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Friday, July 27, 2012

Font Size and "Substantial Compliance" with the Law

From the WSJ
It's not often an interesting typography story makes the news and given my background I can't resist this...

In Michigan a court decision on the "Emergency Manager" law has boiled down to a question of font size.

Michigan's "Emergency Manager" law, Public Act 4, allows a community to take over insolvent or failing school districts and other municipal entities.  Needless to say this created a backlash among the various public unions and employees involved in these insolvent and/or failing entities.

The backlash turned into a campaign by "Stand Up for Democracy" to have the law repealed which in turn required signatures for a state ballot initiative.

So to get the question of repealing the act on the ballot for Nov. 6 of this year a petition was designed in Microsoft Word.  The font Calibri at 14 points was used for the text in the petition.  About 200,000 signatures were collected using this Word-designed form with Calibri as the font.

However, those that oppose this initiative, the Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, brought suit in state court.  The suit points out that Michigan law states that all petition used for ballot "shall be" in 14 point fonts.

Unfortunately the Calibri font is on the small size and the text does not match what you would have found on such a document had traditional 1950's movable type been used.

So when you actually measure what was used on the petitions you discover the size of the printed letters are a few points short.

All this boils down to one thing: if Microsoft Word "tells you" the font is 14 points does that mean the printed text that results is 14 points?

Anyone familiar with typography knows that when you say "14 points" you mean the "cell" used by the type face is 14 points - the actual letters, including the capitals, are somewhat smaller.  This is because traditional 14 point wooden typefaces were cut into a 14 point high block of wood; the letters were always cut out completely on all sides so letters in the face would always be somewhat smaller that the block.

At this point the case is now in the hands of the Michigan Supreme court.

I think the ruling will depend on whether the type used is in "substantial compliance" with the law (a standard used in other Michigan cases); the notion of "shall be" apparently is no longer good enough.

I wonder how long it will take for the notion of "substantial compliance" of the law to filter down for the rest of us?

For example, if the capitols letters are 70% of the typeface size, i.e., 70% = .70 x 14 points or 9.8, then the actual height of the capitol letters would be 9.8 points.

Therefore if my blood alcohol was .081 I could argue, based on this case being decide that the Calibri font was in "substantial compliance,"  that I was also in "substantial compliance" of the law given my blood alcohol was within 1.25% of the required legal limit (the difference between .08 and .081 being 1.25% of .08).

Driving 70.95 mph in a 55 mph zone would also, but this same standard, be in substantial compliance (29% of 55 mph over 55 mph).

Perhaps "substantial compliance" is not such a good idea after all...??

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