Sweden hopes to project a new image with its official font

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Marco Werman: When you type something up or print an invitation, what font do you use and what does that say about you? That’s normally a matter of personal choice, not national identity. Except if you’re in Sweden. Stefan Hattenbach is the type designer who came up with Sweden’s new national font. This called Sweden Sans. Tell us, first of all, what does Sweden Sans look like?


Stefan Hattenbach: Sweden Sans is a very slick typeface, I would say. It’s a Sans Serif. Many people would probably be familiar with Helvetica or something like that. It’s looking very geometric and very modern, I would say.


Werman: Like Arial but a bit bolder and maybe freer?


Hattenbach: Yeah, basically very geometric. It’s based on old Swedish signage, signs from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. So that’s where most of the inspiration came from.


Werman: So this is the new national font of Sweden. Who’s going to be using this?


Hattenbach: This is going to be used by different departments when they’re speaking abroad, when they’re making contact with other countries and so on. So it’s more or less a very unofficial Swedish typeface. It’s not going to be used by everyone or it’s not going to be used inside Sweden internally. So, it’ more or less an unofficial typeface for Sweden.


Werman: If this is the national font, what does it convey that is so quintessentially Swedish?


Hattenbach: It might be hard to say, but as I mentioned, it’s based on old Swedish traditional signage and so on. We tried to pick a bit older style of it but it feels quite modern anyway. Sweden in the 50’s and 60’s was a very positive atmosphere and everything was looking great and so on, so we kind of felt that that could be a good period for picking out some of the ideas to do the sign.


Werman: I know referenced old Swedish signs, but how do you even start to think of designing a font that kind of embeds Swedish heritage?


Hattenbach: It’s kind of hard. And you also have to pick up other things. So the typeface itself can’t really say “Hey, I’m a Swedish typeface.” You have to bring it along with the color system, and we alway use the Swedish flags when we’re saying Sweden in another country’s language.


Werman: What is your favorite letter in Sweden Sans, in terms of just satisfied with the design?


Hattenbach: I would say I’m quite happy with the whole alphabet, but some of the letters are always more pleasing. I do like the “S,” which is kind of a hard letter to make actually. It really falls off and looks unbalanced, but I’m very happy with the “S,” I would say.


Werman: Can I just say, I love the “Q.” Most “Q’s” have that little tail going off to the lower right. This one, straight down.


Hattenbach: Yeah, it’s kind of modern and easy going. Unfortunately, “Q” isn’t used that often. We have an expression in Sweden, saying “lagom” -- “It’s not too much and it’s not too little, it’s something in between.” Every Swede knows about it and knows exactly what it means. You’re happy with the thing and it’s not exaggerated, but you’re still very happy and content with it. That’s some of the feeling we wanted to incorporate in this typeface as well.


Werman: I think that’s a great description of its success, that it’s “lagom.” Stefan Hattenbach, the type designer who came up with Sweden’s new national font called Sweden Sans. Thanks for speaking with us.


Hattenbach:  Thanks a lot.