A New Proxima

Written by Christian Palino on July 11, 2005

Mark Simonson released Proxima Nova on June 30th. This 42-font OpenType set is a reworked version of his earlier Proxima Sans. Proxima Nova has strong similarities to the geometric Futura and even stronger similarities — especially in the capitals — to Gotham. But it differs from the “no-nonsense lettering of the American vernacular” by stressing the humanist approach.

There is some inconsistency it seems when we look closely at Proxima Nova’s lowercase set, and notice, expecially in the vowels, the very different strokes being used which seem to create more disparity than continuity. The lowercase u, e, a and o in the Regular font seem to me to belong to different faces.

Christian Palino is a designer and educator living in San Francisco. He is currently a Product Design Manager at Facebook and teaches Interaction Design at CCA. He previously worked at OpenTable, IDEO and Adaptive Path.


  1. I don’t see what you’re seeing, Christian. The ‘u’ is essentially a flipped ‘n’, and the ‘o’ and ‘e’ have the same stroke width as any other glyph (see ‘c’ ). The ‘a’ is distinctive, and maybe not my favorite, but it’s not out of step with the rest of the design.

    I think Proxima Nova is a nice alternative to the now common Gotham, and the OT features (with small caps and so on) give it an advantage on the usability front.

  2. Christian Palino says:

    Stephen, I agree regarding the usability. And as far as the inconsistencies, we could perhaps call it quirky. It’s starting to grow on me. However, the lack of modulation in the lowercase ‘o’ stroke, compared to the lowercase ‘e’, then compared to the extreme ‘a’, has me a bit hung up.

    I need to spend some more time with it.

  3. Nick Shinn says:

    Massive achievement!
    Back to the future at warp speed.
    But humanist? nah

  4. Christian:

    Thank you for your comments and for posting this item.

    The modulation scheme is a bit unconventional, and maybe takes a little getting used to, but it does follow a consistent pattern, governed by the amount of color in the character and the manner in which strokes connect.

    In simpler characters, like the o, which don’t have a lot of color, there is very little modulation. In characters which have more color, like the e, there is a bit of modulation to offset the extra color. In characters which have strokes curving away from a stem, like the n and a, the junction is thinned on the exiting stroke to keep the join from looking clotted. Because the a has both more color and these stroke junctions, both kinds of modulations are necessary.

    This sort of thing is done to a greater and lesser degree in all typefaces and it’s perhaps more pronounced than usual in Proxima Nova, but I think it gives it a nice crispness and evenness of color, especially at text sizes.

    I wasn’t trying to follow the Humanist model (more like avoiding it) except for the proportions, that is, as opposed to Old Style proportions (e.g. Futura or Kabel). I think we have gotten up to our necks in Humanist sans serifs over the last ten or twenty years, and I’m not very interested in doing yet another one. I’m not saying they’re bad, just that it’s a well-fished hole.

    Also, you’re right that the a and e aren’t very related; rather, the a and g are. There are no rules about these things, only conventions.

    Nick: Thanks!

  5. Christian Palino says:

    Mark, thanks for explaining the pattern you have developed for Proxima Nova. I do see the relationships you described, and while I see the overall color a bit different, I have the utmost appreciation for your typeface and look forward to putting it to good use. In regards to my comment about its “humanist approach”, I do suppose that was a little vague. Yes, in fact I do feel that the proportions are what separate it from the more rigid structure of what we see in Futura or the more recent Gotham.

    Congratulations, and again, looking forward.

  6. Kyle Hildebrant says:

    Mark: Kudos, indeed. It does nestle neatly into a space between Gotham and Futura. It really looks to be a flexible face. I’m sure I can speak for everyone in saying “thanks for all the hard work”.

  7. While I could not imaging the type of undertaking it would be to create a font, as a user, I’m getting the same feeling as the original post. My first impressions were to use it as the main paragraph font, but on closer inspection it did begin to feel a bit inconsistent to me, especially in regards to the ‘i’ … it feels a bit short. My main concern is a sharp, modern appearance and legibility. I find the various responses interesting, more or less hinting that the apparent inconsistencies are there to create consistency … and I can kind of see this. I think it looks ok for now, so I may leave it like this for a while until I find something that really knocks my socks off.

  8. I did a close inspection with my iPhone. The font does great in small sizes. It looks great on my iPhone. It remains legible at sizes that other fonts can’t handle. I think this makes it worth keeping, as the site I’m using it on is geared for mobile.

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