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Why Sweden Commissioned Its Own Typeface

Illustration for article titled Why Sweden Commissioned Its Own Typeface

The idea of branding a place is a fairly new one, and the notion of place-based typefaces is even newer, with national and local governments from Qatar to Chattanooga commissioning their own fonts. The latest country to set its on typeface is Sweden—but it's also questioning whether a national font is a bit too nationalistic for their progressive Scandinavian sensibilities.

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In an interesting post on Matter, Sven Carlsson looks at a typeface called Swedish Sans, which was crafted by the designers at Söderhavet as part of an integrated identity project for Sweden that "aims to help Swedish organizations to communicate more effectively internationally," in the words of the studio. Part of that identity package was a typeface, and the agency worked with a type expert named Stefan Hattenbach to test their creations. The finished product is a "classic sans serif," was inspired by "the feeling of old signs," say the designers on their website.

Illustration for article titled Why Sweden Commissioned Its Own Typeface
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Illustration for article titled Why Sweden Commissioned Its Own Typeface

But Sweden is in an odd position to be commissioning a national identity at the moment—as a groundswell of nationalism surges through Swedish politics. Over the past few decades, anti-immigration policies have won growing support among Swedes, and with it come a growing group of politicians who now represent the third largest political group in the country. Sven Carlsson spoke to Hattenbach about the trend, who commented that "I don't see anything wrong with Sweden strengthening its profile a little. We've been pretty harmless in the past." But Carlsson makes an excellent point—that one of the earliest "national" types was Blackletter, a 12th century type style frequently used by the Third Reich.

That's not to say that Swedish Sans was spurred by Swedish nationalism—it almost certainly was not—but it does coincide with a streak of anti-immigration sentiment and national pride. It's rare that we can talk about national politics and type design in the same breath, but this is one of those instances. Carlsson's full post is well-worth a read. [Matter]

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DISCUSSION

thegregorius
thegregorius

As a Swede, I believe that the "national" pride has always been there, it's just the focus that has shifted.

It used to be that Swedish people were proud of their society. They were proud of their neutrality, their country's diplomatic reputation, their equal society and their welfare system. That's an unusal sort of pride, though, since it's not connected to the people. You weren't proud to be born a Swede, you were happy and proud to be a part of a well-functioning society. It was a pride that was as far from nationalism as you can get.

Much of these things have been broken down. We're now closer to NATO than we have ever been. We've had several years of right-wing government with an increased class gap. The Swedish welfare system is a shadow of its former self, and our educational system, while still comparatively equal and accessible, is falling behind those of other countries. This has happened at the same time as we've had an influx of immigrants, and of course some people will jump to pointing the blame at that. It's easy to get into a "it used to be better"-mindset, and blame those who do not share traditionally Swedish traits. It's sad, and up until a couple of elections ago I could at least feel proud that we were one of the few European countries who didn't have a right-wing populist/racist party in the parliament.

Now I'm just waiting for some party to harvest that old pride in order to fix certain things in our society, but it doesn't look like it will happen soon.