Chatype: A Typeface for Chattanooga, Tennessee

Jeremy Dooley's picture

Recently, I have been working with Robbie de Villiers to develop a typeface for Chattanooga. Municipal typefaces are very much in vogue in Europe, but they have not happened in the United States. There's a variety of reasons for that, but this is something I want to see happen more often here in United States. We need to have some sort of a method to kick start this process here in United States. It is not expected to receive any sort of public support or moneys.

We are very excited to make an impact on the local culture here. The face has been extremely well received so far. Originally we looked at a lot of historical influences, especially the city’s Cherokee foundations. But we ultimately dismissed those because the city is trying to position itself as a very sophisticated and forward-looking technological power. Robbie and I both had our own approaches to the font, and ultimately I took them together and did a font blend. From that blend we identified some common characteristics and carried them forward into a typeface both of us are happy with. The family retains a number of characteristics from both me and Robbie. I also look forward to potentially explaining the process of how we are able to navigate the local politics and also work with local designers in Chattanooga to get this project started, perhaps at Typecon or ATYPI.

The plan is to develop this typeface with support from individuals on Kickstarter. This typeface will be a four-weight family for the exclusive use of the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee. We have local support from the designers that ultimately will be using the product, and we also have some support from local politicians who will assist us in the implementation of the project. We are looking for your assistance as well in providing some financial support for the development project. We will not sell the project because we will be giving it away for free, but the typeface will be exclusively for the use of Chattanooga related projects. We have been encouraged that several local designers have asked for beta versions of the font to use with city projects.

There is a potential new market for typefaces for municipalities in United States. We hope that you will partner with us to make this a reality. This is a win-win for the typographic community and also for designers in United States. We really hope that this will add a distinctive new aspect of culture here in Chattanooga, and I hope that you will partner with our team in this endeavor.

Kickstarter Information

Thanks!

JDooley

Joshua Langman's picture

Your Kickstarter link doesn't work.

eliason's picture

You have to delete the inadvertent bracket at the end of the link and then it works.

Si_Daniels's picture

>but they have not happened in the United States.

How about...

http://www1.umn.edu/news/news-releases/2003/UR_RELEASE_MIG_588.html

Frode Bo Helland's picture

I see more use for this kind of thing than the other Kickstarter typeface that came up here a little while ago, but not so sure if it will get the same kind of attention. I mean, this is not just a trendy display face that’ll grow old in a week (Or is it? Might be a case for dropping the stencil gaps.), but unfortunately the only ones to really benefit from this are based in your neighbourhood. So … why not ask local businesses for sponsoring?

Frode Bo Helland's picture

And another thing. You look kinda silly when you call yourself typographers. It’s “type designers”. Should’ve learned that by now!

Jeremy Dooley's picture

Sii, Twin was one of the inspirations for this project. Robbie owns the book documenting its development, and we found Twin was never truly implemented on a citywide scale, and Unfortunately remains just a extremely well-designed curiosity. Our objective is to have this be the first implemented typeface for a municipal area in the United States.

We have partnered with a local design firm, D+J to assist us in reaching the local community. We are having a AIGA sponsored event at a local gathering place to get feedback and support. D+J http://workwith.dj/ have provided a number of contacts, local designers and local politicians who ultimately will be the ones who can help us most with officially implementing the project, an important distinction between us and Twin.

Frode, I was just posting to let the typographic community know that this effort is underway. Our primary push is to the local Chattanooga community and businesses to foster support for this project. I anticipate that we will do very well with that as we have a number of invested individuals who really want this project to work, even outside of the graphic design community. Consider this post just a very small branch of what we are doing. I do think that the typographic community as a whole would do well to pay attention to this idea, as it could open a brand-new market if we are successful.

You mentioned the stencil design, and I agree. The consensus thus far is that the stencil design will not be the primary form, but our initial experiments required a very distinctive display type to highlight its differences to the community here. We are planning a number of style sets so that different areas the community can feel they are included in this project. For one particular area, we will have a style set so that even though the font is for Chattanooga, the smaller areas can still have their own identity, but be part of that overall identity. That is one of the great things about using a typeface as branding.

And, I am aware of the distinction of a typographer and type designer, but one battle at a time.

Thank you all for your interest and comments thus far. The team welcomes anything more you have to say about the project.

