Designing Graphik
Credit: Graphik is used throughout the AIGA SF site. Graciously donated by Christian Schwartz and Paul Barnes of Commercial Type.


The dominant trend of simple, mid 20th century sans serifs from continental Europe still reverberates in visual culture. In designing Graphik, I wanted to see if it is was possible to create something refreshing inspired by this aesthetic.

Graphik was inspired by all parts of the 20th century, but the primary inspiration came from graphic design, rather than typefaces. Like many graphic design students, I fell in love with Swiss Modern posters after first being exposed to them in the required design history classes at Carnegie Mellon. Many of them were set in Akzidenz Grotesk and other “generic” sans serifs, but others were lettered in a plain but idiosyncratic geometric style. This idea of expressive graphic design done with very plain type stuck with me.

I also became interested in the less popular sans serifs that many European foundries released to compete with Futura, Helvetica and Univers – the juggernauts of 20th century sans serifs – such as Neuzeit Grotesk, Folio, Recta, and Maxima. None of these families were groundbreaking, but many of them had a certain quirky charm. I also fell in love with Paul Renner's Plak, a relatively obscure display typeface cut only in large sizes of woodtype, after seeing it on recruitment posters for the NYPD in the subway. Plak is related to his heavier weights of Futura but has rounder, friendlier, fatter proportions.

Graphik is designed to be a blank slate, a vanilla-flavored typeface that can be as plain or expressive as a designer wants it to be. Nearly 10 years after I first sketched the family, it has found a home across publication design, graphic design, screen design, and corporate identity. While Helvetica or Univers might be too ubiquitous for many contemporary uses, carrying an enormous amount of cultural baggage with them from 50 years of highly visible use, Graphik can be used in similar ways while bringing a more contemporary feeling and a shorter list of associations. The round dot on the i, plus related forms like the period, brings an extra bit of warmth that seems to make it a good fit for our times.

Christian Schwartz
8 Sept 2016