Why Sweden Commissioned Its Own Typeface

The idea of branding a place is a fairly new one, and the notion of place-based typefaces is even newer, with national and local governments from Qatar to Chattanooga commissioning their own fonts. The latest country to set its on typeface is Sweden — but it’s also questioning whether a national font is a bit too nationalistic for their progressive Scandinavian sensibilities.

In an interesting post on Matter, Sven Carlsson looks at a typeface called Swedish Sans, which was crafted by the designers at Söderhavet as part of an integrated identity project for Sweden that “aims to help Swedish organisations to communicate more effectively internationally,” in the words of the studio. Part of that identity package was a typeface, and the agency worked with a type expert named Stefan Hattenbach to test their creations. The finished product is a “classic sans serif”, inspired by “the feeling of old signs,” say the designers on their website.

But Sweden is in an odd position to be commissioning a national identity at the moment — as a groundswell of nationalism surges through Swedish politics. Over the past few decades, anti-immigration policies have won growing support among Swedes, and with it come a growing group of politicians who now represent the third largest political group in the country. Sven Carlsson spoke to Hattenbach about the trend, who commented that “I don’t see anything wrong with Sweden strengthening its profile a little. We’ve been pretty harmless in the past.” But Carlsson makes an excellent point — that one of the earliest “national” types was Blackletter, a 12th century type style frequently used by the Third Reich.

That’s not to say that Swedish Sans was spurred by Swedish nationalism — it almost certainly was not — but it does coincide with a streak of anti-immigration sentiment and national pride. It’s rare that we can talk about national politics and type design in the same breath, but this is one of those instances. Carlsson’s full post is well-worth a read. [Matter]