Today let’s take a look at Optima, the atypical sans-serif face designed by German typographic genius Hermann Zapf in 1952. Optima is technically classified as a sans serif, but with subtle swelling at the terminal, which seem to suggest serifs without actually having them. Optima’s capitals are based on classic Roman monumental capitals, used to write inscriptions.
Compared to the classic fifties sans serif Helvetica, Optima seems like its antidote. Where geometric sans-serifs like Futura aim for mathematical perfection, Optima swells and curves in unexpected ways. Where Helvetica aims for utter neutrality, so that it can be used in almost any context, Optima embodies a subtle sense of history and the human hand.
Optima is both widely admired and much imitated.When Maya Lin designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, she chose Optima as the face in which the names of the dead would be etched into the polished stone wall. Other notable uses of Optima include Estée Lauder and the 2008 John McCain Presidential Campaign.
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