Serrano: a custom typeface for Bank of New Zealand

kris's picture

Kia ora folks,

The rebranding of BNZ by DNA Design has just gone live. They're using Serrano, a custom typeface that I whipped up for them. Kiwis will see the new rebrand roll out through the country over the next few months. Your thoughts are welcome, as always.


dezcom's picture

Serrano looks like a clean business face that should meet the demands of your client. The italic, although a bit of a departure from the roman, has a much more friendly feel to it. This difference can be used to advantage when a dry business is trying to make an appeal to a human customer.
When you say "whipped out" it sounds like you mean you knocked this out in a few weeks time :-) How long did it really take?

Good crip work as usual, Kris.--best of luck with your rollout!


victor ivanov's picture

Serrano is a stunner!
The characters have a friendly feel, some letter forms Resemble feijoa which may be unintentional, but is definitely a good thing! I wonder what they would look like when paired. Will this ever be available for retail? And do tell us how long this took you.
Great job as always!

kris's picture

Thanks for your kind words! I was briefed to design a typeface that was 'friendly, approachable, easy and helpful', so that's why it looks like it does. It will be available for retail in October 2013, they have a 5-year exclusive. I've just checked the first .vfb—it was created 24 July 2008, the final .vfb was sent for mastering on 30 August 2008. I don't know how many weeks that is, but you get the idea.


agostini's picture

WOW love it...saw the tv ad yesterday
and was wondering what it was...
Looks awesome bro! But I'm a big
fan of your work anyway!!


dezcom's picture

Snappy work in that timeframe! Well done!


Graham McArthur's picture

Great work Kris, well done.

victor ivanov's picture

had a look at it again, not sure why it reminded me of feijoa.
they look completely different.
i guess i don't function that well in the morning...

poms's picture

My personal wish would be an interpretation of an informal sans made by Kris earlier than 2013 … :)
BTW Great friendly face! Especially the beautiful contrast between the "normals" and the italics. And … rendered really good in the online ads.


Dav's picture

I really like it. (It reminds me of Albert Pinggera's 'Strada'. Especially the bold weight/s.) Love the italic.


Fredrik's picture

I think it meets the brief perfectly. Very nice!
I would be interested in hearing about the relation to the bank's wordmark - its letterforms seem related to Serrano in 'feel' -; which informed the other? Was there a dialogue with the branding agency during development, and what motivated their decision to commission a new typeface?

Kris, is 'z' your favourite letter? The italic 'z' is almost too cute ;)


omb's picture

Gorgeous design, it's definitely "business casual".
I am also interested in hearing about where the wordmark, and the general branding overhaul fit into all this.

Fantastic work on the typeface.

Poking around the site this PDF shows just how major of a transformation has gone on since their last branding effort.

I am very curious to see where the brand is heading visually with similar design challenges, as they have lost a great deal of the sternness and heritage evoked by the previous mark.

kris's picture

Thanks guys! I was waiting for the Strada comparison… I had a mini panic attack at one stage when I realised that Serrano was looking close to Strada, so I asked Erik Spiekermann for advice & he said it wasn't close enough to worry. The rounded terminals are actually suggestion from the AD after an early proof. At that stage there were no rounded bits—just normal square terminals. He suggested rounding on the uprights:

and curving the 't' tail to a point:

I responded with a new draft with the suggested upright treatments and additional rounded-to-a-point terminals on a,c,e,f,g,j,l,r,s,t—as it would look weird just having it on the 't'. The AD/client liked it & that was that!

As for the logotypes, they were drawn in-house & sent to me to polish. I'm not sure at what point they were started or what the references were, but they are a bit different from Serrano. I'm not entirely sure what motivated them to commission a custom face, perhaps they weren't entirely happy with anything currently available for retail?


NigellaL's picture

Well done Kris all I can say is Wow! I'm sure everyone here will agree with me that you truly are the best new type designer since Nick Shinn! Is that nice logo based on the font too? The z looks different and I like the one in the font much better.

Matthew Nicoll's picture

The fonts nice, no question. It definitely fits the brief you were given. Not sure about what they did with the logo though. DNA should have incorporated the old logo into it. I think I might change banks now to be honest..

haag's picture

I can't help to say that it does reminds me of my Foco...

norman murison's picture

Greetings All,
I came across this website while trawling the net for some help with a graphics problem. I am an engineer who knows as much about graphic design as my arse knows about snipe shooting. However I must create a stylised logo for an earthmoving bucket product range. The company name is Venco (how inspiring is that?) I had hoped to do something around the letter V. That’s where the inspiration dried up! Can any of you brainy guys kick me in the right direction. PS I am based in Africa and graphics agencies are not quite ten a penny. Thanks in advance.

dezcom's picture

It would be best to start your own thread on this matter.


William Berkson's picture

Nice, though less innovative than your other stuff. Also the rounded-with-a-point terminals aren't working for me.

RahimSnow's picture

It looks amazing, Kris. Just saw it in action on their website. It makes me feel like they are a friendlier bank. You really have a talent for getting a feel for your clients are looking for. And given that you've created typefaces that lean slightly more toward the warm & friendly side (Feijoa, National, Hardys), it is remarkable that you can create Serrano and still not make it look like these others.

Congratulations! and much success to you!


kris's picture

Thanks for all your kinds words thus far, especially you Nigella! It has been quite a while since you've posted on these forums.

Fabio: I can honestly say that up until now I was quite unaware of your Foco. Is there a page where I can read about it?

Bill: Less innovative? I'm not sure that I needed to be so 'radical' designing a typeface for a bank. I didn't expect the terminals would work for you ;-) Perhaps you could suggest an alternative?


hrant's picture

I'm ambivalent about the italic* but overall, another winner!
Great job and congrats. Nice to see a bank do something right... :-)

* Maybe there's room for another, sister design?


billtroop's picture

I like the design and also -- as important, or more so -- the quality of the implementation. As near as I can judge. Very pleasant - - that's a tough quality to put across.

William Berkson's picture

Kris, I think you fulfilled the brief admirably. And you're right, the point was not originality. Still, to me the terminals seem to me a little tacked on, not as organic as with your other faces. Also I find the tops of the BDR a bit awkward. As to alternatives, I think the way Myriad takes Frutiger and tapers the terminals is very systematically worked out, and is quite effective, even though I think Frutiger is a more beautiful face. A more soft, swashy treatment of terminals that works is in Goudy sans, but it's too busy and informal for a bank.

AGL's picture

One of the last ones to see this. Very clean and well done.

dezcom's picture

I quite like the terminals. I don't think it is a requirement to follow existing methods used in long-accepted faces--particularly when the point of a custom face is to create brand separation. This is a contemporary sans that takes on the task of setting a brand-specific tone. I think the terminals go to that aim quite well along with the rest of the structure.


William Berkson's picture

Chris, I don't think there is any "requirement to follow existing methods used in long-accepted faces" either. I just am not that taken with the way the terminals work here--but it looks like I'm the only one!

Quincunx's picture

It looks excellent. I like the contrast between the straight and the rounded (corporate yet friendly).

At first glance it also reminded me of Strada, or maybe a pinch of Evert Bloemsma in there as well. But as you (and Erik) already said, it's not too close at all.

And very fast too, 5 weeks and 3 days, or something like that...

Therese Brockie's picture

It looks a lot like foco.

hrant's picture



clifton's picture

It's fantastic.

justinthomaskay's picture

as always i am a huge fan kris. fantastic!

Jos Buivenga's picture

... or maybe a pinch of Evert Bloemsma in there as well ...

Exactly what I thought when I saw Serrano. Nice one, Kris!

Miss Tiffany's picture

Really great combining of styles. The petal-like terminals are really nice. A fun semi-rounded take on a sans at display sizes and a straight-forward sans at text sizes.

Sarah Mint's picture

Wow Kris, I'm impressed. Serrano is so friendly I want to take it home for a cuppa. Shame I won't be able to do that until 2013.

boardman's picture

Congratulations, Kris. It's lovely. I especially love the bold italic.

paul d hunt's picture

I've been suppressing this comment for a few days because I don't want it to come off as a slight in any way and it will use a VERY BAD word in reference to your work. You once asked me what it was that I thought characterized your style and after seeing Serrano, it finally gelled in my mind. To me, your work is a combination of Classic (so far so good) and Cute. There, I said it. Of course this design is meant to be friendly, but I think that's part of your aesthetic in general. I think all of your work (that I've seen) follows this Classic+Cute formula, with the exception of NZ Rugby Chisel. I mean all of this in the best possible way. I for one am a fan of your work and as you can see by this post, I'm not alone, so the formula's working. Mostly I just wanted to come back to the conversation we had months ago and fill in the blank. Keep up the good work! Oh and hello from Catherine Griffiths, she dropped by the DaMa offices the other day and we got to meet her and she raved about you. :D

billtroop's picture

Paul, this is reminiscent of David Berlow's comment in Robert Norton's TBR/TBF in the middle of an ITC selection committee meeting that he doesn't like Stone Sans italic and similar. (Something to do with masculine/feminine terminations which I never figured out.)

I like your formulation of Classic+Cute -- which is acute (which is the original meaning of cute). The problem with a corporate typeface is that it must be noticed and must be liked, but must never waver in its credibility. This is very tough to do. A great corporate typeface must also have Zeitgeist awareness. The feeling that this design belongs here, now, I like it now and I will like it for ten years, if not forever. Very few type designers have the ability to connect with and exploit the visual language of their moment - - it is such a very subtle thing. It's very easy to lose, and for the few who succeed, the achievement seldom carries over beyond a generation.

Cute is an interesting word in that it has simultaneous good and bad connotations, unlike for example 'naff' which can mean one of two opposite things (not invariably discoverable by context) but not both together. One could think of cute as having a possible axis with ego as one extreme and humour as another.

In a recent thread criticizing the Vista C-fonts, I used cute primarily negatively. There, the design goal was to prepare several typefaces suitable for everyday, every-hour use, to be used by hundreds of millions of users. All-day, all-weather use. Crystal goblet design. In this I think they failed, except for the user base which happily cohabits with the most famous C-font of all, Comic Sans. However, any of the C-fonts would be considered superb candidates for a corporate identity or advertising project.

By contrast we're using cute here in its happiest senses. This is a happy typeface. That is one of the very hardest things to do. I don't care how it happens, as long as it happens.

Speaking of the how, two people have noted a resemblance between Serrano and Foco (including its primary designer, Fabio Maag). Based on the web samples available, I just don't see it at all, and I am something of an expert on what constitutes type cloning. If someone is going to make this case, I think they should make it in good, high, resolution. Don't say something looks like something unless you're willing to prove it. (I could just as well say that Foco looks like a sans version of the Vafflard font I have been working on for the past 15 years. It does! Shame! The f and t without the left bar are mine! Forever!) However, in this particular case, having spent some careful time with the web samples, and even allowing for the low res, I must say they look like completely different designs to me. The suggestion of influence should not have been made.

William Berkson's picture

I guess I agree with Paul about the 'cute' part about this design, but not about Kris's designs in general, where I would say 'beautiful'.

In looking again at it, I'm thinking that what bothers me is not so much the terminals themselves, as their combination with the slight reversed contrast, the Bloemsma influence. A more assertive design that Kris did--I think it was called Karbon--made the Bloemsma influence work well. But here the softness of the terminals for me don't go well with the heavy looking strokes. For example, in the 'a', the top stroke is quite heavy--like Gill sans. But then comes the soft, tapered stroke which to me contradicts it. By contrast, if you look at the soft terminal at the bottom of the 'g', which has a thinner stroke, the effect is lovely.

Also, I wonder whether it would look better with a rounded inner corner rather than outer corner in the stems of the m n r. And why have horizontal cuts terminating the 'w' when all the other verticals end in soft terminals? I just keep getting the feeling that a more formal design had a bow stuck on it. Very well drawn, but disconcerting to me.

I am here looking at the bold, as this stuff is not noticeable in the lighter weight in the link to Kris's site.

haag's picture

Billtrop, I didn't mean to say that Serrano could be a clone of Foco in any way. Sorry if it perhaps sounded like that. It just reminded me, mainly because of the terminals and how they are executed on c s e... here's a quick comparison of both. I'm also currently designing italics for it, so I'm really into it.

>(I could just as well say that Foco looks like a sans version
>of the Vafflard font I have been working on for the past 15
>years. It does! Shame! The f and t without the left bar are
>mine! Forever!)

Gee, can I see that? (I couldn't find on the web).

I started Foco from sketch in a workshop Bruno Maag did about 8 years ago. A few years after the workshop I finished my version of it and DaMa got interest. So they fine tune it to their high standard and it was released in 2006.

Kris, nice work! ; )

hrant's picture

I just saw the link to Foco (sorry). And thanks for the nice comparison, Fabio. I have to think that the similarity ends with those characteristic terminals. In essence the two are nothing alike.

Concerning Dan's candid and incisive insight: I do see it, but Kris is just starting. If he gets stuck on one style, that's a problem. But I see him moving on, with confidence, as needed. That said, some people never move on from a style they're comfortable with and still contribute a great deal to the craft. As an example, some people (including Bill, IIRC) see persistent cuteness in the work of Unger, but we know how that turned out!


billtroop's picture

Fabio, thanks for the illustration. I now see some more of the similarities, and also more of the differences. I can better see why William is bothered by the terminals, but honestly, whereas I wouldn't want to use the font myself, I would love for my bank to use it -- and that's the whole purpose here. Fabio's design has a completely different flavour and feeling. Fabio, I wasn't serious about that Vafflard remark. Vafflard was the first (about 1783) to take the left bars off f and t, and I was the first to start reviving Vafflard's designs quite some years ago without however ever having released any of the work. (Interestingly, one of my quarrels with Adobe, when they took this work on, was that they decided halfway through that they wanted left bars put on. Matthew Carter and Sumner Stone, whom I consulted about this lunacy, professed themselves quite unable to understand it. That it was an issue at all illustrates my commitment to the barless f and t in this design. I gave in to them in the end -- what choice did I have? -- but that wasn't enough to save the project, which remains unreleased though occasionally used. A typophile thread where the font is illustrated is You can see why Robert didn't want it released before Garamond Premier and some of his other later fonts, which incorporate many curiously similar ideas.)

Hrant, will you remind me what I said about Unger and cuteness and how it turned out? I don't remember any of this.

billtroop's picture

To get back on topic, I think Fabio's terminal treatment is more likely to work best at smaller sizes and I love anyone willing to take on the challenges of the left-bar-less f and t. (I am remembering Slimbach and Twombley's incomparable performance in this respect. 'Week 1. We think you should have a little blob, the teeniest thing, just two or three units, to the left of f and t. Week 2. Do you think you could shape the blobs a bit more? Just a couple of extra points? Week 3. We don't think two or three units is enough. Could you try five or six? Week 4. The blob shape isn't working for us, do you think you could make it more like a bar? Week 5. We know we asked you only for a tiny bar, just ten units, but do you think you could extend it just a tad to thirteen or fourteen? Week 6. Let's have the bar come out fully. We think that will give the characters better balance. Don't worry, Bill, it's just a blob. Nobody will notice it.' Oh, did I say I say I was going to stay on-topic?)

I enjoyed also Kris's article about Balance. I am more convinced by Bloemsma's curve theories than by his stress theories and I am glad Kris didn't overdo the stress.

I realize that Kris's approach to the terminals isn't entirely consistent, but it really works for me in sizes large enough to be visible. I think I know why: What is so acute about this treatment is that it states, through the simplest graphic elements, a strong message: innovation and modernity (C), plus tradition and stability (u). This is an utterly brilliant use of graphical elements to send a signal that will be recognized by everyone who has ever seen a conventional typeface in use. I really admire the intelligence and instinct at work here. William, surely, in these terms, you can see why he has done exactly what he did. I cannot think of another typeface where this has been done so successfully. It succeeds on so many different levels: visual, psychological, aesthetic. An exceptionally sophisticated command of contemporary marketing and advertising language is seen here at its clearest, its most elemental. I don't think I'm overstating the case when I say that we all can learn a lot from this typeface.

William Berkson's picture

>I am more convinced by Bloemsma’s curve theories than by his stress theories

I am not convinced by either. By 'curve theories' I take it you mean his quote from a teacher, "a straight line is a dead line." I think this is sometimes true, enough to make it a good quote. But it is also sometimes false. Straight verticals, for example, convey strength in some designs. The straights are also often combined with curves, and the tension is very lively, and not dead.

As opposed to the 'sometimes true' view about straight lines, I just don't like the reversed contrast thing with roman. The "heavy vertical, lighter horizontal" rule is so deep in the DNA of the Imperial caps and Carolingian minuscule that I just don't think the reversal works. Hebrew is the other way around, and there the heavy horzontal, light vertical rule works fine--but the shapes are fundamentally different. Also the Roman Rustica caps are reversed contrast, but again have a different skeleton. When you take classic upper and lower case 'bones' and try to put reversed-contrast clothing on them, it always looks ill-fitting to my eyes.

hrant's picture

Bill, concerning the Unger comments:
1) It might not have been you.
2) It might have been a private comment (in which case I apologize).
3) Hwoever/wherever it was, the opinion was that Unger's work is often cutesy.
4) In terms of "how it turned out", I just mean that Unger has been a superb contributor (as I think you agree) irrespective of any persistent theme (cuteness or otherwise) throughout his work.

