A matter of scale

Designing for Microsoft and Yahoo

Most typographers work at a small scale. We are concerned with the page or the web site, and we can predict how our work will look without too many constraints or too much frustration. We have a good idea of who we’re trying to reach, what is our target audience, and either intuitively or through experience we feel like we know how to communicate with them. Our scale is usually in the tens or hundreds of thousands. A million uniques!—that’s a great month for us.

But two of our conference speakers are working at a different scale. Their readers, their users, number in the millions, and the tens of millions.

Jackie Goldberg  is a design director at Yahoo, who is working on their original content sites, “magazines,” which launched over the last two years. The largest of them, “Parenting,” reaches 17.6 million monthly uniques, according to Digiday, which asserts while advertisers have caught on in big numbers, yet, “where Yahoo’s verticals do get points are for their design.”

Desktop view of Yahoo Style

Yahoo Style, on the desktop

Another success is the Yahoo Style, edited by Joe Zee, who not only has a Twitter and social network habit, reads magazines and (gasp) printed books, according to an interview in Adweek.

“There are big changes at Yahoo,” Jackie says, “with more video, and more original content.” Marissa Mayer, the CEO, has been leading the visual changes, leveraging the experience with Flickr and Tumblr, both Yahoo brands. Mayer has steadily pushed a focus on mobile.

“This is the year when we are working to bring a simplified product experience across Yahoo,” Jackie says. A big challenge when you consider its astounding reach (over 160 million monthly uniques in the U.S. alone.)

Jackie will show how the typographic effort at Yahoo is coming along. “One interesting fact,” she says, “as you emphasize the pictures and reduce the text on the screen, the typography becomes more important, not less.”

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At the far end of that scale is Microsoft, which claims that 1.5 billion people in the world use Windows every day. Marty Hall  has been working on the typography of the operating system for more than 10 years. 

Most recently Marty has been working on the new version of the browser for Windows 10, called Microsoft Edge, not Internet Explorer. (The code name for the browser was “Spartan,” which reminded me of “Metro,” the code name for the UX design that is now the basis of Windows and Windows Phone. I am wondering if the next project would be called “Tempo,” but never mind.)

As the the new design rolls out, Marty is hoping to show more examples of the refined typography for this very lean browser design. There is a challenge to UI type on a browser, which has to be responsive, legible, and distinctive. A review in Askvg praised its “clean and minimal UI.” Edge offers the same experience for users on all devices—PCs, tablets and phones.

Marty is proud of the work he did on the “reading view” in IE 11, which introduced Matthew Carter’s font, Sitka. The basic look is moving into Edge. This typeface was a custom family for Microsoft, following the carefully-researched direction of Marty’s colleague, Kevin Larson.

With the browser launching, Marty has taken on a new assignment in Redmond, to address the biggest typographical challenge there, the type in the Windows UX. The global scale is staggering—essentially every country in the world—and a designer has to be aware of the millions whose experience with Windows dates back at least to XP (2014), which only this year dipped below 10 percent, according to Statcounter. With this global reach, UI typography has to take into account that the design for English labels, for example, has to fit into the space held for Chinese.

Typography at this scale does not want to call attention to itself, and most of us never think about it, nor should we have to. But for digital designers, the UI type is always there, if only in the background waiting to appear upon a touch, or to pop up in a notification. Over the years with PCs, tablets, and phones, the typographical problem can’t said to be “solved.” It will be interesting to see how far Marty can get with it.

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