Skip to Content

‘I’m feeling gaslit by my own computer’: Why a small change by Microsoft was a big jolt for some users

Microsoft first announced plans to replace Calibri with Aptos in July. But recently the change has rolled out to a wider number of users.
Photo-illustration: CNN/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
Microsoft first announced plans to replace Calibri with Aptos in July. But recently the change has rolled out to a wider number of users.

By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN

(CNN) — Stef Luthin squinted at her laptop screen. Something seemed off that January morning, but at first, she couldn’t pinpoint it.

Then, the 25-year-old social media marketing coordinator in Chicago noticed a small detail that surprised her. The default font in her Word document was different, even though she hadn’t done anything to change it.

“I was like, ‘Wow, I’m feeling gaslit by my own computer,’” Luthin says. “It happened out of nowhere. None of us really knew it was going to happen. And suddenly, it was there.”

On January 12, Luthin shared an eight-second video on TikTok portraying her confusion. At the time, she wasn’t sure if anyone would relate to her experience. It was only when the post racked up millions of views, and comments started pouring in, that she discovered she’d hit a nerve.

“I realized, ‘Oh my God. I am not the only one this must have just happened to,’” Luthin says.

Calibri — long the default typeface in programs like Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint — had been dethroned after 17 years. And now a new font named Aptos was king. The change, announced in July, was first available to Microsoft Insiders. Then, it started rolling out on a larger scale in December — to hundreds of millions of Microsoft 365 users around the world.

And reading the responses to her TikTok, Luthin realized a lot of them were surprised —– and also surprisingly passionate about fonts.

“It was crazy and divisive, but also a lot of fun,” she says, describing the debates that raged in the comments. Some die-hards even expressed their continued devotion to Times New Roman, the default font Calibri unseated in 2007.

Are there major news events happening around the world? Yes. Is it arguably somewhat ridiculous to get worked up over a font change? Yes. Are a lot of us doing that anyway? Also, yes.

As the typeface continues to roll out to a wider audience this month, a growing number of people like Luthin are sharing their reactions on social media.

Some are excited about the shift, while others… aren’t taking it well.

“It feels like some kind of sick joke,” Luthin said in her TikTok. Though, in the weeks since, she’s decided to stick with Aptos despite her initial misgivings about the switch. “I’ve committed now to the future,” she says, laughing as we talk about our shared love of fonts over Zoom.

It’s no surprise to see such strong reactions to the change, says Thomas Phinney, president of ATypI, an international association dedicated to typography.

“It’s like you walk into your room, and suddenly somebody changed the color of the paint,” he says.

“And even though it might technically not matter that much… it could affect how you feel about being in that room, or working on that document. It’s a subtle and yet pervasive thing.”

She imagined how Calibri felt about getting jilted. Millions responded

Elle Cordova took a comedic approach to the drama she saw unfolding. The writer, musician and content creator imagined how different fonts were processing the news, and decided she’d portray each one of them in a video.

“Who are you and why are you in my chair?” an indignant Calibri says.

“Oh, they didn’t tell you,” Aptos says with a shake of the head and a reference to the placeholder text that’s common in publishing. “Lorem Ipsum, that’s cruel. Well, I’m the new default typeface, your replacement.”

“I’m sorry, my replacement?” Calibri replies, as a silently judgmental Times New Roman looks on.

“I just really wanted to capture what it would be like to be the default font being demoted down to the dropdown menu, because I just think that’s so relatable and funny,” Cordova tells me in a Zoom interview.

Millions of people agreed. The video, first shared January 29 on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, has been viewed more than 14 million times and garnered over 800,000 likes. It also got a grateful response in the comments from Steve Matteson, the designer who created Aptos, and a shout-out last week on social media from Microsoft.

It was the second video in a series Cordova dubbed “Fonts Hanging Out.” The approach is a concept she’s played with before. Past videos from the creator have featured Siri and Alexa talking with ChatGPT and different science disciplines discussing the upcoming Super Moon when astrology crashes the party.

“I’ve just been having fun making these comedy sketches personifying concepts, and through the personification sort of teasing out the conversation happening around those concepts at the moment,” she says.

Fonts were a natural fit, Cordova says, given how clearly people already understand their personalities. And it just so happened that, as she posted her first video about fonts, Aptos was making its debut on millions of screens.

“Some people really welcome the change, but it’s been jarring for other people, and I just thought it would make a really good skit,” she says.

Cordova says she’s still receiving comments, direct messages and emails about the Aptos change, nearly a month after posting her video about it.

