This Kid Could Save The Government Nearly $400 Million! You Won’t Believe How Trivial The Idea Is
What is the most precious liquid you use on a regular basis? If you think it is gasoline, think again. It might surprise you that basic black printer ink, drop for drop, is more expensive than gasoline. At, up to $75 per ounce (according to CNN) it is, in fact, more expensive than nearly all other liquids by volume. Have you ever thought you were being nickel-and-dimed by the library by paying to print? Imagine how much ink the public library needs to print millions of documents for patrons year after year. All of the sudden, it doesn’t seem so petty for the library to charge you to print after all.
Now imagine how much the federal government, which is infamous for its usage of massive amounts of paperwork, must spend on ink each year. The figure, $467 million, is no paltry sum.
One bright middle school student named Suvir Mirchandani says he could cut that number by nearly a third, saving the federal government $136 million, and an additional $234 million if state governments complied as well. Suvir explains that by simply changing the default typeface of documents from Times New Roman to Garamond, a thinner look-alike, the government can optimize its use of ink.
So, how did a 14-year-old middle school student end up doing data analysis for the federal government? Suvir’s investigation actually started as a project for the school science fair. While brainstorming ways to save the school money, he noted how much paper is used between students, teachers, and administrators. He figured all that printing must cost the school a lot of money and wondered how he could it make it more cost-effective.
He analyzed random samples of school handouts and found that the most commonly used typefaces were Times New Roman, Century Gothic, Comic Sans, and Garamond. Using software called APFill Ink and Toner Coverage Calculator, he determined the amount of ink used for the letters e, t, a, o, and r (the most commonly used letters in the English language) in each of the four typefaces. Garamond won out among all the typefaces. He then double-checked his findings by printing out the letters on card stock and weighing them individually. He found that his school could save $20K if they switched to Garamond exclusively.
Suvir’s teacher was impressed by his work and encouraged him to publish it in the peer reviewed Journal for Emerging Investigators. Together, he and his teacher did just that. The reviewers for JEI were impressed by his work as well and challenged him to apply his research beyond the bounds of his middle school to a much larger entity: the federal government, and that’s how found he could save the government nearly $400 million.
It is not likely, however, that the government will implement his recommendations, though it seems like a simple enough policy change. The Government Printing Office commends Suvir’s research, but holds that it is concentrating converting its documents to digital versions to save money on printing costs rather than changing typeface (to which Survir responds, not everything can be digitized). The government’s reaction could be because implementing change in a massive bureaucratic entity can be slow and complicated.
However, some typography designers, particularly the outspoken blogger Thomas Phinny, contend that it is more nuanced than that. Times New Roman has become the most commonly used typeface in print for a reason. It is easy on the eyes. Garamond, on the other hand is less readable, not just because it is slimmer than Times New Roman, but also because it is actually smaller at the same point size. Therefore, switching to Garamond is akin to changing the default font size from 12 point to 10 point. Yes, it saves money, but most people would say 10 point font is just too hard to read and not worth it. The government has to take all sorts of similar variables into account before making such a widespread change, which could be why it’s reluctant to change.
Still, it is an admirable idea, and $234 million in savings could do the government a lot of good. With that money, it could, for example (since we’re on the topic of scientific investigation), re-fund the planetary science division of NASA, which took huge cuts in the 2014 budget. It could also use that money to improve conditions at public schools or pay teachers better. In short, the savings from the idea posed by a middle school student could be put towards efforts to stimulate the minds of other young future scientists, so that more kids can come up with such ideas as his. While it’s debatable that Suvir’s idea is actually feasible, his story serves as a reminder of why investing in future generations is so crucial and worthwhile.