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It’s Hard to See What’s Right in Front of You

Apple Wireless Keyboard
It’s hard to see what’s right in front of you—literally.

I encountered this feeling a while back when doing research on Apple’s new font for the Apple Watch—appropriately named San Francisco. In reading a little more about the implementation of the font, I was surprised to uncover the little known fact that Apple keyboards have been using a font much loved by designers for nearly two decades. That font is VAG Rounded.

To most people, this is probably the first time you have heard of VAG Rounded, or have ever thought about the fact that your keyboard is actually using a known font on the keys. As designers, we are accustomed to identifying which fonts are being applied to the world around us. In the case of the Apple Keyboard, it was something I had never thought about. The font on the one tool that I have touched and interacted with for the past 15 years—I never noticed what was staring me right in the face.

“Sometimes what you want is right in front of you. All you have to do is open your eyes and see it.”
—Meg Cabot

I say this because I feel that this seems to happen quite frequently in our lives. The things that are obvious and right in our backyard tend to get overlooked and taken for granted.

VAG Rounded may be the perfect font for a keyboard as it seems to have just blended into the very design of the keyboard and remains, in essence, invisible. The fact that it goes unnoticed is quite remarkable. With the gradual change of all Apple keyboards to the new San Francisco typeface, it is now noticed and noticable.

The Friendliness of Rounded

In recent years there has been more of a demand for rounded typefaces such as VAG. To put it simply, a rounded typeface means that there are no sharp corners, making a font feel warmer, more accessible and sympathetic. As a matter of fact, the title of this post is set in Gotham Rounded.

vw vanagon ad

VAG Rounded was originally created for and used by Volkswagen for all of its branding until 1992 when it decided to discontinue its use. In fact, a rounded typeface did not exist prior to the release of VAG Rounded. It took a visionary company collaborating with visionary designers to chart the course.

Now back to my original reason for writing this post. Clearly, we need to open up our eyes. If I couldn’t recognize the typeface in front of me as a designer, am I doing this with other things in my life?

Thinking Locally and Friendly

So how can we all be better participants in the places that we live? Instead of merely pointing out the problems in our neighbourhoods and towns and cities, maybe we can be more involved in helping to identify and solve those problems. When combined with supporting our local institutions and businesses, re-noticing the world and examining its construction can go a long way towards cultivating empathy for the places we live. For me, this is an investment that leads to the sustainability of the places we live in.

You might be surprised what you can uncover a few blocks from your home. As I walk to work almost everyday, I frequently see how the neighbourhood is changing around me. Businesses close, new businesses open and new homes are being built continuously. It is easy to see something new everyday if you just open your eyes to it. This can also be extended to the entire city or town that you live in—there is so much out in the open that can be explored and uncovered. Like everything in life, if you can keep an open mind, you will discover things you never thought were there and quite possibly those things are right in front of you. Like VAG Rounded, the great things often hide just beyond what is immediately visible.

So take a walk to re-explore your environment.  While you’re at it, say hello to someone along the way.  After all, typefaces are not the only thing that can be friendly.

“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche