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Square Cash & Square Market

Any antidote to PayPal calls for clarity, simplicity, confidence — and a typeface to match.

Contributed by Stephen Coles on Oct 17th, 2013. Artwork published in .

In an effort to unseat PayPal’s dominance in the business of person-to-person money transfer, Square just launched Cash, a service that lets you pay a pal by email. The website is as simple as the service: one page with a few full-screen messages, all set in a custom version of ARS Maquette (a typeface you can read more about in our report on Cloudberry).

The Square folks did the typeface modification right: they asked the type designer himself to do it. For the new design, dubbed SQ Market, Angus Shamal made several adjustments to his ARS Maquette, most visible of which is the tailless ‘a’. The design is also more compact overall — strokes on the ‘f’, ‘j’, ‘r’, and ‘y’ retreat into the body to allow for tighter fitting. The new design also has a new set of figures that replace ARS Maquette’s fresh and slightly unusual forms with tamer numerals that are more in step with rest of the alphabet. There is, however, one relatively showy number among the bunch: the flat-topped ‘3’.

The custom typeface is used for dollar amounts throughout the Square Cash process, from email to web. It’s a cohesive experience that instills confidence in the service. They should go one step bolder on the cents to optically match the weight of the big figures.

Thin is in. (Extra tight spacing is in, too.) A new lighter-than-Light weight of ARS Maquette, along with other modifications, was developed for Square Cash and will be soon be used across all Square, Inc.’s products and marketing. The proprietary typeface is called SQ Market.

Shamal also added a new weight to the light end of the spectrum. SQ Market Thin is used for the largest type on the site, with very narrow letterspacing. As brands like Apple revive the light and tight trend (on their site and iOS), the days of crowded type are back again.

SQ Market is based primarily on the Titling variants of ARS Maquette’s glyph set, in which ascenders and caps share the same height, and other strokes were extended or contracted share common alignments. This gives display type an evenness that is graphically appealing at large sizes, but I’m not sure it’s as successful in text where the large x-height combined with short ascenders turns word shapes into near rectangles.

ARS Maquette offers a Titling set of glyphs in which caps and ascenders align for headlines with an even fit along the tops of words. The spacing is also much tighter. This normalization creates a graphic harmony that can work well when large.

A customized ITC Avant Garde Gothic is used for Square’s corporate site.

Still, the look is clean and generally readable. It also sets a gentler, more contemporary tone than the stark geometry of Square’s other identity typeface, a custom version of ITC Avant Garde Gothic.

We’ll probably see that oldie gradually fade away from Square’s properties as the SQ Market typeface takes its place. I think that’s a wise move for the brand.

The new typeface gets its name from Square Market, an online retail initiative that launched earlier this summer, seeking to connect small, local businesses with an international audience. Square Market is a much deeper site than Square Cash, but despite the additional complexity the design has the same stripped-down feel.

The unadorned, no-nonsense type serves as a generic, grounding element, distinguishing the global navigation, descriptions, and pricing content from the branding of each vendor (much of which is quite unpolished, as one would expect from a mom-and-pop shop).

Square Market strikes a balance between customization and overarching functionality, letting vendors display their own logo and cover image, but delivering all content via the core brand’s custom typeface.

Square’s new typeface isn’t the most thrilling, forward-thinking design, but it suits the brand’s needs very well. It provides clarity, simplicity, and a touch of humanism to an industry that sorely needs it. And it does this without sacrificing an air of confidence and authority, essential attributes of any company that handles cash — whether its cold/hard or electronic.

For other financial institutions with clear, friendly, cohesive typographic identities, see Simple and Ally.


  • ARS Maquette



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