BOB GARFIELD: We're back with On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. On Tuesday, readers of the New York Times, without warning, were deprived of their News Gothic. That's a sans serif headline type which, along with five other fonts, was dropped by Times' editors in favor of the more familiar serifed Cheltenham typeface that already dominates the headlines. The craftsman behind the face lift was Matthew Carter, perhaps the foremost type designer alive. Among his credits are Time magazine, Sports Illustrated, the Washington Post and the phone book, not to mention authorship of many typefaces themselves. He joins me now from his home office in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Matthew, welcome to OTM.
MATTHEW CARTER: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Why does a newspaper in general see the necessity to change typographically what it's been doing, sometimes for decades?
MATTHEW CARTER: There can be a number of reasons. Other newspapers I've worked for have gone over to different technologies, and that has given them an opportunity to sort of re-visit the typography of the paper and make some changes. Sometimes it happens for no other reason than that they're bored with the way they were. You know, it's been that way for a long time, and they want to change it. It's often tied in to some editorial changes. They will add changes or change sections or start moving things around within the paper, so it's part of the re-organization of a newspaper, from the editorial point of view.
BOB GARFIELD:Now, I have to say, it's only been a few days. I'm getting used to it. However, I'm not sure that's a consensus. There was a letter in Thursday's paper that read as follows: "You have made bland the quirky persona that made the Times special, and given us the typeface equivalent of New Coke. It's the end of the world as we know it." In general, do readers react to changes, subtle or extreme in the way newspapers are presented to them?
MATTHEW CARTER: Readers do react. The pro's and the con's almost always exactly balance out. You get a same number of people who say, you know, at last I can read the paper without my glasses, and people who say, I'm off to the optician because I can no longer read your newspaper.
BOB GARFIELD: From a business point of view, you're really in an enviable position, because at the moment the New York Times wants uniformity. They want a whole family of Cheltenhams.
MATTHEW CARTER: Yes.
BOB GARFIELD: But I think you can be pretty confident that some time in the next ten years or so, they're going to be right back to you saying, you know, we're fed up with all of this uniformity. We want to mix it up a little, [LAUGHTER] and you get paid on both ends, huh?
MATTHEW CARTER: Yes. You know, if type designers had their way, all publications, newspapers and magazines, would re-design themselves totally every couple of years, [LAUGHTER] because we would get a lot more business that way. In real life, that doesn't seem to happen, and you know, it was probably many decades since the New York Times comprehensively re-designed the headline style, and all being well, I should think they'll be happy with this for some time to come.
BOB GARFIELD:There was a time, probably about 15 or 20 years ago, when, you know, you just never heard the word typeface or font in a sentence. But we're in a different world now. I have Windows XP and I got, I don't know, close to 200 typefaces, and a lot of people who are willing to engage in conversations about them. Has your world changed with the digitization of America?
MATTHEW CARTER: It certainly has. Yeah, for most of my life, you know, if somebody insisted on knowing what I did for a living, and I said I was a type designer, they wouldn't have had a clue what I was talking about. But nowadays, particularly if you use the word font, which is the term for typeface that's become adopted for the computer, then pretty much everyone nowadays at least knows what a font is, and in some cases, they know the names of fonts.
BOB GARFIELD:You ever go into a bar in Cambridge and walk up to a woman and say, excuse me, Verdana? Verdana Bold? Verdana Condensed? That's mine. I did that. Can I buy you a drink? [LAUGHTER]
MATTHEW CARTER: I, I haven't taken exactly that approach, but one of the, you know, one of the funny incidental things that's come out of the work I did for Microsoft, which included some of the screen fonts like Verdana and Georgia, is you know, running into people who, when they find out what I do, they say oh, you know, we had this memo come round the office the other day. We've all got to start using this typeface called Verdana. Have you ever heard of that? So I then modestly allow that, yes, I have. [LAUGHS] I was responsible for the design of it. I, I think it still amazes people that, you know, they know fonts exist, but they generally speaking think they must sort of materialize out of the cyber ether in some way, without any human intervention, but when they meet someone and find out that I'm involved in the creation of these things, they still find it bizarre that someone does that for a living.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, Matthew Carter, thank you very much. You've been a font of information. [LAUGHTER] Oh, my goodness, how I amuse myself. Thanks very much for joining us.
MATTHEW CARTER: You're most welcome. It's nice talking to you.
BOB GARFIELD:Matthew Carter is the typographer responsible for the recent revamping of the New York Times's headline style and has probably designed most of the letters that you, Good Listener, read every day. Do you have a, a theme song?
MATTHEW CARTER: A theme song? No, I don't. No.
BOB GARFIELD: Hm. Well, if you'll permit us, we're about to arbitrarily assign you one. [MUSIC]
MAN: [SINGING] I'M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER-- AND MAKE BELIEVE, MAKE BELIEVE, MAKE BELIEVE IT CAME FROM YOU.