New typefaces are like a cold lake. Few people are inclined to jump in there right away.
Some typefaces even seem to be like a frozen lake. Sitka, designed by Matthew Carter and produced by John Hudson and Ross Mills from Tiro Typeworks, was released in 2013. As part of Microsoft Windows since its 8.1 version and of some versions of Microsoft Office, it has been readily available to a large public for several years.
But until the day that I took this picture, I had never seen it in use. (Or maybe I had seen it, but I hadn’t noticed it at any rate.) I didn’t take this picture because it is a spectacular use of the typeface. I took it because there is a use of Sitka at long last (outside promotional materials by Microsoft). There is nothing wrong with this sign – but it’s just a sign, basically.
Sitka is a typeface that comes in various optical sizes – six, to be precise. Optical sizes are variants of a typeface design that are optimised for a specific size (e.g., a variant with exaggerated features and inktraps for small sizes or a variant with higher contrast and sharp details for display use – the specifics may vary). If we go strictly by its measurements, this sign would fall in the largest category of any range of optical sizes. For Sitka, that would be ‘Banner’ – but the variant that was used for this sign is on the opposite end of the spectrum. What we see is Sitka Small, intended for use below 9.7 points.
It is not unusual to see small optical sizes used for large type sizes. The best ones look great both in a telephone directory and on a billboard. Also, when we factor in viewing distance, large isn’t always that large. On the sign above, the Banner version of Sitka probably would have done a decent job, too, but the Small version doesn’t produce a jarring effect.
Size Calculator by Nick Sherman and Chris Lewis is a great tool for comparing the perceived size of type. For example, viewing letters measuring 20cm from 20 meters distance (like a non-giant sign across a big street) is equal to reading 5.7pt type from 20 cm (like small print in a hand-held book).
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Size Calculator by Nick Sherman and Chris Lewis is a great tool for comparing the perceived size of type. For example, viewing letters measuring 20 cm from 20 meters distance (like a non-giant sign across a big street) is equal to reading 5.7 pt type from 20 cm (like small print in a hand-held book).