JDooley

hrant's picture

> Twin was never truly implemented

Probably because it was over-designed.

hhp

Jackson's picture

The Twin Cities project was fascinating because of the thoughtful explorations of location and culture in relationship to letterforms. Are you planning on discussing or documenting the process and thinking behind this project? You can make a nice typeface, and it might arguably have some relationship to your city, but it's not going to be more that superficially interesting without a thoughtful and illuminating presentation that explains the connection between your design and the city.

Si_Daniels's picture

> Twin was never truly implemented

I wonder how many of the European municipal fonts have been truly implemented? Any links or pointers?

JamesM's picture

At your website you say "Many European cities commission a custom typeface and use it to set themselves apart...signage in different regions seems to really pop..." Can you give some examples of cities that have successfully implemented widespread use of a custom typeface for signage? (Other than Olympic cities, which I think would fall into a different category due to their special circumstances and funding.)

Jeremy Dooley's picture

Jackson, thanks for your comment. There are two aspects of this campaign. The first is to raise the money from local Chattanooga citizens, who really don't know that much about typefaces. To them fonts are just stuff on a computer. We have to talk about this and make the case for a font first. I can't really go into that much depth about the development process, etc. in a marketing piece.

As I said in this message, a lot of thought went into the development of the letterforms and why we chose to design it in a certain way. In our research on the project, we even met with a local historian. When we first started this project I was very interested in Cherokee letterforms, which were invented by Sequoya just a few miles south of Chattanooga. I felt a American typeface, based on an American language that was invented here and is uniquely and will always be American was pretty interesting. We looked at industrial forms, vernacular forms, even the forms of the Walnut street bridge!

We got a lot of very interesting letter forms from that, but ultimately we decided that looking to the past, and Chattanooga has a very interesting past, is not the right approach. Those ideas remain in the font, but they are more subdued. Some of those ideas explicitly remain in the font, and will become different style sets that we have planed for the different subareas of the city.

You call this fluff in your tweet, but there were a number of approaches in the Twin City font that were just frankly ridiculous. For example, a program to choose a random font on your computer to represent the city for that day, based on some random weather information? That's fluff, not design. It's an interesting idea, but it's just an idea. It doesn't represent the city at all in visual form.

I am very interested in documenting the process, and having these conversations about the design decisions we've made. But the kick starter campaign is not the place to make them. To characterize this project as just fluff is not accurate. A substantial amount of research and legwork by the team has gone into the development of this typeface. It is not just something that me and Robbie dusted off from our portfolios and decided to release as a Chattanooga font. To be honest, I think you owe the project an apology. You are free to disagree with the project as a whole or even the design, but to criticise it with no specific reason is not fair.

Respectfully,

JDooley

Jeremy Dooley's picture

This is probably the best compendium of typeface identities for cities.
http://typophile.com/node/80568

I would characterize this as implemented: http://lviv-signage.livejournal.com/1071.html

hrant's picture

> thoughtful explorations of location and culture in relationship to letterforms.

Actually I think it was more fantasy than anything else.
Unlike some designers I'm all for things like "national
character" in typestyles, but even I have to face the
reality that no geographic place (at least not an urban
area of this age) can have that much particular character.
I once referred to this issue in a typeface review - see the
first entry here:
http://typographica.org/2005/on-typography/our-favorite-typefaces-of-2005/

hhp

Jackson's picture

... to raise the money from local Chattanooga citizens, who really don't know that much about typefaces. To them fonts are just stuff on a computer ...

A substantial amount of research and legwork by the team has gone into the development of this typeface. It is not just something that me and Robbie dusted off from our portfolios and decided to release as a Chattanooga font.

I absolutely agree with this, which is why I think you absolutely need to talk about the process and thinking that went into this project. Without that context, connecting it to the culture/history/people of the city, it just looks like a random font, particularly to people who don't know anything about typefaces.

To be honest, I think you owe the project an apology. You are free to disagree with the project as a whole or even the design, but to criticize [sic] it with no specific reason is not fair.

Normally I would agree, it's your project not mine. But, IMO, you opened the project up for discussion both by publicly trying to crowd-fund it and by promoting it in a "General Discussions" forum. Furthermore, I did give a specific reason (your failure to even passingly present a connection between the project goals and your proposed design).

I'm glad to hear your claims that there is substance underneath the project, and I hope you decide to share it before your project funding ends. These kind of meaty cultural process projects (research->form) are few and far between in type design and have the potential to be a valuable contribution to the subject, particularly for your audience of people "really don't know that much about typefaces".

Jeremy Dooley's picture

There's discussion, what we are engaging in now, and then there is just unwarranted epithets (fluff). Just because it's a kickstarter, don't tear it down. We started this project well before Kickstarted fonts became popular. In addition, we aren't selling it; we are restricting it to the metro area. It's exclusivity is a unique new aspect. If your objection is to Kickstarted fonts in general, I tend to agree. They ask to fund a commercial font, which seems silly to me, and frankly, people will get tired of that quickly.

JDooley

JamesM's picture

> This is probably the best compendium of typeface identities for cities...

Thanks for the links.

Jackson's picture

I don't know anything about Chattanooga and most Chattanoogians don't know anything about type design. Until you make the connection between those them this project will remain thin on substance. I don't care how you're funding your project, I'm just expressing disappointment that your project hypes a fascinating topic (connecting a community to letter shapes) but fails to deliver (or promise as a deliverable) any real information.

Jeremy Dooley's picture

Type is a gateway drug. This will open eyes.

guifa's picture

I haven't been on here in months thanks to starting a new job — in Chattanooga — and I log on and this is what I see. Crazy.

While I do think Chattanooga is a city that has the type of people that could appreciate it (though perhaps I'd see Savannah as the first of the Southern cities to get a font), to be honest I just don't see Chattanooga in the proposed face. The shapes are just too clean and rounded for a city that focuses so much on the outdoors which are its main tourism engine. I would envision a font that combines that rugged attraction with the city's history — antebellum/civil war/industry/trains. The bridges are mentioned as influences, and while the Market St bridge does have a smoother arch, but I definitely find the Walnut St bridge to be more emblematic — it's the walking bridge, with wood planks recalling railroad ties and used by the pedestrians that really set off Chattanooga from a lot of other Southern towns of its size (e.g. Birmingham).

PabloImpallari's picture

Cool project! Good Luck!

Jeremy Dooley's picture

Matthew,

We would love it if you could make it to our forum: http://www.facebook.com/events/204281256334156/

We welcome any comments and input on the face, and hopefully I can make the case as to why this is a good solution for Chattanooga.

Trevor Baum's picture

Kickstarter projects need to explain why they want our money - what they will use it for, and why their project is something they can't pay for themselves.

Is the city commissioning this project, or a design studio?

It looks like you already have the typeface (at least partially) created. Why should we give you money when most of the labor has been completed already?

guifa's picture

Wow, y'all are meeting not even two blocks from my apartment. I'll definitely come poke my head in.

Jeremy Dooley's picture

Trevor,

This is in the copy and video, but I will summarize:

The font is 20% done; not even close to finished. No kerning, incomplete spacing no style sets, no weights, etc.

The city is not commissioning it. It is a grassroots effort from independent designers that banded together. The project will be implemented by the community itself for city related projects. We already have commitments to use the face for large local projects. We have support from local politicians to potentially make it "official" once complete.

JDooley

Si_Daniels's picture

If you decide to include Cherokee support I'll chip in $18.20, in honor of the (approximate) date the writing system was invented.

hrant's picture

So adding Armenian would cost $4.05?! That's a rip-off!
Every Armenian knows they're not supposed to pay for fonts...

hhp

Jeremy Dooley's picture

We strongly considered Cherokee support...but it was outside the scope of the project. Maybe in the future, if it is requested and funded.

Si_Daniels's picture

>So adding Armenian would cost $4.05?! That's a rip-off!

It could be better. If they add Linear B they'd owe us $15 :-)

Jeremy Dooley's picture

Just a status update:

The project was front page news here in Chattanooga. TFP and made kickstarter's front page project of the day.

In addition, Robbie and I talked a bit about the development and conceptual work for the project at our forum. We did a screen-cast of that presentation. It's up on the Chatype Kickstarter page.

Andreas Stötzner's picture

(I missed this for a while – sorry)

1st, my respect for waging this. Exploring new ways is always dangerous. Those who venture in the eye of failure have my sympathy.

