Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

I Shot the Serif

Glenn Fleishman, writing for Wired’s Backchannel:

What does international political corruption have to do with type design? Normally, nothing — but that’s little consolation for the former prime minister of Pakistan. When Nawaz Sharif and his family came under scrutiny earlier this year thanks to revelations in the Panama Papers, the smoking gun in the case was a font. The prime minister’s daughter, Maryam Sharif, provided an exculpatory document that had been typeset in Calibri — a Microsoft font that was only released for general distribution nearly a year after the document had allegedly been signed and dated.

A “Fontgate” raged. While Sharif’s supporters waged a Wikipedia war over the Calibri entry, type designer Thomas Phinney quietly dropped some history lessons about the typeface on Quora, and found himself caught in a maelstrom of global reporting. Phinney said that because Calibri has been in use for several years, people have forgotten that it’s a relatively new font. This has made Calibri a hot topic in document forgery as fakers fail to realize that this default Microsoft Word typeface will give itself away.

This wasn’t Phinney’s first forgery rodeo. He calls himself a font detective—an expert called upon in lawsuits and criminal cases to help determine documents’ authenticity based on forensic analysis of letterforms used, and sometimes the ways in which they appear on paper. Phinney even IDs each of his cases with a Sherlock-Holmesian title: The Dastardly Divorce, The Quarterback Conundrum, and The Presidential Plot.

This is such a great piece. Given how tedious it can be for even an expert like Phinney to ascertain a document’s authenticity, try to imagine the kind of forensic work that will be needed in the near future to try to identify whether a video of someone speaking is real.