Examining the Tableau Font

With the release of Tableau 10, Tableau introduced a new font family, the Tableau font. This includes Tableau Regular, Light, Book, Medium, Semi-Bold and Bold. The font was designed by Tobias Frere-Jones. Before diving into the Tableau font, here's a bit of background.

Fonts are typically created by a type foundry. There are a number of font foundries; some corporate, some very large and others independent. Tobias Frere-Jones worked alongside Jonathan Hoefler for many years as Hoefler & Frere-Jones (1999-2014). Fast Company called them "The Beatles of the type word". I specifically wrote "worked alongside", because there was a big dispute over this exact issue. In 2014, Tobias Frere-Jones sued Jonathan Hoefler because of an oral agreement in which he claimed he was a 50/50 partner of the firm from the very beginning, but Jonathan Hoefler claimed that wasn't the case and said Tobias was an employee. Some believe that Tobias Frere-Jones was the talent behind many of the fonts while Jonathan Hoefler ran the business side of things. The lawsuit was ultimately settled. Jonathan Hoefler's company became Hoefler and Co. and Tobias Frere-Jones became an independent, starting his own font foundry Frere-Jones Type..

Tableau created an all-new look for the Tableau 10 interface and with it came new color palettes and the new Tableau Font family. Tableau worked with Tobias Frere-Jones to develop this new font. There is a great write up about the new font here.

Let's examine some of the letters in the Tableau font.

A Closer Look at the Tableau Font

A graphic designer friend described the Tableau font as the love child between Verdana and Avenir. There are also letters that have very similar design characteristics to Corbel, as well as Calibri, Ebrima and many others. Let's compare in detail some of these characteristics that are similar and what sets the Tableau font apart.

The image below shows the Tableau font (in pink) compared to Corbel and Verdana (outlined). Notice how similar the letter n is for these fonts (i.e. a very similar shoulder).

The letter t is very similar as well, but notice the difference in length and placement of the crossbar on the t.

In contrast, the letter r has distinctive characteristics. Notice the slope of the shoulder, which is steeper and starts closer to the middle of the stem (vertical stroke).

The most distinct character in the Tableau font to me is the letter k. It is nothing like Verdana or Corbel, and in fact, is actually closer to Lato than any of the other fonts mentioned above. Notice the horizontal bar that is added, connecting the stem (vertical stroke) to the arm and leg.

Now that you've seen the distinct letters r and k, you will likely spot the Tableau font when you see it. The other thing to point out is the distinct cut at the bottom of the letter b and the top of the letter q. This cut in the character is very different than Verdana or Corbel. In fact, it's not seen in any of the fonts mentioned above. It's actually similar to Utopia (as shown below).

Let's examine a few numbers as well. The digit 1 is sharp and edgy, similar to the letter k.

The digit 2 maintains that edge on the top and bottom, but on the other hand is very rounded through the middle. This creates a beautiful line in the spine that sits higher than the other fonts in this comparison, creating a different look and feel.

The final thing I want to point out is the weight of the Tableau Bold font. It is one of the few fonts that is available on all of the Tableau platforms (Desktop, Public, Server, Online and Mobile) that has some heft to it. This is really helpful for type contrast in your visualizations, for example larger titles, or big call out numbers. Steve Wexler, my co-author on the Big Book of Dashboards, has a great post here on these big indicator numbers, which he refers to as BANs (Big-Ass Numbers). These heavier fonts are often a good choice for these purposes. I'm hopeful that one day Tableau will allow us to use any web font so that fonts like Franklin Gothic Heavy or Leviathan HTF Black can be used on all of these platforms. Until then, the Tableau family of fonts gives us a few more option.

Below are a few of these fonts for comparison. Notice the different weight they each have.

I hope you find this information helpful. If you have any questions feel free to email me at Jeff@DataPlusScience.com

Jeffrey A. Shaffer
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