Chapter 3: Roboto

Posted on October 28, 2019 | Updated on October 31, 2022

We can trace writing all the way back to ancient times. Even before there was even an alphabet. Think back to drawings on cave walls. It is little surprise that over the centuries writing has advanced to the point that there are a wide variety of fonts for any occasion and mood. Throughout this series, we’ve been studying a variety of fonts, and today we will look at Roboto. If you’re looking for a more modern font, as opposed to fonts from yesteryear that have adapted to the digital age, then you should look to Roboto. Google created the typeface for Android devices, replacing the previous font Droid. Experts consider it to be a mixture of different font styles, from serif to grotesque.

Font Origin

Roboto was created by an in-house designer at Google, Christian Robertson, who had previously designed for his own type foundry Betatype and was responsible for fonts such as Ubuntu-Title and the handwriting font Dear Sarah. Google wanted a font suitable for use with Android devices, and Roboto was born. A font intended for digital usage, by its nature, will have a much different look, stroke weights and adaptations than a font created for use with a printing press, or adapted from a font used with a printing press. The font first came out in 2011, but later in June 2014, Matias Duarte made an announcement that Google had redesigned the typeface for Android 5.0.

Google describes the font as having a dual nature, with a geometric skeleton but curving lines that are open and friendly-looking. Robertson addressed many of the concerns people had with the initial release of Roboto when he updated it. Several different releases addressed many of the issues critics cited for their dislike of the font. The font is fairly unique among grotesques. For example, most fonts that are considered grotesque feature a design that has a rigid rhythm, but Roboto doesn’t force letters to a particular width. Instead, it lets them be as wide as needed and doesn’t put strict limitations on how much space they take up on the X-axis.

This creates a look more reminiscent of humanist and serif typefaces, giving this particular grotesque a unique function in fonts. Roboto has four families: the base, Roboto slab, Roboto condensed and Roboto mono. This versatility allows users to adapt this font to a number of different uses.

Some typography experts have called Roboto a “Frankenfont,” meaning it pulls elements from other fonts — in particular, Helvetica, Myrida, Ronnia and Univers — to create a new font that had elements from each of these other fonts. That was before the updates in 2014, which addressed some of the criticisms of the font. However, Robertson also kept some of his more distinctive typographer traits within this font, such as the closed lower-case G.

What Roboto Implies

Google itself describes the font as “modern, yet approachable,” and says it is somewhat emotional. It is a rounded, clean typeface with a straightforward, geometric design that offers clean lines. The font includes the ability to present it in thin, light, regular, medium, bold and black weights. Some of the styles are condensed to keep the font readable even at the lightest and heaviest weights. Since the font is approachable, it has a friendly appeal, but at the same time it is not exactly casual.

If the font were a clothing item, it would fall somewhere between dress slacks and a dress suit. The font supports scripts in Latin, Greek and Cyrillic, although the Greek script is only partial and not full. When Robertson redesigned the font in 2014, there were some notable changes. Specifically a smaller letter B, an R and P that took up more space and letters that curved, such as D, O, C, Q, e, g, and k. In addition, some of the punctuation marks now featured rounded dots instead of square dots, such as the dot in the lower-case J.

Common Uses for Roboto

Google uses Roboto for Android, YouTube, Google Maps, Google Plus and across many other Google services. Basically, it is used widely across Google and with Android devices. Roboto is also used as the default font for Unreal Engine 4, a tool for developing video games. For a few years, Dell used Roboto on its website, but Dell’s corporate typeface is different: Museo Sans. Earlier in 2017, Dell stopped using Roboto on their site and reverted to previously used fonts.

What Should It Be Used as?

Roboto is a good fit for any type of tech company or cutting-edge technology. Think media players or other online video and music services. It is not as easy to read as fonts such as Helvetica due to some of the curving of the letters.

You may want to limit use to larger text, such as in headings, and stick with a simpler font for blocks of text. As with other fonts, you are certainly free to use Roboto anywhere you’d like. However, keep in mind that some people hate the mishmash nature of this font. They call it a “Frankenfont” and pointing out other reasons they dislike it. Even if you don’t agree with that analysis, it might turn off site visitors to use the font too frequently. 

The Font Series Guide: Introduction
Chapter 1: 15 Google Fonts You Should Be Using
Chapter 2: Times New Roman
Chapter 3: Roboto
Chapter 4: Georgia
Chapter 5: Verdana
Chapter 6: Helvetica
Chapter 7: Comic Sans
Chapter 8: Didot
Chapter 9: Arial
Chapter 10: Tahoma
Chapter 11: Garamond
Chapter 12: Century Gothic
Chapter 13: Brody
Chapter 14: Bromello
Chapter 15: Savoy
Chapter 16: Athene
Chapter 17: Calibri
Chapter 18: Proxima Nova
Chapter 19: Anders
Chapter 20: Monthoers

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.

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