Apple Watch typeface

joeclarkjoeclark Posts: 122
edited September 2014 in Miscellaneous News
I assembled reasonable screenshots from the keynote address introducing the Apple Watch (2014.09.09). They blew it a couple of times and used Helvetica, amusingly enough.

At any rate: It’s not quite DIN, is it?

I’m attaching an archive of the images for anyone’s use.


  • joeclarkjoeclark Posts: 122
    edited September 2014
    I saw that. It said nothing of note. /and-the-slug-is-as-stupid-as-ever/. (You can make real links on TypeDrawers, Craig.)
  • Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 994
    edited September 2014
    Thanks for those screenshots, Joe. It is certainly custom, and possibly designed by Apple’s in-house type design team. I see influences mostly from DIN, but also Univers and Helvetica. That combination makes it have a lot in common with Akkurat, which is so far the closest pre-existing design I know.


    Here it is compared with Akkurat Light and Regular. I only changed some of Akkurat’s spacing to match.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,128
    Not sure why this needs to be sans.
    Surely Retina screen has obviated that necessity.
    It would be nice to see this layout using roman U&lc, small caps, and italic.
    OK, save that for the steampunk version.
  • It also ain’t Colfax.
  • It would be nice to see this layout using roman U&lc, small caps, and italic.
    U&lc and small caps are visible in the screenshots. I gather you mean an aboriginal sense of “roman.” Italics as yet unseen.
  • Not sure why this needs to be sans.
    Surely Retina screen has obviated that necessity.
    For the same reason most signage must be sans?
  • Not sure why this needs to be sans.
    Because Ive is best at aping what Dieter Rams would have done forty years ago.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,128
    The layout typography uses size and color to structure the hierarchy.
    Sure, it’s Modernism, and suits the design of the case and strap.
    However, the device is primarily typographic and typophile that I am, I’ve always liked the classic effect of contrasting U&lc serif roman with (U&)lc italics and small caps—with old style figures of course.
    IMO for a device which is primarily typographic, the typography should drive the overall design of the device, rather than the other way around.
    That’s why, antiquarian that I am, I was fantasizing about steampunk.

    Noting the variety of cases that people add on to their phones and tablets, I wonder if this device is similarly customizable and glamorizable.
  • Not sure why this needs to be sans.
    'cause people expect to see a sans. Would Apple risk their position of leadership in the world of product design and "thinking different" by... thinking different?
    For the same reason most signage must be sans?
    ... 'cause people expect to see a sans?
    As some guy once said—With some insight, "Legibility, [amounts to] what one is accustomed to. "

    The demands of UI and signage typography are different from print, but it's still just visual information to be processed. If treated well and with due consideration to the medium and viewing conditions, a serif should work as well as a sans. But if you design a sign (or a UI) that people have to read and comprehend quickly and in less than optimal conditions you're probably better off using a sans serif (preferably designed for the purpose) - if only because that's what people are used to in that context.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,128
    The clock I rock.
  • Actually, with due consideration to the medium and viewing conditions, a serif does not work as well as a sans. Font feet, though not all there is to a serif design, don't work so well when head or material are moving, viewing happens at non idea angles or distances or in a vibrating reading environment. Italic has issues with the reading angle, so why bother. Being typographically different, I think, really does not count yet when the entire product class is new.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,128
    Viewing conditions? It depends whether you’re reading this as you drive, jog, mountaineer—or interweb in Starbucks. Slow down and smell the Americano!
  • If we really honestly examined watchface typography, we would have to talk about Roman numerals; complete absence of numbers (just dots or dashes); and classy-as-shit but illegible Didones and similarly misused print fonts.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,128
    I guess the point I’m making is that modernism can be simplistic.
    Mid-century (20th), the classic modernists designed with an economy of form and careful proportion, while maintaining an inscrutable surface of visual interest in the materials they used.
    In architecture, marble veins and wood grain for Mies, Corbusier’s béton brut.
    And in print, Brodovitch’s didones, Lois’ Cheltenham.
    All those beautiful 1950s and 60s coffee table books with their exemplary modernist layouts—set in Garamond, Baskerville and Bembo (if not Poliphilus), with pointed use of small caps and italics.

    It’s not necessary to go skeuo to get the satisfying sheen of organic texture, it’s there in serifed type forms.

    And from the communicational imperative of contrast and disambiguation for hierarchical text organization, the venerable triad of Roman U&lc, Italic U&lc and roman small caps has it over reductive use of one font.

    Next, I spose ima hafta show, rather than tell.
  • Nick, you’ve made me want to see the watch running Eames Century Modern.
  • Some educated guesses on the APIs Apple might provide for the watch have made me think custom faceplates might be possible, if not for the first version, then later. Because yeah, then that’s totally happening.
  • So then: They tried to poach Spiekermann, who of course had seen the writing on the wall and “retired” before FontShop could be sold and dismantled.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,128
    edited November 2014
    There is a huge aftermarket for phone and iPad cases, because portable devices become subject to clothing fashion style as accessories. And this is even more so for wearable devices.

    Watches are generally conceived of in the same materials as jewellery, for a monochromatic color scheme, often silver or gold.

    That is why the International Style of layout, with its dependence on white space and color to wring meaning out of a single corporate sans typeface, is problematic for a wearable device.

    The Apple Watch provides silver and gold cases, and many view options, but these are geared to the corporate UI sans typography on a black background, with colors that do not necessarily match the rest of the outfit the user is wearing. I don’t know whether this is an issue, but my feeling is that other typographic layout strategies such as mixing sans with serif, or using the classic old style variants, offer better hierarchical distinction than International Style, and are therefore more suitable for monochromatic layouts. Here is how the old style would work; it would be off-brand for Apple, but there are other fruit in the orchard.


  • "Both Roboto 1.0 and Apple's watch typeface appear to share the same inspirations: most notably, Helvetica and FF DIN, a sans-serif typeface famous for its excellent visibility at small sizes."

    Where did that come from? Is DIN really known for its excellent visibility at small sizes? Its design seems to suggest it's more legible at small sizes than Helvetica, but I've never heard DIN is famous for its excellent visibility at small sizes. First off, I don't know what excellent visibility at small sizes even means, and secondly I thought DIN was designed for signage, which has nothing to do with visibility at small sizes.
  • The user and all related content has been deleted.
  • attarattar Posts: 209
    "Signage is like small text from close-up" espiekermann once told me.
  • Legibility is the underlying correlation, so in that sense indeed they do have a lot in common. However, there are very different principles at play. For example, typefaces for small sizes tend to be more robust and simplified to deal with ink flow, while in signage you need to make considerations in regard to weather, lighting conditions and glare. I suppose both typefaces for small applications and signage should have an open aperture and distinct letter shapes, but isn't this where the commonalities stop? Signage typefaces also tend to be a bit more narrow while typefaces for small applications tend to be wider.

    I absolutely don't see how DIN could be famous for its excellent visibility at small sizes. For starters, it features dark spots which are too prominent for small use. DIN works for signage but I would never set a book in DIN. Besides, even if DIN works at small sizes, I've never heard that DIN is known for that, let alone famous for it.

    And again, what does "visibility at small sizes" even mean? Visibility has to do with distance. Who's looking at 10pt DIN from meters away?
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