The Use of Uppercase Sans Serif Typography in Modern Web Design
Sans serif fonts haven’t been around forever. In fact, the earliest known example of their usage dates back to 1779, when the British architect Sir John Soane applied serifless letters on a plan drawing for the British Senate House. As a neoclassical architect, he sought to return to antique precepts and strived to achieve the simplicity typical of classical antiquity in his work. That reflected on the lettering as well. The letters he created for this design were constructional, geometrical, and have heavily influenced the development of sans-serifs in the years to come.
Uppercase sans serif letters were first used almost exclusively in headlines and titles, especially in advertising. In the early 19th century, they were referred to as “Old Roman” and, more often, “Egyptian”. At the time, Europe expressed renewed interest in all things Egyptian as a result of Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, and the sans-serifs reminded them of the letters typical of ancient Egyptian architecture. “Egyptian” is also the name of the first-ever commercial sans serif font developed by William Caslon IV around 1816, while the first use of the term “sans serif” is credited to Vincent Figgins in 1832.
As the use of various types of sans-serifs began to spread all over Europe and North America, at first people were surprised by their appearance. The lack of serifs confused them and they described the letters as “grotesque”. These new typefaces, however, were not unique in their features. They were, in fact, based on serif letters, but simply lacked the serifs. As people began to use them and new artistic philosophies developed, creatives experimented with the appearance of the letters.
The Russian Constructivists, in particular, developed stronger and even more geometric and raw letter forms, while the Bauhaus, as a reaction to Art Nouveau, further popularized the use of typefaces without any embellishments. That led to the creation of some of the most influential serifless fonts such as “Futura” (1928). Several decades later, when the International Typographic Style was popularized by the Swiss (1960s), the legendary “Helvetica” and “Univers” fonts were introduced to the world.
Fast forward to the present day, the originality of sans-serifs is reaching new heights. Designers are applying them not just to headlines but also to body text. Many popular brands (most notably Google) have changed their logos from serifs to sans-serifs, with some of them opting for the capitals-only serifless typography (e.g. Saint Laurent). Serifless typefaces are sharp and clean and well-readable, allowing designers great freedom and a lot of room for experimentation in terms of typography. And the practice of using them in all-caps has become increasingly popular over the last few years. Uppercase sans serif typography looks classic, modern, fluid, and can accommodate any kind of brand personality and aesthetic.
In this roundup, we’re going to introduce you to websites that demonstrate the creative range of uppercase sans serif typography. You will see just how much this prominent pairing can not only complement but also amplify the aesthetic brands wish to achieve. The sites that demonstrate the power, versatility, and flexibility of all-caps sans serif letters include:
Blumenkopf is a typography-rich website designed by the Austrian Spatzek Studio. This example illustrates the amalgamation of the uppercase sans serif Suisse Int’l and the SangBleu OG Serif fonts. The serif font helps accentuate the beauty of the neo-grotesque sans serif type and makes the content interesting to read. Suisse Int’l is widely used throughout the entire site, starting from the preloader in the form of the simple “Welcome!” written in huge letters. You can also spot it on every page, in menu links, as well as in the background, where the phrases “Austrian aesthetic studio”, “Blumenkopf is not a studio”, and “You are at home baby” are on a constant loop. Even though they’re only visible in a narrow section behind the main content, you can’t miss them. The designer used various font weights and combined bold sans serif letters with regular serifs which allowed him to highlight particular words. He didn’t go crazy with animation effects, save for the animated text in the background and around images. The subtle touch of movement of the letters enlivens this site, significantly contributing to its alternative appeal.
Mouthwash is a collaborative and experimental project devised by the Mouthwash studio, Ben Mingo, an interactive and graphic designer, and Jason Bradley, a freelance creative developer. It covers stories from various creative fields and narrates them using simple yet interesting typography and compelling visuals. The all-caps Suisse Int’l font enhances the site’s offbeat character and adds to its authenticity. Typography is particularly striking on the homepage, with the enormous, all-caps name of the project displayed at the top of the page. Because of their size, the uppercase titles of several featured articles aren’t even displayed in their entirety. However, that only adds to the site’s alternative appeal, luring you in to discover what the stories are about. The “Journal” page is particularly interesting because it contains the list of published articles, with their titles in all-caps. At first, titles and article categories are all you can see. But as you move the cursor over titles, colorful preview photos start to pop up on the screen, clashing with the font’s simplicity and enlivening the page.
The website of Hong Kong’s publishing company viction:ary is a joy to explore. It starts off with a simple question “What books are you looking for?” displayed in enormous, white, uppercase letters against a dark blue and neon green background. The contrasting colors make the question stand out even more, capturing your undivided attention and creating hype for what’s to come. The question is followed by available book categories, again in all white uppercase letters. The categories are placed within outlined geometric shapes. When you hover over them, a twist happens – the shapes turn to solid white while the letters become outlined and transparent. This seemingly small change is an example of how subtle, carefully chosen animations can further amplify the raw aesthetic large sans serif typography helps create. This raw feel is also evident in the fact that the designers used only one font on the entire site – NB International. They opted for the uppercase version to present book categories, and they also used it in call-to-action buttons, which makes sense as those two elements are where they want the visitors’ attention the most. This is combined with pieces of text written in the NB International lowercase version, adding visual variety to the site.
Khoa Lê is a filmmaker, stage director, and video designer. His website provides an alluring overview of his creative work by combining stunning imagery and videos with beautiful typographic choices and cool hover effects. The first thing you notice on the homepage is Khoa’s name written in gigantic uppercase Neue Montreal font. As you start to scroll away, the letters abandon the perfect formation, with every other letter moving in the opposite direction of the one placed next to it, creating an interesting visual experience for the viewer. Project categories, project names, and call-to-action buttons are written in all-caps, standing out from the rest of the content and enticing you to engage with the site more. The grotesque font is clean and simple, and as such it’s a far cry from the more complex visuals and hover animations included on the site. However, all the elements combined create a harmonious and easy-to-digest digital project.
Bad Boys Supply is the official online store for the Bad Boys movie, devised to celebrate its 25th anniversary. You can experience the site in three visually different ways by choosing a background color that best fits your taste – white, black, or neon green. All the while your cursor is shaped like a firearm target, complementing the theme of the movie. The most prominent element on the homepage is the gigantic movie logo, created using the uppercase sans serif ITC Machine Bold font. It is followed by huge, black-and-white visuals and large, all-caps texts written with the simple Neue Montreal font, contrasting the grandeur and the thickness of the logo. To make the store a bit more fun to explore, the designers displayed some quotes from the movie using the pixelated sans serif NeueBit font in all-caps and placed them in an attention-grabbing looping news ticker. This medley of cool features has taken a regular store to a whole new level and made it fun to explore, even if you don’t intend to buy any products.
Yannis Yannakopoulos’s website is an alluring dark realm of creativity and simplicity, offering an insight into the artist’s portfolio. He opted for the Berlin Grotesk font and used the white uppercase letters for most texts on the site. The dominant ragged-right alignment ensures there’s typographic hierarchy on pages and that texts are easy to read, even if they’re a bit longer and in all-caps. The clarity of letters beautifully clashes with the vibrancy of the colorful rippled background effect that on hover further distorts following the movement of the cursor. By combining simple elements with visually more complex ones, Yannis achieved the perfect equilibrium on his engrossing and memorable portfolio showcase.
Anagram’s website provides a fun browsing experience for users. It is filled with big, wide images and very large typography that, combined, fully immerse the audience into the studio’s story. The font of choice is Mabry, a type that looks classic and modern at the same time, perfectly complementing the minimalistic vibe of the whole site. There are no flashy animations nor wild transition effects. Instead, the studio created a visually compelling story by making the most of huge visuals and texts, ensuring viewers stay fully focused on the content from start to finish. Uppercase letters are omnipresent on the site, save for several larger chunks of text, where a lowercase type ensures the content is easier to read and consume.
Masters 1987 website is further proof that uppercase sans serif fonts are a particularly great fit for portfolio websites. Whether an artist wishes to achieve a minimal look or they want to balance out the vivaciousness of other elements, a simple all-caps type is a good way to go. The Masters 1987 website is bursting with vibrant visuals placed against a black drop, and the Pier Sans font injects a bit of simplicity into its layouts. The font is used in all-caps on every page and its appeal is amplified with some cool scroll-triggered animations. For instance, as you start scrolling down the homepage, the introductory text placed at the top begins to move to either side of the screen. Moreover, when you place the comet-like cursor on any word, the pointer starts to look like some sort of stage lighting, inverting the color of letters and the background. While the text is predominantly white, the designers have colored some words orange, to emphasize their importance.
Spline Group is a mechanical and electrical engineering company with a website designed in a brutalist fashion. Brutalism is known for its love of uppercase fonts, and Spline opted for the Helvetica Now Display font. They used all-caps letters in the introductory section of the site where they inform viewers about what they do, as well as in some section titles and call-to-action buttons. They paired the uppercase typography with the Regular and Light versions of the same font, making the content more appealing to the eye. This site features engrossing transitions and animation effects that are applied to all elements, including the text, fully immersing you into the site’s content. For instance, as you explore the “About” page, you will come across the slogan “Make Everyday Possible” in uppercase letters placed in two rows. As you get closer to that section, the text will spring to motion, with each row moving in the opposite direction from one another.
Glenn Catteeuw used the Telegraf font in several different styles. The most prominent is, undoubtedly, the all-caps version in semi-bold, medium, and regular styles. It is used in the preloader, main navigation, as well as in surtitles, headings, and project titles. Wherever he needed the viewers’ attention the most, he opted for the largest uppercase font size. The type’s rigid angles and the choice of uppercase sans serif letters are a beautiful match for the site’s cinematic and slightly robust aesthetic. Everything is colored in grey and black hues, placed against a grainy background. Catteeuw chose amusing hover effects for the menu, enlivening the letters. As you move your mouse over menu items, the letters become encircled, underlined, or strikethrough.
