Thank God Microsoft is Not a Swiss Company

Posted by on Jul 30, 2012 in Switzerland, Typography | No Comments

09:35 (UTC+08:00), 30 JUL 2012 | CHN BEIJING

As a Mac user since 1991, I go by one of the Mac community’s most frequently-seen slogans — Don’t imitate, innovate! The Swiss have come out with some of the best fonts (although as a world-ready citizen I’ll be switching to a more “international” font soon — but that font is also used at Zürich Airport). Things like Helvetica, Frutiger, Univers and Avenir.

Think about it: When SWISS International Air Lines first started, they couldn’t wean off their own Swiss font, Univers. Swiss roads and motorways are making a much-needed switch to Frutiger (in private, I predicted this would happen as early as 1998). Swiss TV is (used to be) a Helvetica fanboy, with the font now over 50 (but that font is by no means “senile”!). And then you have Starbucks, which is gradually making the switch over to Adrian Frutiger’s Avenir.

For the longest time, these were the most iconic fonts in the — well, “fontosphere”. But in the past decades, something awful has started to happen. Redmond’s feared-and-loathed corporate behemoth, Microsoft, first came out with its excuse of a font, Arial, which was a cheap mimic on Helvetica. And now, more disturbingly, I’ve seen signs in Beijing using the Vista font excuse, Segoe UI, which attempts to be a pretender-to-the-throne for Frutiger, but which is doing a terrible job.

Cheap fonts will warrant cheap users. I don’t want to consider my place of birth, Beijing, as “inexpensive”, but font-wise, it is using a cheap Microsoft font. If being a “world city with Chinese characteristics” means that it’s “entitled” to use these discounted fonts, I find that cause for concern, even if strictly speaking, this could merely be their own problem. But as the Swiss, we will always stick to our original, high-quality fonts. For all classes now, students have the front page “looking at them” in Helvetica, not Arial. Maybe that’s the Swiss way to do it.

Thank heavens for the original, innovative Swiss fonts — and to Adrian Frutiger, who’s still coming out with neater-still designs. And thank God that Microsoft is not a Swiss company. How can it be one?… it’s uninnovative, high-key, a born copycat, and now, increasingly, a failure. Its closest “rival” and, very much, the technological heir apparent, Apple, uses Helvetian fonts (the iOS is all about Helvetica!). And I’m happy with that choice of typography, as well as Apple’s Swiss attention to details.

Perhaps when my grandkids are born, Apple’s HQ will move on over from Infinite Loop to Zürich-West… probably, that is. I’m dreaming a Swiss dream now…