Alphabets have integrated so much in our history since humanity first used a set of symbols to imprint their speech pattern. From pictographs to alphabets, the way we imprint our existence through writing systems defines our history.
The alphabet and corresponding numerals are called a typeface, while a set of particular glyphs inside a typeface is called a font. One of the most popular typefaces in modern times is the sans serif typeface. From ad copy to brand logos, this group of fonts varies in usage. But, like any other thing in life, it has its pros and cons.
To understand the characteristics of this typeface, we need to understand what a serif is. In typology, a serif is a small, decorative stroke in the end or within a character. For example, if you write using a certain font and the capital letter ‘A’ has additional horizontal strokes, you are writing with a serif font. This indentation makes fonts within this group more official-looking.
On the contrary, the sans serif typeface fonts don’t have this decorative stroke, giving it a simpler look. The term itself is derived from the French word ‘sans,’ which means “without.” Before the term is widely used, this kind of typeface is sometimes referred to as Gothic. Fonts in this typeface are considered cleaner and more modern.
The Sans Serif Fonts
As a typographical family, there are several fonts in this category. They are divided into four main subcategories: Grotesque, Neo-Grotesque, Geometric, and Humanist.
Fonts in this subcategory are often called “Gothic style”. They are among the first typography belonging to the sans serif typeface, having been around since the 19th and early 20th century. The name ‘grotesque’ came from the Italian ‘grottesco’, which means “belongs to the cave” due to the shape of the letters being simple geometrics. The strokes of fonts in this subcategory are quite uniform, with the rounds (like in the ‘b’ or ‘d’) are often written as perfect circles.
This subcategory includes Akidenz-Grotesque, Knockout, Grotesque No.9, and almost all fonts with ‘Gothic’ in their name.
Emerged in the 1950s with the rise of Swiss style is the Neo-Grotesque font. Intended to be a modernized version of Grotesque, this typography looks pretty similar to its predecessor to the untrained eyes. It has limited stroke width with capital letters having a more folded-up design with uniform width. The difference with earlier Grotesque typefaces is many of the Neo-Grotesque designs were issued in large families.
This family of typefaces consisted of Helvetica, Univers, and Folio as its first set of released fonts. They were succeeded by, among others, Umiga and Imago. The digital era gave birth but was not limited to San Fransisco, Acumin, and Roboto.
As the name suggests, this typeface family features a more geometric design compared to other subcategories. Originated in the 1920s in Germany, Geometric fonts often have near-perfect geometric aspects such as a nearly circular uppercase ‘O’, a highly defined capital ‘N,’ and their lowercase ‘a’ does not feature a top “hat.”
Fonts like ITC Avant-Garde, Product Sans, and Century Gothic belong in this sans serif typography.
Perhaps the most advanced design principles, Humanist typefaces have varying stroke width compared to the aforementioned typographic families. Early Humanist designers took inspiration from classical glyphs, such as the Roman Square Capitals. Humanist fonts also have more variations compared to Grotesques and Geometrics. Some even look more akin to serif typefaces, but still without the indentations.
This typeface faces include Johnston, Gill Sans, Optima, Syntax, Tahoma, Lucida Grande, Fira Sans, Calibri, and Verdana.
The Pros and Cons
Using sans serif fonts in your design has its benefits. Their more geometric design gives a sense of modernity to your design and feel more casual and approachable. The broader stroke width in some fonts helps your design to appear bold and brave while still maintaining simplicity.
The drawbacks of using this typography are closely related to their readability. Because of their relatively stiff shapes, this typeface is not suitable for body texts. They are also relatively harder to read compared to their counterparts, making the contents harder to understand.
But when used accordingly, it can help you convey your message in a bolder, more modern manner. So, don’t let the drawbacks scare you and start using sans serif typeface in your design.