Today, Carter is overseeing the re-working and expansion of the Verdana and Georgia font families, with David Berlow of The Font Bureau leading the effort to develop Verdana Pro, and Steve Matteson of Ascender leading the effort to develop Georgia Pro.

What's new in Verdana Pro

According to Ascender's Bill Davis, the new Verdana Pro and Georgia Pro font families will be available by the end of March 2010 from both Ascender and The Font Bureau, and priced similarly to other premium quality fonts with similar character sets and features. At this writing, that means somewhere between $370 and $598 for the complete family.

The designers have several goals for this redesign, including more styles. According to Davis, "We are extending each family to 20 fonts. We are creating a Light, Semibold, and Black (each with matching italics), and we are creating a new Condensed family with all the same weights and styles. We are going to hint all these fonts so they look great on-screen, and also add extensive kerning for use by creative professionals in print and various text and display uses."

Matthew Carter adds, "Verdana and Georgia were commissioned by Microsoft to provide the basic necessities of type on screen--sans serif and serif, in regular and bold weights with italics, designed for maximum legibility. The new additions to the font families are a natural and timely progression; they offer a wider range of typographic versatility, both on screen and in print, while remaining consistent with the originals."

And there's more:

Extended character sets: Each of these fonts have an extensive character set with support for all European Union languages.

Professional OpenType features: This includes small caps, ligatures, old-style numerals, and more.

Enhanced kerning: Letters fit together more organically on the printed page.

What's in a name?

Anyone who has seen a document get reformatted because a different font of the same name replaced the font used in the original document will recognize the challenge of creating a new font to replace an old one. If the new fonts were simply named Verdana, that would create extreme confusion in the design world. With their new letterspacing and kerning pairs, lines of text using the new Verdana would wrap differently.

To address this identity problem, the new font families will be distinguished from their earlier counterparts by including the word "Pro" in their names: Verdana Pro, Verdana Condensed Pro, Georgia Pro, and Georgia Condensed Pro.

Verdana Pro and Ikea

According to Ikea spokeswoman Camilla Meiby, Verdana was chosen as the new company face because of its extended character set and universal availability. This makes it efficient for Ikea to produce its Web and printed materials in many languages without having to reformat the text to accommodate different media.

Verdana Pro shares all these advantages with the original Verdana, except for universal availability--people will have to buy it. Because this one missing piece eliminates its cross-media efficiency, it's doubtful that Ikea will use it. So, we're probably stuck with strange letterspacing and limited font weights in Ikea's catalogs for some time to come. I tried posing this question directly to Ikea, but the company did not respond.

For those of us who simply want to use an improved version of Verdana, with more style options and far better printed appearance, Verdana Pro will be a very welcome addition to our font arsenal.