Reading Types Deserve the Best Type for Reading
Pocket users are readers. They save millions of articles every day, stories that feed and fuel the mind. In the Pocket apps, they spend time reading articles without distractions in a clean, consistent layout. Pocket is their quiet corner of the internet, where they can focus on the stories that they found useful or intriguing at first glance.
We decided to refresh the look and feel of Pocket to better suit the needs of users today. We’re 12 years out from the first Tweet, 11 years into the history of the iPhone, and four years since the introduction of Material Design. A lot of patterns have evolved in the 21st century so far: how people find the news and stories that interest them, how they focus in a world of endless feeds, and how much they rely on their mobile devices. We’ve also seen a lot of changes in visual user interface and interaction patterns, even in the six short years since Read It Later was relaunched as Pocket in 2012.
The design team at Pocket embarked on re-imagining Pocket for 2018, taking it back to core principles of the experience and helping people build a reading habit by listening to articles. (Come back November 1st to read our story about our process developing the read-aloud feature.) As part of a redesign, we also wanted to refresh the typography and typefaces in our apps and on the web. We set out to find fonts that suit the short- and long-form reading experiences that Pocket enables and can represent our brand going forward.
Filling in the Blanco
Our active users are spending, on average, 16 minutes a day in Pocket. And most of that time is spent reading in the article view. As part of this refresh, we wanted to find a new default typeface for this view — a well-crafted, sturdy-yet-stylish serif typeface that can better support long-form reading on screens.
I’ve worked on a few reading platforms in the past (e.g. Inkling, Medium), and I’ve been down this road a few times in my career — looking for a serif face that is beautiful and distinctive, but not too quirky; one that’s well-designed, but not too obvious; one that’s not too tightly associated with another product, one that can be a bit ownable and part of the brand. The font needs to look great on mobile and desktop, and last, but not least, it needs to be available for licensing with terms that make sense for the business. At Inkling, we started out using H&FJ Chronicle, switched to FF Meta Serif, and finally landed on a customized version of Guardian Egyptian Text. At Medium, we were happy using Matthew Carter’s Charter, but we also considered options like Commercial’s Lyon Text, Process Type’s Elena, and OurType’s Arnhem. I’ve been fond of the open source typeface Source Serif, but the lack of italics was a blocker for the longest time. But none of these felt right for Pocket.
I came across Dave Foster’s Blanco earlier this year, and I was impressed by the design. It has a consistent rhythm and horizontal stress that carries the eye across the lines of text when reading. The letterform shapes are classic, but details in the serifs and stroke endings and joints where curved segments meet straight ones cause the typeface to ‘sparkle.’ Foster has a great design notes section on his site with more about the typeface and design process.
I corresponded with Dave Foster on licensing questions and some small customizations — for instance, we asked for the old style numerals and matching punctuation to be the default because they better support our use case of extended body text. Blanco was his thesis project at KABK in 2012, and the project subsequently won awards from the Morisawa International Type Design Competition and the New York Type Directors Club. But it took him four years to release the typeface commercially. Foster was introspective when asked about what he learned during this time. He says he completely redrew the typeface and added a lot to the character set, but more than that, he learned to trust himself. “I think more than any improvement in type design, which to me is largely learning to see very sharply and then knowing what action to take to fix the problems that you spot, the learning I did was about myself,” Foster told me. “Learning that I can trust my eye, learning that my boundaries are far beyond where I thought they were initially. Learning how good it feels to finish something!”
At Pocket, we’re happy we can increase awareness of Blanco, a new, well-designed typeface and support an up-and-coming type foundry in the process.
Savvy Pocket users will also notice that we’ve moved from Proxima Nova to a new sans serif typeface in our article listings, UI, and website. When Pocket first launched, Mark Simonson’s Proxima Nova wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today. In the intervening years, it’s become a de facto web font. Starting in 2009, when graphic designers really wanted to use Gotham on the web, they had to find another typeface that was available for licensing, and they landed on Proxima Nova, which they could get through TypeKit. About a decade and 31,000 sites on the web later, we’re thanking the typeface for its service to Pocket — and putting Proxima out to pasture.
For the refresh, we wanted to find a new sans serif that is less familiar, one that harmonizes with the Pocket wordmark, that works well at small text sizes as well in headlines in marketing communications. We also wanted a face that has a character set that includes Cyrillic and Greek. In our search, we tested a few other faces, like Echo and Plan Grotesque, but fell in love with how well the friendly-yet-rational feeling of Commercial Type’s Graphik worked in our mocks.
Graphik is a Modernist grotesk face that still has a warm character from the roundness of its shapes as well as round dots on i, j, and in punctuation. The typeface is the work of Christian Schwartz, co-founder of Commercial Type, a 14-year-old type foundry based in New York City and London. The foundry is known for their commercial releases as well as custom faces for clients, like typography for Chobani’s rebrand from earlier this year (a personal favorite). “I wanted a European Modernist-flavored grotesk without the baggage of Helvetica, Univers, or Futura, with a warm tone rather than a cold sense of precision,” Schwartz says. “Looking back, I think the family ended up with the balance of warmth and rationality that I was aiming for.”
Graphik has been available for a decade. It’s been used in various print publications and has slowly built an audience over time. Schwartz is happiest when the type he creates actually gets used, by designers and by readers: “A typeface only comes to life when someone is using it.” At Pocket, we’re fans of Graphik, and we’re excited to use the face in our products and brand communications.
Pocket is for people who like to read — and reading types deserve the best type for reading. These changes are just the beginning. We’ll be continuing to improve the experience for Pocket users, helping them return to their saved stories, and making the experience of reading, listening, and viewing in Pocket as seamless as possible.
You can check out the new typefaces in the Pocket apps for iOS and Android, or log in at getpocket.com. Take them for a test drive and let us know what you think.