0The origins of Westminster (Figure 2-38) are somewhat unclear, but it emerged at least as early as 1971 as figure 2-39 demonstrates. It is also the most pervasive and common of the MICR fonts because it has been distributed freely with Windows operating systems since Windows 98. Its distribution of slabs has much in common with Orbit-B, but Westminsterâs proportions are much narrower. Microsoftâs typography website does provide a few tantalizing details about Westminster, but does not identify the designer or exact year of origin. Printed below is the full text of Microsoftâs information about Westminster, which comes included with the font software:
0In the mid-1960s after banks began printing machine-readable account numbers on checks, a British font designer made an entire typeface along the same lines. No one took this typeface seriously, however, until Photoscript produced it, naming the typeface after the bank that helped Photoscript fund the fontâs production. Westminster was an instant hit, and the very font makers who had previously rejected the idea rushed out to commission alternative designs. This is the first of those designs, and itâs the best. Although youâre welcome to use only the numbers (perhaps you run a bank), the rest of the face can provide a number of interesting uses at both large and small sizes. (Microsoft)â
0It is difficult to verify the claim that Westminster is the âfirst of those [MICR-based] designs,â though its uses in 1971 place it among that original group.
0According to Simon Daniels of Microsoftâs Typography division, the text embedded in the Westminster font file would have been composed by the late Robert Norton, head of Microsoft Typography during the mid-1990s (Daniels)â . Daniels believes it is possible that Norton originally designed Westminster himself, and the little available evidence does support this possibility. The font description mentions Photoscript, a phototypesetting company Norton founded in 1970 (Macmillan 141)â ; the unnamed designer is identified as British, as was Norton; and the choice to focus the fontâs description on the story of a willful designer who is ultimately vindicated seems consistent with Nortonâs sense of humor11 and habit of self-deprecation (Berry)â .
0As to Microsoftâs claim that Westminster is âthe best,â it appears that many designers agree since the font can be found in many different uses where it is meant to convey some relationship between humans and computing. Its forms are somewhat similar to Orbit-Bâs in that they both employ diagonally angled slabs, but Westminsterâs strokes are significantly wider than Orbit-Bâs. Westminsterâs counters are also generally narrower, giving the glyphs a more compact look. The numeral characters are significant because, despite Microsoftâs implication that one could run a bank using Westminster, its Arabic numerals are quite different from E-13Bâs (see figure 2-40). In fact, Westminsterâs numerals appear more similar to Data 70âs than to E-13B, suggesting that one may have influenced the other.
0One interesting, recent use is in the web cartoon Homestarrunner, created by Matt and Mike Chapman, where Westminster is depicted (in a role typical for MICR-based fonts) as the lingua franca of 1980s computing.12 In figure 2-41, the character Strongbad checks his email (a weekly feature on the website) on his âTandy 400,â which uses Westminster as its primary display font. In a later Strongbad email segment, Westminster is used as the embodiment of âcharactersâ from the parodic text adventure game âThy Dungeonmanâ (Matt Chapman & Mike Chapman, âWeb Comicsâ)â . In the e-mail feature, the premise of the joke is that a Saturday morning cartoon show has been made based on âThy Dungeonman,â but since the game lacks graphics, its only visual components are the input text (Figure 2-42).
0This group of typefaces — E-13B, Moore Computer, Data 70, Orbit-B and Westminster — all share many common features, the most obvious of which are the angular, geometric glyphs and the presence of superfluous slabs adorning many of the forms. As a vestige of a technology for machine-reading, the presence of these slabs for aesthetic reasons signifies an association with computing and machinery that can be either reinforce a positive association (in the sense of âfuturisticâ and ânewâ) or negative association (in the sense of âdystopiaâ). Interestingly, these slabs also serve as reliable indicators of which of these rather similar-looking fonts are in use in a given sample. Many of the glyphs in these typefaces may difficult to tell apart from the same glyph in the other typefaces unless one relies on the position and shape of the slab.
0The other prominent association encouraged by these typefaces is the suggestion that they have to do with mainframe computing. In one sense, it is true that OCR and MICR technologies do rely large computing devices, there was never any case in which the stylized typefaces of either OCR or MICR were preferable or even necessary in a screen display situation. These faces were designed for print — specifically, for turning printed text into electronic data — so using them to create a sense that a computer screen interface is historically authentic performs a kind of anamorphic nostalgia in which the historical perception of the original is distorted by descendants of that original form. This association is borne out in the catalog descriptions published with fonts of these typefaces and in keywords assigned to these fonts on websites like MyFonts.com. For example, the website for Monotype Imaging, which distributes âComputer,â makes the following claims about the typeface: âComputer is an all-capitals headline font that immediately implies early mainframe computer technology. Although desktop computers and better screen and printer faces have been available for some time, the type style of the Computer font is still used for futuristic topicsâ (âComputer Font - Fonts.comâ)â .
- 11. See, for example, Nortonâs Microsoft Typography: A Disagreeably Facetious Type Glossaryâ (1995).
- 12. Homestarruner is a Flash-based website available at www.homestarrunner.com. Strongbad checks his e-mail at www.homestarrunner.com/sbemail.html.