Florian Monfrini’s website was created to announce his exhibition in Mexico City in 2019. The one-page project resembles a mainstream publication, with gigantic, bold, sans serif typography and huge images stealing all the spotlight. The NB International type covers the images at times, but its simplicity and the pitch-black color don’t outshine his colorful works. Instead, the contrast between the pair is what catches the viewers’ eye, inciting them to discover more about Monfrini’s artistry.
Mill3’s Xmas Card is a one-page website created as a witty salute to 2020. It is filled with inviting photographs, cocktail recipes, and cute illustrations, including an anxious gingerman, a winking smiley face, the shaka hand gesture, and many others. The visual elements are interlaced with two fonts – one is the sans serif Neue Montreal type and the other is the serif Neue World Extended. Considering the site’s unusual design, the typography choices make perfect sense as they further amplify the site’s idiosyncratic character. Typographic hierarchy, for the most part, does not exist. In some sections, titles are in lowercase while the body text is in uppercase letters, making the site look even more playful and fun.
BASIC is a branding and experience design agency from California. They opted for just one font, Scto Grotesk A, and have applied it to every page of their stunning site. Starting from their logo, all-caps sans serif letters in different sizes are everywhere. You can find them scattered around the entire website, especially in places where the viewer’s attention is needed the most, including the main menu, surtitles, and headlines. In some sections, as you move the cursor over the agency’s work, a beautiful hover animation turns the mouse pointer into a large circle with all-caps lettering inside it, inviting you to further explore the agency’s work. To make textual content more interesting to the eye, they coupled the all-caps bold version of the Scto Grotesk A font with the lowercase regular version. The letters are predominantly black, contrasting the grainy white background. But in some areas of the site, scroll-triggered animations cause a change of scenery, dying the backdrop black, with powdery pink uppercase letters stealing the spotlight. The all-caps sections perfectly match the contemporary feel of BASIC’s website and beautifully complement their urban style.
Album Colors of the Year is a project that’s been around since 2015. Each year, they make a selection of their favorite album covers and group them by color. The site is image-centric, and while you go through artwork colored in different hues, you feel like flipping through a magazine. The abundance of colors and the visual complexity of some covers are elegantly toned down with the uppercase san serif Helvetica font. You can spot it everywhere, including surtitles, descriptions, album names, and even hex codes, emanating refined and calming vibes.
Stephanie Jeong’s single-page website provides engaging and amusing insight into her artistry. Aside from exploring her projects and learning more about her, you can have a bit of fun on the site and draw a mustache on Jeong’s portrait. As for typography, she combined the sans serif Telegraf font with the sans Self Modern type. She used the former in several significant sections – to introduce herself at the beginning, inspiring you to keep scrolling, as well as in the projects list, to display titles of her works. Jeong’s site is essentially minimal and her typographic choices are in complete harmony with the rest of the content.
Nanna Lagerman’s creative studio specializes in interior design. Their website represents a captivating mixture of big, mostly fullscreen photos, large uppercase sans serif typography, and lithe animations. The font they chose for the site is Garnett. Its sharpness and geometric vibe beautifully fit the studio’s niche. With each scroll, new content elegantly appears on the screen from all directions, taking its place after a few seconds. Texts are animated as well, slowly assembling before your eyes, detailing Nanna Lagerman’s story in a captivating fashion.
NYLON is a popular magazine that covers fashion, entertainment, and music news. The symbiosis of the monospace Relative Faux and the neutral Post Grotesk fonts is the ideal choice for the magazine’s site because it further adds to its bold and vibrant aesthetic. Uppercase headings and titles in a simple sans serif font balance out the zestful spirit of the visuals, creating a highly enjoyable visual experience for the viewer.
Mysta Electric is a tattoo artist that creates dark, distinctive work. The first thing you see on the website is the photo of the artist in the background. While you’re still on the first slide, getting ready to explore the site, the photo follows your cursor wherever you move it. The textual content is entirely written using the Plain font (by Optimo). Not only is it in all-caps (save for the subscription form), but the words are also huge, in white and light grey hues, contrasting Mysta’s black-and-white picture in the background. When you hover over the words colored in grey, they either become italicized or reveal pictures of Mysta’s artistry attached to them. The simple type is a great choice for the visually rich site, perfectly complementing its idiosyncratic design.
Creatives are experimenting with uppercase sans serif typography more than ever before, drawing upon its classical heritage but taking it to a whole new dimension. They are using all-caps sans-serifs in previously unimaginable ways, applying it not just to headlines but also to whole paragraphs and the entire body text of a site in enormous sizes. This can lend an urban, raw feel to a site, while the sheer versatility of uppercase sans-serifs lets designers experiment and create new, exciting aesthetics.
Before you choose a sans serif uppercase for your website, think about what kind of aesthetic you would like to create. Do you want your site to appear robust? Alternative? Brutalist? Refined? All of the above? Once you decide on the style, it’s going to be easier for you to find the right sans serif font for you. And when you do find it, experiment with letter sizes and font thickness. You can go for huge letters altogether or choose a more subtle approach, but ultimately, what matters is that you select the style that best matches the character of your business.