“It definitely seems to be on people’s minds,” she says, “and I get the sense that it will be for some time.”

Some of us were surprised. But the change was a long time coming

Despite how sudden the shift seemed to some (me included), it was a long time coming.

Microsoft first publicly revealed its plans to ditch Calibri in 2021 with a breakup note typed, of course, in Microsoft Word.

“Dear Calibri,” it began, “We’ve loved our time together. But we’ve outgrown this relationship.”

The company has said the advent of higher resolution screens was a big factor behind their search for a successor.

After weighing public comments on five finalists, last year officials announced that Aptos, a font named for a small town in California, would become the new default. In a nod to how far-reaching the change could be, the announcement was addressed to “every human on earth that’s ever typed text.”

Originally, the font was known as Bierstadt, but Microsoft says the name was changed to Aptos after a “change of the guard” at the company.

Microsoft’s 2021 announcement said the font’s original name was inspired by a mountain in Colorado, where designer Steve Matteson now lives. Microsoft says Matteson renamed the font Aptos “after his favorite unincorporated town in Santa Cruz, California, whose widely ranging landscape and climate epitomizes the font’s versatility.”

Microsoft says Matteson created the typeface with “a slight humanist touch.”

“He wanted Aptos to have the universal appeal of the late NPR newscaster Carl Kasell and the astute tone of The Late Show host Stephen Colbert,” the company’s 2023 announcement said.

Phinney, the president of the international typography association, describes the design as “very classic.”

“The style harkens back most strongly to the ’60s, when Helvetica first became the world’s most popular typeface for branding and almost everything else,” Phinney tells CNN.

Aptos wasn’t Phinney’s top choice in the list of options Microsoft floated, but he’s grateful for the change. In addition to designing fonts himself, he also uses his expertise in typography as a consultant to help detect fraud and forgeries. He says he’s testified in numerous cases where Calibri was used on documents purported to have been written before the font was released to the public in January 2007.

“So, I am looking forward to this change taking hold. Give it a year or two for people to forget about it, and I expect there will be a boost in cases stemming from this,” he says.

What’s Microsoft’s response to the mixed reactions its new default font has inspired?

A Microsoft spokesperson acknowledged in a written statement — sent via email, in Aptos — that Calibri “remains a generally well-liked typeface.”

“Every font has a shelf life, and styles and preferences change over time,” the spokesperson said. “In addition, font technology continues to evolve, screen resolutions have increased, the OpenType font format has new capabilities, and the way we render type on screen has also changed, with the cross-platform experience being more important than ever.”

Microsoft hasn’t shied away from jumping into the fray as users share their reactions on social media. The company’s official account was quick to respond to Luthin’s TikTok, declaring in the comments that “Aptos has arrived.”

“With a sparkle emoji,” Luthin points out — a flourish that she says only further incensed critics.

“People would respond back directly to that comment and say, ‘un-arrive it,’ or ‘make it go away,’” Luthin says. “People were angry.”

Aptos already has a fan base

“You know, you can still use Calibri,” lawyer Joel Payne tells me, laughing as I confess in a call that the Microsoft change — which just hit our corporate computers recently — has thrown me for a bit of a loop.

I haven’t yet taken the step of switching my default settings to restore Calibri to its former glory. I’m trying to give Aptos a fair shake.

In fact, I called Payne, who’s based in Vancouver, British Columbia, because he recently posted on LinkedIn about how much he likes the new default font.

Payne, 41, liked Aptos so much when he learned about it last year that he downloaded the font and made it his default before Microsoft officially deployed the switch.

“I wrote an email in it, and it just looks really nice,” he says.

Katherine Stockton, a 26-year-old doctoral student in Cambridge, England, had a similar impression.

“I was making notes for my Ph.D. in Microsoft Word, and I was like, ‘Huh, wait a minute, this looks nicer. What’s going on?’”

To Stockton, who’s also a poet and playwright, Microsoft’s change was a welcome surprise.

“Aptos has got a bit more whimsy to it,” she says, adding that the default font will be a perfect option for scripts she writes.

“They have to be really readable for an actor,” says Stockton.

Am I sold on Aptos? Not yet. I admit I dove into the dropdown menu so I could write my first draft of this story in Calibri.

But as Phinney pointed out to me, no matter where you stand on Aptos, it’s probably not worth it to worry much. “There’s a general knee-jerk reaction that people don’t like change, but you know, they’ll get used to it,” Phinney says, “and then we’ll get upset in another 10 or 20 years the next time it changes.”

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: Technology

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


KIFI Local News 8 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content