Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Font of the year

Entertainment Weekly has already named its Entertainer of the Year (incorrectly, too — Tina Fey should have topped Robert Downey Jr.), while Sports Illustrated and Time have yet to name their respective Sportsman and Person of the Year — although they’re no-brainers this year (Michael Phelps / Barack Obama).
     So how about a font of the year? I don’t mean which font is the year’s best new design — there are other sites for that. No, which font best symbolizes the past year, was used most prominently and/or most effectively. In previous years, I could have named Interstate or Knockout or Meta or, going back, Bureau Grotesque. For 2008, the choice was as clear as the choice for U.S. president. No surprise then that Gotham, the font of 2008, was used most visibly and expertly by the Obama campaign.
     It was a brilliant typographic choice. Don’t think type matters? Here’s a great explanation by brand expert Brian Collins, taken from the New York Times website, of how font choice shapes the message: “Put the word ‘change’ in Comic Sans and the idea feels lightweight and silly,” said Collins. “Place it in Times Roman and it feels self-important. In Gotham, it feels just right. Inspiring, not threatening. In the end, typography makes a real difference when it delivers words and ideas that are relevant to people. And for many, that seems to be the case here.”
     I've been doing some reading about Gotham, its genesis (quite a young font – designed in 2000 by Tobias Frere-Jones for his Hoefler & Frere-Jones type foundry — it’s based on letterforms from turn-of-the-century signage), and its best uses. And in the tradition of classic typefaces, Helvetica in particular, it is highly adaptable and robust. Like the candidate himself, Gotham can be almost anything you want it to be, or hope it to be.
     Here’s a blurb about Gotham from the Hoefler & Frere-Jones website: “Because Gotham’s forms come from the urban environment, the face enjoys a familiarity that’s rare among new designs. From the lettering that inspired it, Gotham inherited an honest and straightforward tone that’s neutral without being clinical, and authoritative without being impersonal. The result is a typeface that is friendly without being folksy, confident without being aloof. Like the ordinary lettering on which it was based, Gotham is simply quintessential.”
     And now Gotham is everywhere. In just this past week, while I was on the lookout for specific uses of the font, I saw it in websites from Kia to Dell, new organizations like Feeding America, and it’s being used in the new ad campaign by the Toronto Public Library (and website too). So congratulations Mr. Frere-Jones, Mr. Obama and Gotham users everywhere. May your appeal be long-lasting.

1 comment:

Luke D. said...

Great Post! Gotham is a personal favourite of mine (as is most work from H&FJ). I had to ban myself from using it for awhile....