Maturity & Mirth: NBC Uses Sweet Sans
Over the past several years NBC has consistently advanced their branding almost solely through typeface selection. The peacock logo, the doorbell tone, the quick screen wipes and reveals, and the bright, solid colors: all unchanged.
The fantastic Sweet Sans (PDF sample) by Mark van Bronkhorst of MVB Fonts leads NBC’s fall 2012 season with a website refresh and a series of teaser commercials. Before that, they used Cyrus Highsmith’s Antenna, for which they were summarily sued for not purchasing enough licenses. Before that, Gotham. And still further back, Eric Olson’s Klavika. Notice the text on their website — all set in Sweet Sans. [I would have either used a lighter weight or more tracking for the smaller text so there’d be less clashing of letters, but overall it’s great.]
I love that a major consumer company is pushing their design — again, almost completely through type. And I love that they had the guts to leave behind the safe, overplayed, and now-not-distinct-or-brandable Gotham. Because they were willing to take just such a bold step, they are clearly distinct from CBS (with a history of tech and typewriter faces), Fox (with a history of ultra-weight sans faces and weird mixes of Helvetica and Arial), and ABC (with the most spastic choices used all at once).
As a throwback to historical roots of draftsman’s typefaces, Sweet Sans is for NBC a fantastic choice. Gotham is beautiful, even, and reliable, but was too austere; sports it could do, not comedy. With its tech inspiration, Klavika works great in almost microscopic sizes and has an unmistakable voice in display sizes, but it simply didn’t invoke the right tone. Klavika is forward-looking so teasers for Dateline felt out of sync emotionally, but Chevrolet has used it to wonderful effect in exactly that way. Antenna worked great and I think it was the best trajectory NBC had until now.
Sweet Sans, though, is pretty much pitch perfect with its cheeky and playful attitude that most viewers equate with the NBC brand. The slight outstroke turns combined with simple, open forms take it out of the zone of a staunch sans and gives it a more relatable tone. The naturally wide characters and the ginormous x-height make it easy to read regardless of point size, and its true zen quality is displayed in all-caps treatments. Sweet Sans readily takes on a supporting role next to show lockups ranging from comedy (The Office, Parks and Recreation, Go On) to drama (Revolution, Grimm, Parenthood) to reality competition (The Voice, America’s Got Talent) to news (Dateline) to sports (Monday Night Football, 2012 Olympics). And that was one of the main capabilities missing from past choices.
The small sizes on the website show just how plainspoken Sweet Sans can be while the range of details come through on the commercials because they’ve set the words so large. So large, in fact, that you don’t take the company too seriously. You take them just how they meant for you to: as an entertainment company with equal parts maturity and mirth.