Some products are known by their logo colors and designs, even if the name is omitted — think Coca-Cola, Arby’s, MasterCard and Chevrolet. And how about those Bears, Colts and Packers?
But fill in the names and consider what a huge difference their exclusive typefaces make. Imagine, for example, substituting Arial Black for the Coca-Cola logo or Lucida Calligraphy for McDonald’s, and you’ve totally lost the individuality that sets them apart.
Marketing itself in a similar way is Chattanooga, Tenn., the first U.S. city to have a signature font. ChaType was the brainchild of Jeremy Dooley of Insigne Design and Robbie de Villiers, along with colleagues D.J. Trischler and Jonathan Mansfield. Dooley and de Villiers are two of approximately 300 professional, fulltime, international typeface designers and are recognized in their fields — Dooley for designing Nike, several blockbuster films and Turntable.fm, and de Villiers for his typefaces for Crush, G.E., Kraft Foods and the city of Erfurt, Germany.
Chattanooga’s goal in wanting its own typeface was to brand itself. In order to create an entirely new font for the city, the team’s homework consisted of studying Chattanooga, its landmarks and high points, entertainment venues and other things that the city wanted to be — or already was — known for. A historian was hired to explore the city’s past, and he held a public forum. All these things were taken into consideration as they began to work.
A fundraising Kickstarter campaign in January 2012 was next on the list, and the team involved the community for input and feedback as they worked on the various sketches of their project.
Through the grassroots campaign more than $10,000 was raised for production costs. The crowd-funding platform offered reasonable fees and it accepted creative projects such as art, music, film and technology. Additionally, it served as a gauge for public interest and fostered a sense of community pride and ownership. It endorsed further discourse and valuable feedback.
Other reasons for adopting a proprietary municipal typeface can sometimes include getting a makeover after sprucing up the area, fixing streets and sidewalks, bringing in more businesses and presenting a newer, fresher face to the world. An entity may want to assume an entirely new personality; or maybe something phenomenal has happened to the city, that officials think it should become known for. Whatever the motivation, the new font should be used in tourism materials, which will help it become a signature for the city.
In addition to the design of a new font, several more things have to happen for it to come to represent a municipality. Numerals, special characters, kerning and spacing, Webfonts and passing the legibility check for street signs are a few of them. A new font also depends on a magnitude of paint.
Mary Barrett, public relations and special projects manager for the Chattanooga Public Library, said it uses ChaType on promotional posters as well as on exterior signage for buildings, especially the downtown branch.
“We do not use one font for everything connected with the library, but we have embraced using ChaType on our promotional title graphics, library card identity, our cafe and select exterior signs,” said Barrett. “As with any font, there is a hierarchy of usage, and we employ ChaType selectively and appropriately with other companion fonts that preserve our identity while referencing the city font. “Our impulse was to be a part of the initiatives in Chattanooga that aim to unify our city. It is such a fun idea. We are also a steady partner with the Chattanooga chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Artists and co-developed creative citizenship civic engagement programs as part of our belief that good design can be one path to better communication between citizens and their government.”