AscenderFonts Designer's Toolbox January

















Sans Serif Spectrum





Sans Font Examples

Designer's Toolbox - January 2009

Typographic insights from Steve Matteson


Sans Pointy Things – Part 1

Sans Pointy Things – Part 1 PDF  - Download PDF   |   Return to Designer's Toolbox

Sans – Latin for ‘without’. Sans recours will get you no help in legal matters. Sans ice will get you a warm beverage while Sans nom retains your anonymity. Sans-a-belt means comfortable pants but use the word too much and you’ll be sans friends. In the design world, specifying a sans typeface will leave the pointy things off of your letters.

In the next couple of Newsletters I’ll provide some thoughts about sans serif fonts, their heredity, utility and personality. Today’s topic: The Sans Serif Spectrum.

Many designers are familiar with the color spectrum. All the colors of the rainbow fit into the neatly arranged mnemonic ROY G BIV. Any color can be described as falling somewhere between Red and Violet. Colors tending toward yellow are considered ‘warm’ while colors tending toward violet are ‘cool’. Much has been written about the psychology and meaning of each color.

Typefaces, too, may be arranged in a spectrum to help categorize and describe them. While there are several industry-recognized typeface classification schemes I try to use a simpler model to help people understand the specific voice a typeface conveys.

On one end of the spectrum the sans serif typefaces are rigidly constructed from circles and squares. At the other end, the typefaces are more organic and free-flowing. One can easily see the progression from rational, mathematical principle on the left, to shapes made with irregular, artful expression on the right.


 Sans Font Examples





















The function of this chart is to illustrate the effects of subtle design changes which push a typeface from one category to another. Each category emphasizes a certain graphic language or voice.

Just as adding a little blue to a color gives a cooler hue, mathematical precision and rationality makes a typeface cooler. Conversely, fluidity and irregularity make a typeface warmer and more human.

Now that we know how to organize your sans serif tools we can begin to learn how to use them effectively. See you next month when we dig into the optical deception and feigned simplicity of geometric sans serifs!

Steve Matteson





Steve Matteson
Type Design Director, Ascender Corp.

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