Financial statements, sales forecasts, budget plans, annual reports, investor presentations, and many other forms of everyday reporting have one thing in common – they contain a lot of numbers, usually presented in tabular form.
Representing tabular data requires a slightly different approach than rendering a huge volume of text as seen in books and newspapers. A key ingredient that can make a lot of difference is the choice of typeface. Creating or choosing a typeface for tabular data can become quickly challenging even in this modern day & age.
When we built Inforiver, we had one question – which font should we use? Little did we know that this question was going to take us into its own rabbit hole.
Our journey started with us looking at the following criteria. Our understanding evolved a lot by the time we made a decision.
Overall, there are two types of fonts. Proportional (or variable-width) fonts have a width that varies by each character. Monospace fonts occupy an even width.
When it comes to numbers, it is obvious that you need to choose monospace width so that values align well vertically in a column.
Here is a quick comparison of two different fonts. You can see that the numbers in the latter are of equal width ensuring that everything is aligned. It is also easier to consume.
However, this is only the first criteria. If you thought Calibri is a good font for financial reporting, read further.
Each typeface typically comes in multiple styles – Regular, Light, Thin, Semibold, Bold, Italics, etc. For the numbers to display well in a table, all the styles must use equal width for its digits.
Take an example of the following four popular fonts – Calibri, Segoe UI, Open Sans and Consolas. They all seem to handle numbers quite well. All the digits are aligned vertically.
But when you start using font variants (e.g., normal and bold), you will notice that Segoe UI does not retain the same width.
You may have noticed this behavior in Power BI reports which uses Segoe UI as the default font in the matrix visual. Both the Cost of Goods Sold and Raw Materials are of similar magnitude (in lower billions) – however the drastically larger width for COGS may influence a viewer to perceive a value that is 10x the magnitude of Raw Materials.
Fonts whose different weights (regular, bold, italic, etc.,) occupy the same width are called multiplexed / duplexed / uniwidth fonts. We do not need to remember these confusing terms. We just need fonts whose numbers are monospaced across all their weight variants for the best consumption experience.
So far, we explored the desired behavior only for numbers. But how about the text?
Let us revisit the four fonts we explored earlier. When you start comparing their behavior in handling text, things get a bit interesting. We have three lines of text in the example below – normal, bold, and normal CAPS. Notice that for the first three, the characters are proportional. Consolas continues to use monospace characters for text.
In fact, Consolas has a great consistency across both alphabets and numbers. Even their decimal character uses the same width as alphabets and numbers.
Consolas is a true monospace font. The other three are not.
The following sums up their behavior so far.
But why do popular fonts such as Calibri, Segoe UI and Open Sans display this mixed behavior for numbers (monospace) vs. text (proportional)? The short answer - Proportional fonts are better for text.
When it comes to paragraphs, proportional fonts are much easier to read than monospace fonts. For example, you can read a paragraph much faster when it uses proportional typeface. Compare the fonts in the paragraph below.
This is why newspapers use proportional fonts. The monospace fonts were popularized by typewriters, which used metal slug casts of even width for all letters and numbers.
In fact, our analysis so far aligns with the popular recommendation as follows:
Unfortunately, it does not.
Consider this scenario where your numbers need to be scaled as shown in the table below.
Because the scaling characters accompanying text values (k,m,b,t, etc.) have variable widths, your numeric values - despite being monospaced - are going to be out of alignment again.
Using a true monospace font will fix this issue, but the overall readability of the report will be compromised, as the category text values will be harder to read. Plus, they are going to occupy more horizontal space compared to a proportional font, thereby wasting real estate.
It is for this reason that we decided to commission our own font for Inforiver – and we named the typeface Inforiver Sans.
Inforiver Sans is a humanist typeface that is designed for financial and tabular reporting. The typeface is multilingual, supporting the following languages.
It has monospaced numerals across types (e.g., normal and bold), and all of the numbers are of equal width.
The decimals and thousand separators have the same width too.
The typeface uses proportional alphabetical characters.
There has been a lot of attention to detail on this font, and it took about eight months to finalize finer details. For one, the capital L, lowercase l, lowercase i, etc., must be easily distinguishable.
The best part is that there are monospace alternates for scaling characters - k,m,b,t, etc. This ensures that while your words and sentences use proportional characters, the values in the tables use their monospace variants
This ensures that you can build amazing tabular & financial reports using Inforiver typeface in Power BI.
Take a look at this sample P&L report where we have used both Segoe UI and the custom Inforiver font. Which one is more easily readable?
Here is another example, with fully expanded numbers. Which one is easier on the eyes and a pleasure to read?
The new Inforiver Sans typeface is available in the October release of Matrix and Enterprise (version 1.7).
Curious about Inforiver? Read why Matt Allington (Self Service BI Expert + Microsoft MVP), Excelerator BI prefers Inforiver over the Analyze in Excel capability that comes with Power BI for ad-hoc analysis.