Typeface Review

Sanomat Sans

Reviewed by Matthew Buchanan on May 9, 2016

In 2013, Finland’s major daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat transitioned from broadsheet to tabloid. The redesign, under group creative director Sami Valtere, called for a sans serif family to pair with Paul Barnes and Berton Hasebe’s striking custom display serif (Sanomat) for secondary text settings that would include captions, sidebars, and television schedules.

Sanomat Sans, undergoing a minor transition of its own from its original name Helsingin, was drawn in ten display weights and seven text weights by Christian Schwartz, assisted by Vincent Chan, and made avail­able for retail sale through Commercial Type last year.

A low-contrast geometric at heart, Sanomat Sans seeks to moderate its sibling’s more characterful flourishes while retaining its generous apertures and angled terminals. It is not without Humanist moments, either: the release notes make a special mention of the engineered asymmetry of its lowercase bowls, designed to disrupt the monotony of repeated letters that appear with high frequency in Finnish text.

The term “workhorse” is commonly used to describe typeface families that possess (or perhaps lack) just enough personality to work well in a wide variety of situations. It has never been more aptly applied than to this family. With the exception of the ‘W’ glyph’s overlapping middle vertex and the serpentine binocular ‘g’, Sanomat Sans’ default alphabet might appear strait-laced at first glance, but a staggering sixteen stylistic sets (and a black stencil weight contributed by Commercial Type staff designer Miguel Reyes) provide endless possibilities for modifying texture and tone.

Included in these sets are storybook versions of the ‘a’, ‘g’ and ‘y’; an open-bowl, looped ‘k’; and a cursive ‘e’ reminiscent of the one in TypeTogether’s Bree. When applied to the Gill-inspired elegance of the thinner weights or the youthful energy of their heavier counterparts, these alternates provided Helsingin Sanomat’s creative department with an exhaustive number of styles for its stable of related publications.

Sanomat Sans is a better-proportioned, warmer, and more versatile Verdana for the HiDPI age.

Matthew Buchanan is a designer and typographer from Auckland, New Zealand. He co-founded design studio Cactuslab and social network Letterboxd, convenes the interactive judging panel for New Zealand’s Best Awards, and created Vimeo’s most popular typography channel, Nice Type.

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