Like its younger sister typeface Georgia, Verdana was designed by award-winning type designer Matthew Carter. Carter created Verdana for “maximum readability at small sizes on the screen” according to Virginia Howlett (the “mother of Verdana” who spearheaded the project to develop Verdana). The sans serif typeface was made readable at smaller screen sizes with high x-heights, wider characters, bigger counters (the empty space partially or fully enclosed by the letter shape—such as the “hole” in an O), and more space between the characters (to prevent touching and legibility issues related to that). The extra spacing between letters is particularly part of making the typeface screen readable, according to Simon Earnshaw in an interview by Daniel Will-Harris. Spacing is traditionally designed for printing, not screen use. This additional and regular spacing makes the face more readable on screen. Carter also paid special attention to including visual differences in the letters and numbers that are easy to confuse in san serif faces—like the 1, l, I, J, and L. The 1, for instance has a base and a hook to distinguish it from the letters that look similar. The upper and lower case Js (J j) have left only arms, distinguishing them from the L, I, and i. The result is a highly legible and readable typeface for screen. However, due to the large x-heights, wider characters, and extra spacing it is a very large typeface compared to others in the same size, and will take up extra space (which is especially important if it is use to replace another typeface, the design may change significantly).
According to Wikipedia, Verdana is a “portmanteau of verdant (something green), and Ana (the name of Howlett’s eldest daughter).” As I explained in the Georgia Typeface of the Week post, Georgia was later designed as a serif face to go with Verdana. I often use them as a contrasting pair in designs I create for the screen with one as the heading typeface and the other as the body typeface. Since Verdana and Georgia were designed for the screen and take into account the specific screen issues of clarity, legibility, and readability, I recommend them for screen use, especially over typefaces designed for print like Times New Roman and Arial. While both Georgia and Verdana work fine as print typefaces, do keep in mind other faces specifically designed for print may work better.
Category of the typeface: Sans Serif
X-heights: Very high, high-ratio.
Width and weight: Very wide. The width of the face and larger character size and extra spacing make the weight appear lighter.
Structure: Minimum thick/thin transitions, although there is a slight thin in some places where the lower curved stoke of the bowl connects to the stem, see the q, u, and a for instance. Smooth strokes and rounded letters. Could be made from pipes. The larger counters and special feature like the hook on the 1 and the left only arms on the J and j, give the face a bit of extra character and structure, making is less plain than some Sans Serifs, like Arial.
Legibility and Readability: Highly readable and legible for screen use, especially at smaller sizes. In print it has high legibility and good readability, but not as good as many Old Style and Transitional typefaces for print, as it does not have serifs.
Voice-over and ethos: As a Sans Serif typeface, Verdana has a modern and technical voice. The larger character and x-heights give is an more open and friendly feel, and the slight thins and features give it a slightly funky personality, for a Sans Serif. According to Dawn Shaikh, who studied the personality of typefaces, it has a strong, slightly masculine and rugged personality. The ethos is high with web and other screen use. The larger size may look less professional in print and the lack of serifs makes it less traditional.
Typefaces that contrast well with it: Georgia was designed to contrast with it. I highly recommend using these two faces together! Other Serif typefaces with also contrast well, including Times New Roman, Garamond, Palatino, Elephant, Book Antiqua, and Bookman.
Typefaces that provide conflict: Sans Serif typefaces including Arial, Helvetica, Century Gothic, Calibri, and Bell Gothic. Especially avoid Tahoma, which is a variation of Verdana, only with less spacing.
Likely audiences and uses of the typeface: Given the popularity of Verdana as a screen typeface, likely everyone is an audience. Verdana became the typeface of IKEA’s print and online media in 2009, which caused quite a stir, and has since come to represent, according to Armin “The homogeneity of typography in the hands of the masses”. The larger size of the face is good for those with vision issues, including older audiences. I recommend screen use and suggest avoiding print use, unless it has the voice you want. Verdana would work well for a technical company website or blog or any site/media that wants to be highly readable with a technical, Sans Serif feel. Since it was designed to be used in smaller sizes on screen, try it out for that too. Designing something to be read on tiny mobile phone screens? Verdana is a great choice!
Armin. “Verdanagate.” Brand New. http://www.underconsideration.com/brandnew/archives/verdanagate.php
Lawson, Bruce. “Interview with Virginia Howlett, mother of Verdana.” DMX Zone. http://www.dmxzone.com/go?6669
Shaikh, Dawn. “Know Your Typefaces! Semantic Differential Presentation of 40 Onscreen Typefaces.” Usability News, 11.2, October 2009. http://www.surl.org/usabilitynews/112/typeface.asp#Verdana
Will-Harris, Daniel. “Georgia & Verdana: Typefaces designed for the screen (finally).” Will-Harris Studios. http://www.will-harris.com/verdana-georgia.htm
Resources to check out:
- Renderings of Verdana in various sizes and types. http://www.karlstolley.com/dissertation/chapter4/systemfonts.htm. By Karl Stolley.
- “The Story of Verdana.” fonts.com. http://www.fonts.com/aboutfonts/verdana.htm
 X-heights: the height of the lowercase x compared to the uppercase letters. The higher the height of the lowercase x, the more readable the typeface. Ideally shoot for more than 50% for print and higher for online readability.
 Width and weight: Widths is how wide the letters in the typeface are. Weight is how heavy the typeface appears on a page the thickness of the strokes of the letters. A heavy typeface will look black and make the overall page darker, a light typeface will look lighter and make the overall page a shade of gray.
 Structure: how the face is built including thick/thin transitions, types of strokes, and more. If you were building the typeface out of materials, what would you use? Pipes? Fences? Thread?
 Legibility: the ability to make out/recognize small amounts of text such as a word or letters. Readability: the ease of reading a long body of text, such as paragraphs
 Voice-over and ethos: Voice over is the voice of the typeface or the style of the typeface. What style does the typeface suggest. If the typeface could talk, what would it sound like? Is it loud? Sassy? Quite? Formal? Would it be a valley girl or a New Your City business woman? Ethos refers to the authority of the text. When would this typeface be appropriate?
 Contrast: For good design you want to use typefaces that contrast. Clearly distinct faces contrast and create a strong design. If the faces are similar neither will “pop” and the similarities may look like a mistake and not intentional. Good contrasts are serif typefaces and sans serif typefaces.
 Conflict: The opposite of contrast. Two typefaces (or other elements) that are so similar they are disturbing (they “conflict”) and not contrasting, thus creating a weak design. Example: Times New Roman & Garamond.
Typefaces of the Week Resources: