Corporate S: Utility, Elegance, and Anonymity
Corporate S is the most underappreciated masterwork all of typography. Most people have seen it and its sibling faces Corporate A and Corporate E. But few designers would name it on their short list of truly great sans serif typefaces.
The Corporate series was one of the first and best comprehensive type systems to brand a company, way ahead of its time. –Erik Spiekermann
The typeface collection Corporate ASE was designed by Kurt Weidemann from 1985 to 1990. Weidemann was hired by Daimler Benz to create a typographic suite that has become an integral component of the Mercedes Benz brand identity. It is another way that the company imparts a message of timeless quality and expert craftsmanship.
Note- they currently do not use Corporate S as their web navigation font.
Typefaces become popular mostly from ubiquity. That claim is not as redundant as it might first appear; recognition of typefaces leads to more uses of those typefaces. Typefaces like Helvetica, Times Roman, Arial, and Comic Sans are widely known to the non-designer masses– thanks to their inclusion on personal computers. Some typefaces gain popularity by way of trends, widespread use by other designers (e.g. Gotham), or because of landmark brand associations (e.g. Klavika for Facebook).
Corporate S has not achieved the recognition it deserves. Its anonymity seems as if it is part of its design. It’s understated. It’s simple and timeless. Even its name is self-effacing. If there is a more generically named typeface family than Corporate ASE, I’m not familiar with it. It is seldom an appropriate choice for headlines or logos. It speaks elegantly and without affectation– except, perhaps, for a barely perceptible, precise, German cadence. Corporate S does not shout; it doesn’t succeed by calling attention to itself. That’s not to say it’s neutral; Corporate S imbues text with confident authority.
Anyone who has spent any time with this blog will know that I’m fairly obsessed with typography. My fellow typophiles, or typomaniacs (to use Erik Spiekermann’s self-diagnosis), are enthralled by quality collections of letters– the building blocks of communication. When you’ve spent a great deal of time using and evaluating type, your sensibilities become more refined. Corporate S possesses a sublime excellence that I admire in typeface design. Every curve, every kerning pair, every glyph is a work of art. One of the letters that best helps identify a typeface is the lower case g. The g in Corporate S is simply beautiful.
Like Mercedes cars, excellence like Corporate ASE does not come cheap. The entire suite costs thousands of dollars or euros. Other than its price, my only quibble with Corporate S are the oblique versions that substitute for true italics.
Corporate ASE might be deemed a humble typeface collection. Kurt Weidemann might have seemed to lack humility himself when he stated, “My ASE trilogy, quite like triplets, is in perfect harmony and covers all needs of modern typography.” But in Weidemann’s defense, I believe he was merely stating what he knew was a fact.