Why the US Government Wouldn’t Save $400 million with Garamond

In case you haven’t seen the latest craze floating around social media, there have been reports that a 14-year-old student has found a way to have the government save $400 million dollars per year… Just by switching typefaces on their documents! It’s as easy as clicking the dropdown in Word, so how is it the government didn’t think of that?

Well, the answer is they probably did. As usual, the answer isn’t as clear-cut as major news outlets (like CNN, ABC, NBC Forbes, Mashable, Gizmodo, and a million other sites) would make it seem. Instead, all this middle school student’s study proved to us is that the news would rather hype a lie than walk past the designer’s office before airtime.

The Theory

suvir-mirchandani

Picture courtesy of CNN.
Smile courtesy of McLovin’.

As alleged by Suvir Mirchandani, a student at Dorseyville Middle School in Pittsburgh, the government would save $400 million per year if instead of using Times New Roman on its documents, it would use Garamond. Although the exact process he used is a little bit unclear, he used some third party software to calculate the difference in ink usage between the same two fonts at 12pt. size and found that Garamond used 30% less ink.

Since some letters are more common than others, he drew the four most commonly used letters as a resource: ‘t’, ‘a’, ‘u’, and ‘r’. For spice (I guess?) he also compared Century Gothic and Comic Sans alongside Times New Roman and Garamond.

While the prospect of saving so much money sounds great, even the number itself sounds off. A quick search showed that various sources claimed savings anywhere from $130 million to $400 million, so we’ll have to look up on that first. With a budget of $467 million on ink per year (from Suvir himself), a 30% decrease in ink would only save $140.1 million. Definitely not anything to sneeze at, but at least now we’ve got a number to go off of.

The Science (and why it’s wrong)

allfontsFirst, we’ll compare the four fonts with the four letters mentioned. Each line (I chose three out of many) is something typography people love to use which measures the height of a font. They are, from top-to-bottom:

  • Cap Line (the top of the capital letters, specifically to exclude letters with ascenders like a lowercase f)
  • X-Height Line (the top of the lowercase x)
  • Base Line (the bottom of the letters, specifically excluding letters with descenders like j or p)
There's fans for everything, I guess.

There’s fans for everything, I guess.

All the lines in the comparison chart above are based off of the current U.S. standard font, Times New Roman. Using these lines, we can quickly compare the size of each font.

Off the bat, we can see that Comic Sans (why include this at all?) and Century Gothic are larger than Times New Roman and Garamond, but it’s difficult to see anything past that. Using the power of computers, we’ll pull a CSI and enhance!

closeup

Here we can see a little more of a difference. Both fonts are at the same size, and by god, that boy’s right! Garamond IS smaller than Times New Roman!

But wait – it’s smaller, so that means it would cause boatloads of complications. Not only would it be harder to read, it would break the flow of every single government document, and would require any organization that automatically scans and processes these documents to re-calibrate their machines. That would require a lot of design work and technicians, not to mention a huge error potential.

The workaround then would be to increase the size of Garamond to match the Line Height of Times New Roman, so let’s see how that changes things.

overlay

As you can see in the first portion, Garamond definitely does take less ink, because it’s simply a smaller font. When we increase the size of Garamond to match Times New Roman, we actually don’t save much ink, if any at all.

As a final note, it should be stated that not all government forms use Times New Roman. While Federal governments might have a lax standard, local governments can (and do) choose whatever they want.

A Better Idea than Garamond

I now have to say that I don’t mean to come across as overly critical of Mirchandani’s work – by all means, having someone so young try to think up a solution like this is great and he deserves some credit for trying. What I do mean to criticize is people’s desire to look at methods like font sizes to saving money, when there are countless other, way more effective ways to accomplish that goal. Even along the same lines of thought, I propose a different method – encouraging the government to go ‘paperless’, or at least reduce the amount of paper used. This isn’t just for environmental reasons – check out the 5-minute-math(tm) below.

  • Low-grade, personal printers tend to be on the heavy side in regards to ink usage. If you buy cartridges from the manufacturer, then depending on the InkJet printer it could cost anywhere from $0.005 to $0.05 per page. My printer allegedly costs as much as $0.03 per page.
  • Current cost of 2500 sheets of paper at Staples is $60, $0.004 per page (though as usual, you can save a ton on Amazon ūüôā )
  • Assuming the $0.03/per page on ink, the U.S. Government prints roughly 15,411,000,000 pages per year.
  • Therefore, the U.S. Government spends approximately $6,421,250,000 on paper alone.
  • With just under 318 million U.S. Citizens, each citizen has approx. 49.5 pages printed, per year. If the government went paperless, it would save $1.68 per person, or $6,561,350,000 per year.

Thats six point five¬†billion¬†dollars. ¬†With a B. ¬†Sure blows that $140 mil out of the water… ¬†Where’s my interview, CNN?

Naturally, the above idea would come with a ton of complications on its own, so feel free to criticize it in the same manner – it’s definitely not an easy solution, but it’s an example of how change in general will save money in the future, through better ways than a font swap.

tl;dr

Instead of looking for solutions like changing font sizes which is questionable at best, we could be looking at equally simple solutions that save a lot more money – I suggest the $1.4 billion Presidential travel budget to start. Also, really Forbes I’m free whenever, so give me a call. You too, Katy Perry.


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