Typography is a fun hobby. Like birding, you can practice it almost anywhere. Oh, sure, there are probably more birds than books in the mountains, but there’s probably some writing in your pocket.
I stopped at a diner for breakfast this morning and took an interest in the variety of sugar packets in the sugar bowl, and rather than read my book, I thought about how the different packets used fonts to send messages about itself. Let’s start with the granddaddy.
Sugar. That good ol’ sweet product has been around forever, and it’s going remain here long after the others disappear. The serif font suggests an austerity and authority against which all sweeteners must compare. The lettering is rotated slightly to look as if it were the same stamp applied to the crates and sacks used to ship the sugar right to your table. The thick, Cooper Black-like font also drives the sense of being an old-fashioned product, certainly compared to the skinny alternatives to come.
Compare that to the three artificial sweeteners that contrast themselves by color. Sweet ‘n Low led the pack with its red packet. Nutrasweet distinguished itself with a blue packet, and Splenda in yellow. (I recall a fourth artificial sweetener that’s got a green packet, which I believe is a stevia-based sweetener. Green, indeed.)
But the notable thing about the artificial sweeteners is the type. They’re all sans-serif, (that is, modern) with sweeping curves, all slenderer than Sugar. The Sweet ‘n’ Low logo has a treble clef. I think the the sheet-music theme was more popular during its introduction in 1957. Its logo is as anachronistic as the sacccharin inside.
The flowing type also suggests a carefree attitude – something that will help you float like a leaf on the wind. But when you get down to it, what the two types of packets suggest is this: sugar is masculine, artificial sweeteners are feminine.
There’s a fifth packet in the bowl which I assume is Sugar in the Raw. I haven’t looked at it yet, and intentionally everything above without looking at the last packet in order to guess what it might be. I seem to recall Sugar in the Raw being printed in an outline serif, looking even more like something you would see on a burlap sack. Let’s see.
Oh, look! It’s not Sugar in the Raw. “Natural Brand Sugar”. What an interesting mix of fluidity and formality. Sugar remains a solid (serifed) sweetener, but as a “natural” product, it can be green (I am fighting the urge to put “green” in quotes.) Though like sugar, it’s a serif font, it’s letters are tall and thin, just like the people who use “natural” products.