Optima is a hybrid between a serif and sans serif font. Wikipedia classifies it as “humanist”. In font-speak, I guess that means it is a sans serif face with an anything goes attitude.
In the real world it works like a sans serif with a little flair. The ends of the letters are a little wider than the rest of the stroke and some letters use different stroke weights, like the “A” and the “M”, which reflects a classic Roman model. For us simple users it means we can get the legibility of a strong sans serif font and add a dash of character to the look. The only tricky part of using Optima is that the character widths vary significantly and custom kerning, especially in headlines, is usually required.
Optima was originally design by Hermann Zapf in the early 1950s. It has gone through several redesigns which really just added different weights to the basic Regular, Bold, Black and Italic variations. It is the font used for all the names of the fallen on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and is the official branding typeface for companies like EstÃ©e Lauder and Astin Martin (and if it is cool enough for James Bond’s car, it must be okay).
I am not usually a fan of hybrid fonts, kind of like I’m not a fan of hybrid cars, but Optima is a good choice when I’m looking for a softer feel. Chances are optima(l) it will find its way into my work again soon.