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GovBytes: Can a Font Bring a City Together? Introducing Chatype

A small group of designers and entrepreneurs in Chattanooga, TN have been engaged in a grass-roots effort to make their city first city in the US to have its own font. It started last year when collaboration began on a font to encapsulate the unique aspects of the city. In January, the group unveiled Chatype, and launched a campaign on Kickstarter.com to raise $10,000 to help cover costs. That goes has since been reached.

Chatype: The Nation’s First Municipal Font

Chatype is still being tweaked, but public interest has been remarkably strong. The typeface is already being incorporated into the city’s official website, and it soon will start showing up on out-of-state tourism billboards and across the front of the Chattanooga Public Library. Custom fonts for municipalities are somewhat common in Europe, but this is the first time it’s been done in the US.

What is the concept behind the idea?:

But through trying to channel the unique aspects of its city, Chattanooga is getting closer to capturing the special characters of itself. In trying to capture the essence of the city, designers drew inspiration from local reference points including:

  • Cherokee alphabet
  • the nation’s first Coca-Cola bottling plant
  • signage from the famous “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” train station

…with a special eye towards where the city can be made to feel friendly, unique, and versatile, through contemporary and historic lenses.

But the project is still under construction, and creating a font is about more than just shaping 26 letters into a common style. To complete the project, organizers still have to finish:

New information will be posted at http://chatype.com/ as it becomes available. A video about the creation of the font can be viewed here.

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Profile Photo Samuel Lovett

The method by which the font team carried out this project is a great model for others who want to rally support around their initiatives. The campaign on kickstarter took donations and thanked donors with prints, posters, and cards (featuring the font); the more money you gave, the bigger the “thank you”gift was. Sounds like a great way to spread civic pride.

Profile Photo Adam Arthur

I don’t know what it is about fonts, but they cast a spell over me. There are some websites that I will not read, if the font doesn’t grab me. For example, Arial and Verdana are very similar, but I will normally skip over anything written in Arial and read the Verdana text only. Crazy right?

To that end, I like this chatype font for titles, but I don’t like it for “Body” text – it’s too heavy. It’s not light and easy on my eyes. It requires that I stop and read slowly, because all of the letters run together to closely.

Profile Photo Samuel Lovett

@Chris I’m not so familiar with Chattanooga, but from what I’ve read it sounds like the creation of a typeface is one small part of an overall artistic and cultural renaissance that sends a public message to other artists and businesses that the city takes their art/image seriously and would be a good clean place to live and do work.

In nineteen sixty-nine, Walter Cronkite famously called Chattanooga the “dirtiest” city in America. In recent years, though, it has undergone a dramatic overhaul with a radical gentrification plan and an aggressive citywide push to lure artists. In addition to a $120 million clean-up-an-invest 21st Century Waterfront Plam, an incentive program called Arts Move brings artists of mediums into town… – New York Times, Top Forty-Five Places to go in 2012

Profile Photo Chris Cairns

Ok, thanks for adding some context. If the typeface is part of a larger effort, then it makes a little more sense, but it sounds as if an inordinate amount of time is being spent on typeface. How about spending the $10k on teaching “underprivileged” children how to program software?

Profile Photo Samuel Lovett

I hear you on that, it is a lot of money. Of course, the flip-side to the “civic-pride,” “municipal branding” slant on this story is that this is an industrious group of private artists creating work for themselves. You can read this story both ways. I personally think the civic-pride angle carries a lot of weight in this case.

Profile Photo Samuel Lovett

@Adam I’m a fan of the science of fonts too – how people can read fonts with serifs a certain percentage faster than those without serifs.

In terms of chatype, it sounds like the Chattanooga city government plans to incorporate the font onto their website. As of now, the only case of its inclusion comes in logo form:

No word on if they plan to replace their san-serif toolbar text, of body text with anything other than their current san-serifs

Profile Photo Jon P. Bird

The resolution of the average monitor has destroyed the beauty of the old serif typefaces so all you read these days is the utilitarian Arial or Verdana. I’m rooting for Chattanoga to get it right with Chatype, because I don’t want to hear someone say in the future, “Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga boo-boo? Font 29, can you read it in time?”

Profile Photo Carol Davison

As a person with a visual disability I find this type difficult to read. I already have “holes” in my vision. I don’t need them in characters. Additionally, In violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act Section 508 they put white type over a light colored and motteled background to publicize it. Apparently they haven’t consulted with a visually impaired person. For these reasons it gets a no vote from me and I hope everyone else. I already see poorly. Why develop a font that makes it MORE difficult for me to read?

Profile Photo Samuel Lovett

@Carol – hopefully Chattanooga will keep accessibility in mind when they incorporate this font into the public domain. It looks like the logo version of the font they are using on chattanooga.gov has had the gaps removed, perhaps for accessibility reasons.