Back Story: Most dual-purpose items are improbable propositions, unlikely to satisfy users on either count (except as satire—anyone remember this genius bit from Saturday Night Live?). Which brings us to the question: can a single typeface somehow be a serif and a sans serif at once? Fontsmith founder Jason Smith decided to find out, challenging designer Fernando Mello to create a fresh, unexpected font that would be slightly imperfect and unrefined, even a little eccentric. In preparation for the first sketches for FS Split Sans, Mello compiled moodboards of current visual trends containing everything from architecture and furniture to cars.
“We didn’t want both the sans and serif to be overly consistent with each other, like most type families that contain sans and serif variants,” Mello says. “So we adapted the proportions and characteristics of the sans (which was designed first) to a higher weight contrast for the serif. The two variants are in tune in terms of proportions, but have enough self-appeal to work on their own. If you look closely, both versions challenge the usual conventional shapes and structures of sans or serif typefaces in their own way.”
Why’s it called FS Split? “Split is two typefaces that are simultaneously complementary and contrasting,” says Michael C. Place, creative director and founder of Studio.Build, the London-based design studio that created the branding and promotional materials for the typeface launch. “We wanted a name that represented the love/hate relationship deeply rooted in this relationship, along with the idea of a split personality as well.” For inspiration, his team explored themes of duality in their research, looking to films for conflicting but emotionally-tied character pairs such as Fight Club’s Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and the unnamed narrator played by Ed Norton, and Jack and Wendy in The Shining (Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall).
What are its distinguishing characteristics? The sans has a geometric, circular look, and for its serif counterpart, the designers went in another direction by adopting the structure of transitional fonts as a starting point. The rationale was almost like imagining two siblings, related in size but with their own distinct visual characteristics. FS Split Serif has exaggerated circular counters and soft tear-shaped terminals, with more variation between thick and thin strokes than the sans. Both versions share eclectic proportions: wide round characters and straight narrow ones, long descenders and ascenders, a cap-height aligned with the ascenders; large dramatic dots over the ‘i’ and ‘j’; oversized top counters on ‘B’ and ‘3’; and some quirky letter shapes, like ‘W’ and ‘t’. The italics lean into the wind at an exaggerated 18-degree forward-slant.
What should I use it for? FS Split is flexible enough to use in communication projects where a bit of a twist is wanted, for everything from magazines and packaging to websites and branding. The serif version suits headlines, pull quotes, logos, and text while the sans works well at a range of sizes for body copy, diagrams, captions and callouts.
What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? Of course, the two halves of FS Split play nicely with each other.