Stop the Press; Changing Font Will NOT Save Millions

When 14-year-old Pittsburg native Suvir Mirchandani found a way the government could save $400 million annually, people were all too eager to listen to the seemingly ‘simple’ solution.

In his middle-school science fair project, Mirchandi found that his school district could reduce ink consumption by 24% by switching to the efficient font Garamond for teacher handouts, saving as much as $21,000 per year on ink. At the advice of his teacher, Mirchandi submitted his study to the Journal for Emerging Investigators (JEI), a scientific journal for middle and high school students. JEI applied Mirchandi’s ink saving concept to a much larger scale:the Federal government’s estimated $467 million annual ink bill. 

A 2012 study conducted by General Services Administration estimated the federal government could save $30 million by switching to the more efficient fonts Garamond, Century Gothic, and Times New Roman. JEI concluded that if government agencies exclusively used Garamond’s thinner strokes, the federal government would save an estimated $136 million while state governments would save $234 million annually. Furthermore, JEI determined that Times New Roman is less efficient than Garamond and Century Gothic actually uses more ink when compared to fonts used in sample documents. 

However, a typographer and self-assessed font-nerd Thomas Phinney has criticized  the teen’s approach, saying Mirchandi did not take into account the fact that Garmond is actually smaller than Times New Roman at the same point-size. For the study to be done scientifically, Mirchandi would have had to adjust the actual size of the fonts to be equal, not just at the same point-size. Furthermore, the figures that Mirchandi and JEI determined the government spends on ink are misguided, as the government uses laser printers (which uses toner, about half the cost of ink) and pays for ink per page rather than per letter, meaning a page with one letter printed costs as much as a page with 100 letters. 

Although Mirchandi’s projected $400 million in savings is appealing, it is too good to be true. As Phinney states, the “question that should be asked is: what font and size combination could be used to maintain or increase legibility while saving money on printing?” 

According to the Office of Management and Budget, U.S. federal agencies will spend $1.8 billion on printing-related expenditures in 2014. If a teenager can think of innovative ways to save money, why can’t bureaucrats?

TAGS: research, Spending, Technology

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