August 7, 2014

Introducing Whitney: Beautiful, Friendly, and Readable

Joe Ringenberg


If you’re a regular visitor or just particularly eagle-eyed when it comes to typography, you might notice that this website is looking a little sharper. What’s the change? We’ve started to implement a new typeface, Whitney, and it is awesome.

Originally designed for the Whitney Museum in New York by Tobias Frere-Jones (who also designed Interstate, the typeface we use in our product’s interface), Whitney brings with her a number of distinguishing advantages.

The first is that Whitney is downright beautiful. @Tobias_FJ is a master craftsman, and the care he puts into the details — at every font-weight — has earned him a position at the absolute top of his field. Here are a few highlights.

Take a look at the terminals, how the straight lines of the letters come to an end. The angles give the bold, blocky font a sense of humanism, which refers to hints of hand-crafted letter-carving over strict, mechanical reproduction. That big W wants to be your friend.

The humanist influence comes through in Whitney’s italics too. Look at the belly on that _g_! This hint of calligraphy is just one way that Whitney conveys the warmth and friendliness that make it so well-suited for Wistia.

One of the big challenges of designing a typeface for the Whitney Museum is that it had to be legible at many different scales, from exhibit brochures to giant signage. Our previous typeface, Avenir, was great for bold headlines, calls to action, and clear buttons, but didn’t fare as well at a finer scale.

As we’ve built out our website to focus more and more on useful resources like blog posts and written guides, we realized that we needed a font that was easier to read in paragraphs of text. One factor of legibility is how densely packed the letterforms are: if they’re too spaced out, the eye has to travel farther, faster to keep up with a natural reading pace. If they’re too densely packed, the characters smush together and can’t be read at a glance.

Whitney is supremely readable. The even spacing and vertical rhythm help eyeballs move quickly without missing details. The letters are proportionally tall and fill a line of text densely, but the open geometry of the letterforms themselves keeps the text airy and easy to read. See how big the space under the arm of the _h_ is? Or how balanced the two negative-spaces of the _a_ are? Whitney is easy on the eyes.

Our work isn’t done yet, though, so don’t be surprised if you come across parts of our site that are still set in our old typeface, Avenir. In the meantime, kick back, relax, and read some more.

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