Fonts for writing
I prefer text editors to word processors. The formatting behavior in a program like Word or Pages feels like it’s working against me more often than not, and the (perceived) lack of precision and predictability makes me uneasy. I’d rather just use Markdown syntax, or even handwrite HTML tags.
There are a billion apps that cater to this sort of fussiness, and every so often I explore my options. Recently I’ve been using iA Writer. I like it, although honestly I’d be fine with Byword or Ulysses or any number of similar apps. What really made iA Writer stand out to me was its fonts.
In a blog post from 2017, iA founder Oliver Reichenstein wrote about the benefits of composing in a monospace font:
In contrast to proportional fonts that communicate “this is almost done” monospace fonts suggest “this text is work in progress.” It is the more honest typographic choice for a text that is not ready to publish.
The typographic rawness of a monospace font tells the writer: “This is not about how it looks, but what it says. Say what you mean and worry about the style later.” Proportional fonts suggest “This is as good as done” and stand in an intimidating contrast to a raw draft.
This rang true to me, and was something I’d never considered before: maybe part of the reason I like writing in plain text is that the apps I use display my words in a monospace font like Menlo or Courier (or, in iA Writer’s case, Mono) instead of a proportional font like Helvetica or Times New Roman.
That said, monospace fonts feel somewhat unwieldy when writing prose—perhaps unnecessarily so. Reichenstein continues:
Designers have pointed out that, with all the structural benefits that may or may not come from using a monospace font when writing, there are typographical compromises in typewriter fonts that are mere mechanical constraints that can and should be overcome. Due to the way mechanical typewriters worked, using the same horizontal space for each letter was inevitable at the time. As beneficial as this regular rhythm is for writing, do we really need to squeeze every letter into the same square? Can we not at least make some exceptions?
iA decided they could indeed make exceptions. They developed a new font, Duo, which is mostly monospace with a handful of wider characters. A couple of months ago they followed that up with a third font, Quattro, which has even more of those exceptions:
Quattro shares similarities with a proportional typeface. At the same time, it retains a lot of the technical virtues of the classic typewriter fonts using wider gaps between the words and giving each letter more room than a classic, fully proportional face.
That blog post has an image illustrating the differences between Mono, Duo, and Quattro. In short: Duo has a handful of 1.5× width characters, while Quattro adds some 0.75× and 0.5× width ones as well.
It works wonderfully, in my opinion. Quattro still looks like a monospace font in some abstract way, but doesn’t have the clunkiness of an actual monospace font. It’s my new favorite font to write with.
iA’s fonts are available on GitHub if you’d like to try them yourself.