Designing Typefaces for Culture — National by Klim Type Foundry

Aashi Bhaiji
4 min readMay 16, 2021

“Typefaces give form to the alphabet. They function as carriers of information, selected and circulated through labour, capital and culture. Typefaces enhance character, set a tone of voice and reinforce certain ideals. We encounter letterforms daily, but most of the time we are oblivious to their origins or craft”

Typefaces convey culture and values

While typefaces have personas and create atmosphere, their characteristics seldom point back to their place of origin or their maker. Yet it is through use, that typefaces become meaningful to people — and not just to designers. When a typeface is used extensively within a community of practice, over time it can become a signal for that community’s values. That typeface might say things about who belongs to that community and what they represent.

National is one such typeface. It was designed by Kris Sowersby, founder of Klim Type Foundry and was released in 2007.

Making of National

Knowing that the British have Gill Sans, the French have Garamond, the Italians have Bodoni and the Swiss, Helvetica, it immediately set Kris thinking if typefaces could have a relationship with the place/country or could have a regional accent?

He was motivated to design a typeface for local use rather than reach for foreign ones. Conceptually, this thought became an early manifestation of Klim’s founding purpose: to make local typefaces for local designers — typefaces that could speak in their accent.

“I wondered if Kiwi designers could have a decent typeface with a local flavour, something with a bit of verve and character. I suppose I wanted to make a local grotesque’. I can’t really remember which particular grotesques I looked at during the development. I didn’t have access to any historical specimens at that point and I wasn’t even aware of Akkurat or FF Bau. It was more about standing in direct opposition to Helvetica.” - Kris Sowersby

While national travels through, and touches on a lot of historical material, it is designed to thrive in our modern typographic climate. It has been termed — “a revival of the 19th century English and American grotesks”.

National’s details are drawn from the era of Akzidenz Grotesk, giving it a humble, workmanlike character with an agreeable tone of voice. National’s general functional aim is to be a typeface suitable for long-form reading at small sizes, something classically “typographic”.

National : A local grotesque with humanist qualities

“National is a deceptively simple sans serif. It’s subtle details give it a distinctive — but not distracting — personality.”

Typeface Characteristics and Usage

Since it was drawn as a stylistic opposite to Helvetica, it is looser, spaced well for text, has angled terminals, round dots and punctuation, an ‘a’ tail through all the weights, small caps, unambiguous forms, old-style figures and a “true” italic.

The typeface is well suited for small size text. It is formal but warm and can be used in official documents without setting boredom. It can also be adapted to web and print mediums and has been used widely across environment, signages, identity, print & packaging and app designs. While there is very little contrast in the letter strokes, the strokes are somewhat calligraphic in structure with angled terminals.

National also has a slight smile behind it, a light touch in its ostensibly sober form. It reflects a subtle sparkling and dance quality. The typeface family covers 18 styles which are web and print friendly. For a more sophisticated design, it supports case sensitive forms, ligatures, tabular figures, circled figures, arrows and other symbols.

National is available in OpenType (.otf) file and Web Open Font Format (.woff) file formats.

The typeface family comes in 18 styles which can be adapted across web and print mediums

“While a typeface is a well considered set of many elements, if one removes the context of language systems and alphabets, each character may be viewed as a singular abstract drawing” — Kris Sowersby, The Art of Letters

Aashi Bhaiji

Incoming UX Design Intern @Google | NID 2023 | Information and Experience Design