"small" san serif

jay's picture

OK, this is an odd one: I'm currently designing proposals for an engineering firm. We respond to RFPs (Request for Proposals), that often specify "No font smaller than 12 pt." Since we have a lot to say, I've been forced to choose typefaces on the basis of character size.

(I hear your sighs ... but it's a paying gig, and those are kinda hard to find in this place and time.)

Anyway, Perpetua is my current favorite for serif font; it's so tiny that we have to ad "This proposal formatted in 12 pt Perpetua" on the cover letter. The problem is that any sans I use looks huge next to it.

I have a vague memory of tables that listed "characters per pica" for different typefaces at different sizes; are those still around, or did they die w/ the advent of WYSIWYG?

Anyway, if anyone has any suggestions -- both in serif and sans -- I'd be grateful. Thx!

jay's picture

Well, I've been using some condensed, but they look huge (height-wise) next to perpetua. But it's not x-height; it's just that perpetua is small ... or at least this incarnation (Monotype?) is.

These are rather long and boring texts, written by engineers for engineers. I'd like to make them as readable as possible, while breaking out of the mold. A lot of the competition use arial narrow as a text font -- sometimes further condensed(Eeeew!) in order to fit into the page limits. I want to come up w/ something that is more readable, doesn't use any more space, and is much more stylin'.

Thx!

William Berkson's picture

I am not sure what you are after, but Futura has smaller x-height than most sans-serifs. Also the original (not ITC) Kabel.

Vesta at GerardUnger.com is impressively readable for a sans. Myriad condensed is nice, as is Meta. Benton Sans from Fontbureau (related to Trade Gothic, Franklin, etc) has a number of condensed versions. No sans is as readable for text as any good text serif, in my opinion.

hrant's picture

You're trying to strike a balance between apparent size, economy and style. What you should note is:
1) A font with a smaller x-height does take up less room at a given point size, but at the expense of apparent size.
2) The requirement for 12 point (probably) comes from a desire for a minimum apparent size; if you "cheat" by using a font with a small x-height, it's going to come down to them saying "but it's too small" and you saying "but it's 12 point!" You need to try to predict which way that argument would end up going.
2) The larger the x-height, the more economical the face, and the more legible, but also the less readable. (Although there's certainly a lower limit to the x-height ito readability).

It seems that one thing you can do is choose a sans with a small x-height (like Seria), but that's assuming they won't balk at the apparent size (even though it's 12 point). Another possibility is to use a sans with a "normal" x-height but set the Perpetua larger (but then things might not fit).

If neither of those work, you could always just say less.

hhp

aluminum's picture

I can't imagine doing a gig for a client that is so anal as to specify a type size in the RFP responses.

Chris Rugen's picture

Yeah. Specs like that are usually for people who aren't designer/typographers.

"But, I love using 9 point Impact! It has so much impact! And it saves space!"

Have they seen your choice of Perpetua in use yet?

jay's picture

>If neither of those work, you could always just say less.

<grin> I've tried suggesting that; it's not a battle I'm going to win.

RE: "But it's too small!" It might not be following the intent of the law, but it's certainly following the letter. :0) I might call it cheating, but the engineers call it a creative solution ... and they are the ones who have to stand up & defend the proposals.

(It's funny: I don't know why, but I have an unusually difficult time expressing myself in this forum. I'm going to re-try on the description of my situation.)

I work at an engineering firm, and I'm trying to create a corp. identity, which includes proposals. Some of the "Requests for Proposals" include a type-size requirement, as in "type shall be 12 points or larger." They also include page limits.

In order to fit the verbage into the pages, I've been using Perpetua, which is a very small typeface. Not small in x-height, but just small for its size. (In order to make Gill Sans visually the same size as 12 pt Perpetua, you have to reduce Gill to 10 pt.)

The problem with Perpetua is that it's a bit spindly for this application. (I create these proposals on a 4-color Xerox.) Another problem is that if I use a contrasting san serif for headlines, it looks huge next to the perpetua, even at 12 pt.

But now that I've used it once, the engineers won't let me use a "larger" face. So I'm looking for a similarly "small" face that is more robust (thicker hairlines), plus a companion san serif, to be used in the proposals and other printed material.

