The Sephora Typeface Family

We are happy to announce the completion of the exclusive Sephora typeface superfamily. Commissioned by the American branch of Sephora, and under art direction of New York-based Mucca Design, Schriftlabor created and produced 22 fonts: two Script typefaces, and five Roman families with four weights each: Serif Display (upright & Italic), Serif Text  (upright & italic), Sans (upright only).

Sephora: the complete superfamily

The client brief was clear: the new typefaces had to be recognisable as part of the cosmetics and beauty genre, yet different enough to stand out in the industry, and lend Sephora a distinct typographic voice. A typographic analysis of the industry yielded an overuse of high-contrast Didot variants, coupled with sans-serifs such as Gotham or Helvetica.

The Sephora Hybrid Design

The solution we came up with was a crossover between high contrast and a slanted calligraphic axis. The high contrast is borrowed from Didone or ‘Modern’ typefaces typical for the industry, while the slanted axis is taken from broad-nib pen writing. The construction principle of this writing style yields what type designers call open letterforms. In research, such forms are consistently perceived as ‘warm’ and ‘approachable’, attributes we needed for Sephora’s new typefaces. What’s more, open shapes and slightly slanted axes perform significantly better in legibility tests. This proved to be a great asset when the text typefaces were developed.

Pencil sketches for Sephora Sans

Matteo Bologna of Mucca Design and Rainer Erich Scheichelbauer of Schriftlabor sketched out a series of possible design variants for Sephora Serif Display and its sans-serif counterpart, aptly named Sephora Sans. Schriftlabor’s expertise in digital font editing allowed a quick transition into vector drawings and early installable alpha version fonts, ready for on-screen presentations and quick and informed decisions by the client.

sephorasansdetails-copy

After the designs were approved, the heavy-weight type design work began. In the first batch, the high-contrast upright Serif Display as well as the sans-serif family were drawn and developed digitally in multiple weights from Light to Bold, continually exported as OpenType font files, tested in DTP applications, printed, so the fonts could be improved for another iteration cycle. After several weeks, beta versions could be delivered to the client. Once these were approved, development of the Serif Display italics was started and continued in parallel to the production of the upright Serif Display and the Sans.

Sephora Serif Display

In the process, we worked in some special treats that would keep the legibility and overall appearance of the typefaces, but make them instantly recognisable. The shape of the endings was settled to be a floral spiral, a subtle, yet distinct hybrid between a strict serif and a completely round ball ending. Or the lowercase e, for example, always has an italic shape, even in the uprights, while the w sports an open second counter. The client received continuous updates with improved glyph sets, kerning, hinting, and OpenType features, and was quick to respond, which helped us keep our development cycles short.

Found footage: brush-written door numbers in Vienna’s Czernin quarter

In Vienna’s Czernin Quarter, not far from the Schriftlabor office, we found old, hand-painted door signs carrying numbers indicating which apartments are accessible via the respective staircase. Franziska Hubmann, one of  Schriftlabor’s type designers, based the figures of the Display Serif on these letterings, applied the floral endings, and fine-tuned the figures to give them their dramatic flair.

Sephora Serif Text

As a follow-up, we were commissioned to add a text version to the serif typeface. This meant simplifying some shapes that were great in the display typeface, but too extravagant for longer reading. It also meant increasing the spacing to and reducing stroke contrast, and restructuring shapes where necessary. The changes are necessary to give a line of text a calm and even rhythm, to facilitate and speed up the actual reading process, and make the fonts fit for difficult situations such as typesetting across photos. Throughout all these changes, the familiarity with the Serif Display had to be maintained. Schriftlabor designer Igor Labudovic was responsible for optimising Sephora Serif Text for maximum legibility.

Sephora Script fonts in action

Additionally, two script typefaces were commissioned: Sephora Script Editor, conveying the style of a Beauty Editor giving you professional and personal advice on a sticky note, and Sephora Script Collection, with a young, bold and energetic look, as if written with a lipstick on a mirror, intended for use with the Sephora Collection series of products, hence the name. The two handwritings are siblings as if written by the same person, but under different circumstances and with different writing materials.

We asked many people to write a few words by hand until we settled for the handwriting of Sara Frisk, a young woman from Chicago. Countless samples from Sara were digitized by Schriftlabor designers Chiara Mattersdorfer and Franziska Hubmann, and custom software was written to produce outline variations from the skeleton strokes in the early iterations. At one point, however, Franziska expanded strokes to outlines, so she could take full control of the lettershapes and do the fine-tuning necessary for the handwritten details. In parallel, Chiara, Franziska and Rainer developed heavy-weight OpenType substitutions that kick in automatically while typing. Again, specialized software was written to control the substitutions for the approximately 1400 glyphs in each font.

We started seeing the Sephora typefaces in use on the website and in stores, also on leaflets and folders. While there is no Sephora in Vienna, we do go abroad once in a while, and whenever we see a Sephora store, we cannot resist taking a peek inside now.

Samples from the Sephora store

In total, a team of six people was involved in the creation of the typefaces. The project’s art director Matteo Bologna of Mucca Design drafted the type designs together with Schriftlabor’s Rainer Erich Scheichelbauer. Schriftlabor staff members Chiara Mattersdorfer, Franziska Hubmann, and Igor Labudovic executed most of the type design work, including the obligatory test suites. Some brush-up work for the updates was done by Schriftlabor’s type director Lisa Schultz.

Inspired by the Sephora typefaces, Elizabeth Carey Smith wrote a vignette about a young woman in New York starting into the day. What a fitting way to start the Schriftlabor blog, and announce the new and exclusive typeface superfamily. You did not expect Lorem Ipsum from us, did you?

Read Elizabeth Carey Smith’s vignette, ‘Face the World’

Read Mucca Design’s post about the release, also on Behance

Read Igor Labudovic’s account of his job on the Sephora project

The Sephora Type System won a CommArts Award of Excellence

Download the Specimen PDF