception or a discursive analysis of its technicalities, both of which you can read for yourself in an excellent article here. Rather, I offer here my own evaluation of the font’s aesthetics.

Georgia is a serif font, like the ubiquitous Times New Roman, which means that each line end is weighted with a short, orthogonal line segment that is designed to improve legibility. Without it, the lowercase “l” looks much like the number “1”, as it does in fonts such as Arial. But Georgia improves on Times New Roman (hereafter TNR) by increasing the height of lowercase letters (called the x-height) and, most especially, making the letters slightly ovular and subtly more bulbous through artful variations in line thicknesses, a trait most clearly evident at extremely large sizes as below:

abcdefghijklmnopqrs
Paradoxically, these qualities make Georgia both more businesslike and more “fun,” if indeed that is an adjective which can at all be attached to a font. The New York Times, as part of its recent website redesign, switched from TNR to Georgia, a move that seems to dress up serious news pieces and lend a delicate air of mischief to the Style and Technology sections. The teardrop serifs on the a, c, f, and r in particular are thrillingly sculpted, beautifying the font in a way that makes TNR’s harsh angularities look, well, boring (or at least dated). Triangular serifs on the b, d, h, j, and k (to name a few) bring to mind tiny flags standing at attention, albeit ones made of pixels or ink rather than nylon or other cloth. In a word, Georgia is art. Manufactured, infintely reproducible art.

And yet it is not art, at least not in the traditional sense. The font is soulless now, having been spread far and wide since the moment of its original creation. Perhaps when Mr. Carter’s vision coalesced into this sparkling alphabetic array it was something at which we might have marveled. We still do, of course; I have done as much in the paragraphs above, but something has indeed been lost which cannot be recovered. But then, it is just a font, and as a font it succeeds most spectacularly; that we can even talk of art in reference to a font is testament enough to its extraordinary quality. I often wonder what I would do without it.

Bringing my head back out of the clouds for just a moment, consider once again the blog. You may have noticed that the comments and some other text appear in a different font, one whose name escapes me at the moment. While it is perhaps well-suited to the theme for which it is the default–by which I mean, this theme–it also appeared at the blog’s inception to be lacking some ineffable quality that would take my written words and transform them into something more than mere dashings-off. By no means is it “as does the Times, so does mr_wizard.” In this case however, their transition provided the inspiration for my choice of Georgia for the blog, a choice that continues to pay dividends to me in the form of unreasonable satisfaction with each article’s extra polishing, courtesy of Georgia. I hope, dear readers, that it is the same for you.

–D. S. W.

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