2nd, I would still come back to the Cherokee aspect. This crazy script is undoubtedly the unique typographic asset of your place. In type, it’s your Eiffel tower. Why not exploiting it? Did you ever explore to ruthlessly cherokeese the Latin alphabet and see what happens?

Maybe the result will be more befitting to funny leasure resorts and tourism brochures than smart municipal presentations … and this is not what you’re wanting.

But it could probably be very charming.

hrant's picture

> cherokeese the Latin alphabet

Since it's very difficult to make Cherokee harmonious
with Latin without offending the Elders*, this might in
fact be a fruitful avenue.

* As we learned at the TypeCon in New Orleans thanks to
the wonderful presentation by Joseph Erb and his team.

hhp

Chris Dean's picture

Has anyone thought of bring up the concept of “Disneyfication” in this context? In Halifax, Nova Scotia, the largest industry is tourism. As such, the majority of our waterfront has been transformed into a tacky tourist version of itself, where they force minimum wage employees in taverns and the like to dress up in period costumes, walk along the boardwalk, sing old-tyme sailor tunes &c, all veiled in the spirit of cultural preservation.

It’s an interesting discussion though. Imagine an endangered species. You can let it die, or put it in a cage and breed it. However, by caging it, even though you are keeping it alive, you are removing it’s natural ability to adapt and thrive in a changing environment, ultimately working against your own end.

The closest real-world example I can think of is the passing of Bill 101 in Québec city, 1997. It legally required you to have all of your signage with French as the predominant language ie; bigger and at the top. This was very controversial at the time.

But again, it raises the question, what is the best way to preserve, or in the case of Chattanooga and Chatype, promote, a culture in a natural and sustainable fashion?

Will there be city-wide brand strategy? Signage restrictions? An identity-standards manual for all businesses? What if my business is from a different culture? Am I still required to use Chatype?

Food for thought.

hrant's picture

Good stuff Christopher.

hhp

Jeremy Dooley's picture

Chatype was fully funded today, plus $1.5k. We received (and continue to receive) plenty of national media attention focused on typography and city branding. We received coverage on TIME.com, NPR Marketplace, Radio Canada, Wolf Ollins, and Co.Design, among others. Graphic designers nationwide are asking themselves, "What would our city's typeface look like?" Chatype will be implemented in several very visible Chattanooga city projects.

In short, a complete Mission Accomplished.

Andreas Stötzner's picture

Congratulations! and good luck with it.

Keep us informed about how it proceeds.

hrant's picture

Good going! Stay focused.

hhp

Jeremy Dooley's picture

Just an update on the implementation from the Times Free Press: http://t.co/dzoj9w5n

Si_Daniels's picture

The project was mentioned in latest issue of Seattle Metropolitan magazine, where Karen Cheng is quoted as saying Seattle needs it's own font. Hurrah! Unfortunately they also quote a bottle label designer who says he'd rather see safe bridges than a city font. Boooo000. ;-)

Richard Fink's picture

I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. To the best of my knowledge, I spent nearly the first six weeks of my life there.
A font just for the city of my birth? Ok. Cool. I'll be keeping an eye. Good luck.

Richard Fink
Blog: Readable Web
Font Director: Kernest/Konstellations

Chris Dean's picture

@Richard: Just out of curiosity, why the new signature? All of the info contained in it is available from your Typophile profile. Is it an SEO thing for all your other locations?

JamesBurgman's picture

I have been once become a participant in helping and promoting a local culture. I am glad it is also happening until this time. I believe not only people from my Country and from US are doing this.

Jeremy Dooley's picture

Chatype is available: Chatype.com

Si_Daniels's picture

Congratulations on the release and the nice presentation on the project at TypeCon.

Si

Jeremy Dooley's picture

'preciate it, Si.

HVB's picture

Well done, and thank you for making it freely available! Some wonderful alternates and ligatures there, too. I especially like the Chattanooga Choo Choo glyph.

Are you taking orders for NYC, Boston, Los Angeles, Paris, and Peoria?

A copyright question: Why is there no internal copyright information or attribution in the fonts? All the copyright says is "Generated in 2011 by FontLab Studio. Copyright info pending."

- Herb

hrant's picture

Good going Jeremy.

hhp

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