> I am more convinced by Bloemsma’s curve theories than by his stress theories

Well, his stress theories evolved rapidly and markedly even starting from Avance, and certainly by Legato. In the end (which came so soon) Bloemsma didn't see reverse contrast as anything central (if he ever did). He was slowly coming around to the practical benefits of (so-called) stroke contrast, serifs, etc., although absolutely not in terms of chirography, quite the contrary.

> Straight verticals, for example, convey strength in some designs.

I agree. And honesty too.

> The “heavy vertical, lighter horizontal” rule is so deep
> in the DNA of the Imperial caps and Carolingian minuscule

This makes no sense to me. There is nothing comparable to DNA here. And really, even DNA mutates! :-)

> the shapes are fundamentally different
> .... a different skeleton

This skeleton business has to go. Leave them in the closet, then burn the closet. We don't read skeletons; it's just an intellectually lethargic way to make fonts. And any differences are not "fundamental", but malleable; which is not to say we should change things in cavalier or chauvinistic fashion. But if something needs change, we should try.


Nick Shinn's picture

I did a project for a corporate client a few years ago which bears some similarity. This kind of work is more styling than design. Nothing wrong with that, it's the kind of font development the situation calls for. Smoothing some of the corners is a quite literal (though somewhat simplistic) interpretation of the brief for something "friendly", that can be pointed to, easily understood, and signed off on by various levels of client. Art directors contribute by deciding where, and in which direction, the go-faster streamlining goes.

There is rarely enough time to do a thorough job from scratch, so it's expedient to whip up a font solution by taking something basic off the shelf and applying a little tinkering. Indiscriminately rounding some of the corners is one technique that does the job, as is chopping some of the perpendicular terminals off at angles. Voilà--a new custom typeface!


The positioning is no longer valid, following the economic crisis.
What people want is a bank that's secure, not friendly.
Surviving corporations will need to rebrand.

hrant's picture

> Indiscriminately

Well, you can do it discriminately too.

> The positioning is no longer valid



William Berkson's picture

>The positioning is no longer valid

Wow, very interesting. I will now be looking out to see whether the relatively new cartoonish logos and informal, somewhat cutesy faces (eg ATT), which seem to be everywhere, start to be replaced.

Should we be also expecting a lot of Corinthian Columns? :)

Nick Shinn's picture

Well, you can do it discriminately too.

True. What I was trying to get at was the apparent lack of rationale for where the round corners go. Sure, one can discriminatingly place them here and there so that the overall effect in text is comfortable, but is that all there is?

dezcom's picture

"Should we be also expecting a lot of Corinthian Columns? :)"

Perhaps a few up-scale Spa/massage facades though for AIG :-)


kris's picture

Wow, thanks for all the interesting feedback! I'm not too sure how to respond to the classic/cute description, people will see what they will. I always thought it was more 'humanist', in the looser sense of the word.

In looking again at it, I’m thinking that what bothers me is not so much the terminals themselves, as their combination with the slight reversed contrast, the Bloemsma influence.

I'm not seeing the reversed contrast, there isn't any in there. Serrano has a fairly standard contrast. Where are you seeing it?

Smoothing some of the corners is a quite literal (though somewhat simplistic) interpretation of the brief for something “friendly”, that can be pointed to, easily understood, and signed off on by various levels of client.

You could say it was literal & simplistic, or you could say it was quite appropriate to the brief. There were three other typefaces that they were using for a reference & a starting point. All of them had rounded corners and only one was well-made enough to actually use. I was unwilling to do the 'rounded corner' thing, as it would date too quickly (web 2.0 etc).

There is rarely enough time to do a thorough job from scratch, so it’s expedient to whip up a font solution by taking something basic off the shelf and applying a little tinkering.

Are you insinuating that this isn't a thorough, from-scratch job?

True. What I was trying to get at was the apparent lack of rationale for where the round corners go. Sure, one can discriminatingly place them here and there so that the overall effect in text is comfortable, but is that all there is?

Let me be very clear. The rounded bits are not just slapped on here & there to make it 'friendly'. The 'humanist' structure (like Thesis Sans) the open, generous counters (like Frutiger) and the overall narrow set are purposefully designed to convey the desired qualities. I have rounded ascenders, but not on the horizontals or the capital uprights—as these start to look too weird & cutesy (haha) for a bank. All of the curve-to-a-point terminals are applied to curved terminals only, like a,c,e,s,f,t, etc.


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