The story of Verdana (the font)

Rohit Khare (
Wed, 25 Feb 1998 13:12:11 -0800

About once a month, something useful pops up on www-font. Here's one:
the tale of Verdana. Separately, I realize I must have seen Georgia used in
some screenshots, but I never conciously realized there's a serif counterpart.
Anyone else used it? if so, why?


------- Forwarded Message

From: Bill Hill <>
To: 'Todd Fahrner' <>,
Date: Wed, 25 Feb 1998 12:09:37 -0800
Subject: RE: Origin of Verdana (was RE: Public Domain Fonts for the Web)
X-Mailing-List: <> archive/latest/468

Someone's been smoking dope, Todd! Here's my personal recollection.

I took over Microsoft Typography in January 1995. At that time, we already
had two faces (which were incomplete) which we'd commissioned some time
previously from Matthew. They were called Verdana and Ohana. Ohana was the
separate name for a bold version of Verdana. They'd been commissioned as
potential scalable TrueType replacements for the bitmapped system font, MS

When we commissioned the full screen font project that resulted in the
Verdana we ship today, we asked for a sans serif and a serif family. For the
serif, we leveraged off the existing verdana outlines, but Matthew
redesigned them from scratch, since the objectives for this face were
different. Instead of small amounts of text - menus and dialogs - it was the
aim to produce a face to allow people to comfortably read large blocks of
text on the screen.

Most type comes from the print world. Screen representations were only there
to give people a rough idea of what they'd see in print - to provide
WYSIWYG. Since they were designed for print, people started by drawing the
outlines, and bitmaps for the screen got generated from those. Hinting was
applied to correct problems caused by bitmap rasterization.

For Verdana (and also Georgia, the serif family), Matthew started by
developing a set of bitmaps at the most important screen sizes. These were
then used to draw the outlines, which were then hinted so they generated
those exact bitmaps, but were also scalable. So we built them back-to-front,
if you like.

One of the features people notice first about Verdana, for instance, is that
it sets very wide. Building additional intercharacter spacing into the font
was one way we found of achieving better screen readability.

Now, when it comes to designing characters for the screen, especially for
the small sizes typically used for block text, there are a very limited
number of pixels with which to play, and a limited number of solutions that
make sense. Matthew's work has a consistent look and feel; it wouldn't
surprise me if any work he'd done for Taligent looked similar. There are
very few "right" solutions.

But the Verdana we ship today was built from the ground floor up. Matthew
drew bitmaps, submitted the drawings to us, we went through rounds of
consultation, they were redrawn until we were all happy, then we did the
same with the outlines, and the hinting by Tom Rickner. Then, of course, we
ran it through our own extensive testing program, ironing out bugs, fixing
hints etc etc etc. And of course we'd exapnded the character set to 654 or
thereabouts in the process.

Microsoft bought it in a fire sale after Taligent collapsed?

I wish! I personally signed the bills - and watched progress at every stage.

It's a very funny story you tell. Except that it unjustly maligns all the
people, inside and outside Microsoft, who worked so hard on this project.
Shame on whoever originally concocted this load of crap, and thanks for
providing the opportunity to set the record straight.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Todd Fahrner []
> Sent: Wednesday, February 25, 1998 10:05 AM
> To: Bill Hill;
> Subject: Origin of Verdana (was RE: Public Domain Fonts for the Web)
> Thus spake Bill Hill:
> > We commissioned Matthew Carter to produce two families of type
> > from scratch, designed for reading large amounts of text on the screen.
> We
> > had them hinted by Tom Rickner at Monotype. [snip] Verdana and Georgia
> >are superb fonts.
> Can you correct any misinformation in what follows?
> I have heard that Verdana was commissioned not by MS, but by the erstwhile
> Taligent. Matthew Carter
> designed _Ventana_ as the primary OS UI face for Taligent. When that
> venture went south, the face was homeless, and (I believe) not quite
> complete. Then Microsoft bought it (liquidation sale?) and called it
> Verdana - something about the verdant chroma of the greater Seattle area.
> Is this right?
> __________________
> Todd Fahrner

------- End of Forwarded Message