(I hope that made more sense...)

I'll check out the suggestions already mentioned. Thanks!

hrant's picture

> I'm looking for a similarly "small" face that is more robust

OK.

A nice darkish book face (which is what we're talking about, basically) that I admire is Octavian*. It also happens to be pretty narrow - another plus for you here. Your engineers are gonna party tonight!

hhp

hrant's picture

And if you want to get heavy with some tight style -and function- check out the Adobe Kinesis family: http://store.adobe.com/type/browser/P/P_1345.html
Or better yet, find the MM version.

hhp

jay's picture

>I can't imagine doing a gig for a client that is so anal as to specify a type size in the RFP responses.

The requirement comes from the State(s). Big beaurocracies tend to make many little rules. Unfortunatly, there are a lot of competitors out there who are more than willing to disqualify our proposal because we don't adhere to the rules. If you lose a multi-million dollar contract because you missed a requirement in the RFP, you get a little paranoid.

>"But, I love using 9 point Impact! It has so much impact! And it saves space!"

<grin>

>Have they seen your choice of Perpetua in use yet?

Yes, both the engineers & the clients. The engineers love the space savings, couldn't care less about readability issues. Can't say what the clients think about it.

Thx! Jay

hrant's picture

> couldn't care less about readability issues.

The good news is that type that looks a bit too
small to the layman is actually more readable!

> Can't say what the clients think about it.

The risk is that they'll think it's too small to read (because the true nature of readability is counter-intuitive), especially when they see the nice horsey stuff from your competitors.

hhp

hrant's picture

So you might actually set your type at over 12
point, especially if you go for a narrower face.

hhp

jay's picture

OK, I was looking for Octavian, and (don't know why) typed in http://www.findfont.com/

I'm not sure what I was thinking, but does anyone have the story for this?

John Nolan's picture

Try FF Seria and FF Seria San. They're pretty "small".

Mark Simonson's picture

OK, I was looking for Octavian, and (don't know why) typed in http://www.findfont.com/

I'm not sure what I was thinking, but does anyone have the story for this?


Do you mean Octavian or findfont.com?

You can see Octavian here.

jay's picture

>Do you mean Octavian or findfont.com?

findfont.com. It's a blank screen that says "Well ... there you have it."

Thx for the link for octavian.

Mark Simonson's picture

Was there something there at one time that's gone now? I don't remember hearing of it before (not that that necessarily means anything).

Nick Shinn's picture

House's Neutraface is the small-x champ.

jay's picture

>Was there something there at one time that's gone now? I don't remember hearing of it before (not that that necessarily means anything).

I don't know. The URL just came out of my fingers w/o any participation from my brain. But I thought the message was interesting, and wondered if anyone knew the story.

jay's picture

>House's Neutraface is the small-x champ.

Oooh! That'd be a good excuse to buy. I think I have their catalog around here somewhere...

jay's picture

This has turned out to be pretty difficult; it's odd to choose a font based on visual size at a certain point measure, and type samples aren't set up for that sort of comparison.

So I dug out my copy of Adobe Font folio, to see if I have Kinnesis (I don't.) But while I was looking, I did find a PDF with a listing of all Adobe's fonts (at the time), plus their average-characters-per-pica measure. I had to do a bit of work to get it into Excel, but now I can sort by name and by measure.

Centaur came up as an option, but it has many of the same issues as perpetua. I love Electra, but it looks wrong at 12 pt: it's just too big. I'm totally into Octavian ... but it doesn't have a bold or bold italic, which I really need. (I want to see if I can figure out some alternate font for emphasis, maybe a san-serif...)

Anyway, in the Sans world, Bell Centennial Address came in as the smallest font I've tested, & surprisingly readable. Ocean Sans & Formata have condensed versions that fit a lot of characters into a given space, but I'm not sure they are going to work in this case.

If anyone has any other suggestions, I'd love to hear them. thanks!

Stephen Coles's picture

Do condensed fonts apply, or only those with a low x-height?

Miss Tiffany's picture

I agree. Neutra could work. The display version has longer ascenders/descenders.

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