Typography of a Brand

31 Oct

After writing my previous blog post I began to research the origins of type. Some, like Baskerville, are old with European roots, created long before the idea of Indesign could even be fathomed. Others, are new, and have been classified by type enthusiasts as strictly American. I am referring to Gotham.

Gotham was created in 2000 for GQ magazine by the fabulous Hoefler & Frere-Jones. GQ wanted a masculine san-serif typeface and Hoefler and Frere-Jones looked to the signage of New York City for inspiration.

“We [Tobias Frere-Jones and Jonathan Hoefler] both grew up in the city and independently we’ve walked around the streets and earmarked pieces of lettering or signage that we thought would be a good seed, or starting point for a project somewhere down the line. And we both noticed the letting on the Port Authority Bus Terminal up on 42nd Street and 8th Avenue. The lettering over the front door is this very plain geometric letter, but its not the type of letter that a type designer would make. It’s the kind of letter an engineer would make. It was born outside of type design, in some other world and has a very distinct flavor from that.”

-Tobias Frere-Jones, from a Helvetica film outtake (if you’re interested in type, check out this youtube clip)

Here are some inspiration for the creation of Gotham.


USA Today called Gotham the ‘font of the century’. Ranging from Coca-cola, Saturday Night Live, Nestle, GQ, and Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. In a Newsweek article, the author discusses why the origins of the typeface Gotham worked in favor for Obama building his brand. It was an American based design, off the store fronts in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. It represents not the elite, but the general public.  “…sleek, purposefully not fancy, very straightforward, plainspoken font, but done with a great deal of elegance and taste–and drawn from very American sources, by the way. Unlike other sans serif typefaces, it’s not German, it’s not French, it’s not Swiss. It’s very American. The serif font that he often uses to write Obama is delicate and nuanced and almost, not feminine exactly, but it’s very literary-looking. It looks very conversational and pleasant, as opposed to strident and yelling. It’s a persuasive-looking font, I would say. But that’s putting these things on couches and pretending they have personalities.” I would disagree with the last statement. this typeface has become associated with democracy and the message Obama was conveying in his campaign. A serif typeface or a script would have changed his perception entirely. Never underestimate the power of type. Here are some more uses of this wonderful sans serif from idsgn.org




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