New font on the block: Siegel+Gale designers weigh-in on Apple’s new San Francisco typeset

by Mads Jakob Poulsen, Kevin Grady, Mike Preston, Mike Tyson, Krista Oraa

A new look, with old roots

Just over two weeks ago, Apple unveiled its latest and greatest at their WWDC conference in Cupertino. Forever a brand that is affixed upon high in the mind of consumers, innovators, and entrepreneurs alike, it was a fairly quiet affair — this being an “off” year for product releases, the 2015 WWDC was focused chiefly on smaller, more “personal” developments at the company. One of those was the unveiling of Apple’s new official font, San Francisco. The font, which is to become the standard system font amongst all apple products, is a departure from Helvetica Neue, which has been the font of record for Apple since introducing the iPhone in 2007.

San Francisco is notable for being the first original font that Apple has developed in over 20 years, but also for not being a huge departure from its predecessor. In an effort to better understand the hoopla, we rounded up a number of Siegel+Gale’s designers and typography-nerds to weigh in on the change and what it might mean for Apple’s overall brand.

“I love the new Apple font, San Francisco. It combines some of the best aspects of both Neue Helvetica and DIN,” says global head of content and design Kevin Grady. “It’s friendly, clean, accessible, modern and therefore very appropriate for the brand.”

“I like the change. SF is like a daywalker. It has the character of DIN and the readability of Helvetica. They’ll also have the ability to be more economical in terms of real estate on a screen. SF will be more legible but take up less room,” commented Mike Preston, associate creative director. Krista Oraa, design director offered up a similar consensus, saying, “’I’m always a fan of love children. This is a great example of beauty that comes from a good combination; clear, well-crafted and modern.”

To get truly down to the nitty-gritty of this development, we asked Mike Tyson, senior designer, to break down the font sets in overlaid comparison.

Comparing San Francisco with its predecessors

“The closest font relationship (and by that I mean indistinguishable from each other) to SF is actually a 2004 font called Akkurat from the Swiss foundry Lineto,” Mike told us. “I don’t believe Apple plagiarized — they don’t really have a reason to do so — but the similarities are uncanny.”

“I think this is only worth mentioning to try and dispel any rumors in the tech world that Apple has created the next great font. It’s a solid face but it is not revolutionary by any means.” The first semi-dissent we’ve encountered amongst the team!

“That being said, it should come as no surprise that Apple wanted a proprietary typeface. They have thousands of touchpoints and many of them require a typeface that was drawn with hypersensitivity to small-scale and digital applications. Helvetica Neue (Apple’s previously used font) did little to address either of these concerns. Creating a typeface that could tactfully overcome these complications was a no-brainer, given the resources Apple can afford to dedicate to such a task. Additionally, Apple is a poster child for successful branding. They have famously taken a very nuanced approach to developing and amplifying every aspect of their brand. Having an exclusive typeface designed to encapsulate the values of your company is an incredibly strong tool to have in your brand arsenal. It goes a long way to build familiarity and recognition (again, something that Helvetica Neue couldn’t offer).”

Succinctly: SF offers Apple the ability to codify their products across platforms in a subtle, but necessary way. Mike Tyson continues, “SF is simple, friendly, legible, and relatively distinct amidst Apple’s competitive set. It’s a major improvement from where they’ve come and I can see them using this font with great success well into the future. My next predication is that in a few years we will see Apple create their own serif to work in harmony with SF for body copy and more distinctive headlines.”

A font for all seasons… and products

Mads Jakob Poulsen was in agreement with Mike Tyson. “The font looks great. But it does look a lot like other fonts out there, which is not to say it is a bad font. SF makes complete sense to create a typeface custom to Apple so they can do with it as they please. A trend we have seen from other players, like Google — their primary competitor in certain spaces. Like Mike pointed out, San Francisco is optimized for small screens as it was build specifically for the Apple watch. It is pretty much Akkurat and Graphik mixed together (some of my favorite sans serifs), and the look is very clean and modern. The design looks like its inspired by the visual vernacular of the trademark product design of Apple; geometric shapes with rounded corners — and I bet Johnny Ives had a say in that. I am looking forward to seeing if this will replace Myriad as Apple’s font in campaigns, on packaging, and so on.”

Despite the quietness (or perhaps subtlety?) of the announcement, it would seem that designers and users around our offices both appreciate and look forward to seeing Apple implement the new font book across their products, collateral, and brand. If anything, this might be the beginning of a trend, where more and more, large tech brands will build out their personalities and offerings by creating unique fonts and proprietary designs that bring their portfolios and messaging and ultimately, cultures, into greater alignment.

Follow some of our designers on Twitter: @Madsjpoulsen, @MikeTPreston

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