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Medium.com (2012)

The Twitter co-founders’ latest venture is another sign that professional typography on the web is the new norm.

Contributed by Florian Hardwig on Dec 11th, 2012. Artwork published in 2012.

Launched in August 2012, Medium is a new publishing platform conceived by Ev Williams and Biz Stone, the minds behind Twitter and Blogger. With their most recent venture, they aim…

to rethink how online publishing works and build a system optimized for quality, rather than popularity. Where anyone can have a voice but where one has to earn the right to your attention. A system where people work together to make a difference, rather than merely compete for validation and recognition. A world where thought and craftsmanship is rewarded more than knee-jerk reactions. — medium.com/about

As if the spirit of collaboration was also guiding the selection of fonts, Medium uses two typefaces that don’t have a single creator, but emerged from teamwork: FF Meta Serif (Erik Spiekermann with Christian Schwartz and Kris Sowersby) and Myriad (Carol Twombly and Robert Slimbach with Fred Brady and Christopher Slye).

Meta Serif is used as the main typeface, at carefully determined sizes and line-lengths, with headings in the distinct Bold. It is wonderful to see how mature webfont typography is already, and how self-evident and almost incidental it can look.

It stands to reason that her older sister Meta is the best sans-serif to pair Meta Serif with. And while superfamilies come in handy for complex editorial design tasks, these all-round carefree packages are rarely applied as intended. Many typographers feel that such serif/sans siblings harmonize all too well. They rather take up the challenge of putting together a good team themselves, with a little more friction between the players.


Myriad is a dynamic sans with open letterforms made in the early 1990s, just like FF Meta. It does without the idiosyncrasies in the details, though: no angled entry and exit strokes, and more conventional shapes for ‘g’ or ‘y’. This toned-down choice was a good one for the way the sans is deployed on Medium: smallish text for buttons, navigational items and meta information in headers, often in all-caps.

In larger settings, e.g. on user profiles, category indices or the 404 page, a bolder weight of Myriad sets itself apart from the (photo)graphic backgrounds. In the very large sizes, it is tracked negatively for more impact, by 0.05em. That equals 50 thousandth of the point size, but, in many browsers, looks like 40, due to rounding.

The designers also looked into other typefaces, before settling on Meta Serif and Myriad. The shortlist included Freight Sans, FF Tisa, Adelle, and URW’s Franklin Gothic. At least this is what is revealed by peeking into the stylesheet, where these unused fonts still are referenced.

The makers of Medium are aware that long passages of all-caps text are inadvisable, and they can very much tell the difference between straight quotes and curly ones. On the Terms of Services page however, they had to surrender to the lawyers’ specifications — but not without taking a dig at judiciary and its twisted ideas of readability. I love it.



9 Comments on “Medium.com (2012)”

  1. Matthew Butterick says:
    Dec 13th, 2012  6:13 pm
    Edit

    On the Terms of Services page however, they had to surrender to the lawyers’ specifications — but not without taking a dig at judiciary and its twisted ideas of readability. I love it.

    I don’t love it, because these “twisted ideas of readability,” for the most part, don’t actually exist. They’re just urban legends handed down from one set of lawyers to another, and lazily invoked as a substitute for independent research and judgment.

    If you’re curious, here’s a longer discussion about caps in legal typography. And to disprove the premise that caps are required in contractual provisions like these: The Mozilla Public License doesn’t use caps. Nor does the WordPress terms of service.

    Yet caps vs. lowercase is a small issue. What I really dislike here is the way Medium is trying to turn its reliance on “excruciating lawyerly patois” into some kind of hip, ironic branding device. In truth, if they wanted a “human-readable” contract, they could have one. But they don’t want one. So they don’t have one. But they also don’t want to seem like the kind of people who don’t want one. So they’ve added a whole paragraph explaining why they didn’t want something that they plainly did want.

    And this is emblematic of the Medium experience as a whole: an impressively slick, clean typographic experience wrapped around the usual grubby insincerity and smugness. “The ethos behind Medium is one of openness and democracy…” Oh god, make it stop. It’s a blogging platform. It looks nice. It’s intended to make money for a guy who already has quite a lot of money. I’m glad Medium has discovered typography. Maybe next they can discover that insincerity and dishonesty are downer attitudes favored by egocentrics.

    Do not put up with ego-centric personalities or downer attitudes.” OK Medium, if you say so.

  2. Lefteris says:
    Dec 18th, 2012  9:56 am
    Edit

    Well said, Matthew.

  3. Tops says:
    Dec 19th, 2012  5:13 am
    Edit

    Mmm, it’s unfair but Myriad for me is a no-no. It’s just too Adobe.

  4. Scott Mitchell says:
    Jan 30th, 2013  10:46 pm
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    Too Adobe? What about Apple, Microsoft and now American Airlines, who all use a variation on Frutiger/Myriad/Segoe? Myriad is everywhere right now.

    It’s like saying the color blue is too HP when a quick scan of recent brands shows that blue is everywhere.

  5. Feb 9th, 2013  12:00 pm
    Edit

    Matthew, thank you for providing these links, I hadn’t looked at it from that angle. I see your point.

    In the meantime, Medium has dismissed FF Meta Serif plus Myriad and switched to FF Tisa plus Freight Sans.

  6. Dave Mulder says:
    Jun 13th, 2013  10:08 pm
    Edit

    It’s helpful to note that Medium is using the CSS font-smoothing property to achieve its precise effect. Simply copying font size, weight, and typeface will not get you there.

  7. Aug 5th, 2013  10:28 am
    Edit

    Over on Quora, designer Leigh Taylor elaborates on the reasons for the move from Meta Serif to Tisa.

  8. Dec 5th, 2013  10:08 pm
    Edit

    The FF Tisa/Freight Sans combo is history, too. Medium reconsidered again. Now it is JAF Bernino Sans and Freight Text.

  9. Matthew Butterick says:
    Dec 18th, 2013  2:31 am
    Edit

    Fonts in Use needs a “billionaires” tag.

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