To the list of great metropolises that have inspired typefaces—New York, Berlin, Barcelona—let us now add Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Indeed, a place better known for its choo-choo trains and its once-stifling pollution than for its vibrant typography scene is set to get its very own letterforms with Chatype, a new typeface by Robbie de Villiers, Jeremy Dooley, DJ Trischler, and Jonathan Mansfield.
The city is flourishing, the designers say, with an ever-expanding galaxy of artists, designers, musicians, and businesses (Amazon, Volkswagen, and Alstom all have offices in Chattanooga). The New York Times has called Chattanooga the “undiscovered gem of Tennessee” and recently named it one of the top 45 places to visit in 2012. Chatype’s designers believe the time is ripe to gift the city a typeface that embodies its 21st-century rebirth and, by extension, can serve as a cohesive municipal branding tool. They hope to raise $10,000 on Kickstarter to fund the project. (With two weeks left in their campaign, they’re about two-thirds of the way there.)
“Typefaces are often used for municipal brands in foreign nations,” Mansfield tells Co.Design. “In the United States, creating a typeface for a municipal area has been nothing but an academic exercise, and it has never been implemented on a citywide scale. We set about to change that, but from the grassroots up with support from Chattanooga citizens [and Kickstarter backers], rather than through the channels of government.”
Chatype is a boxy serif typeface designed to tip a hat to both the city’s manufacturing history and its arts-minded future. “The square geometry of the typeface lends a futuristic feel,” Mansfield says. “The slab serifs are contemporary but also speak to the industrial past. Also included in the font is a stencil variant: a nod to the local design scene and a nod to industry.” What’s more, some of the alternative characters include elements of Cherokee letterforms—a writing system developed just south of Chattanooga.
Mansfield and his fellow designers envision Chatype on just about everything, from street signs and bike lanes to T-shirts and the city council seal. They also want their project to encourage other American cities to consider adopting custom typography. “Every city has a unique feel from Atlanta to Albuquerque,” Mansfield says. “Why not tap into that subliminal feel with something that has the same effect, a typeface? Because a metropolitan area is so broad, with so many different communities, it’s ideal to have one element that ties everything together. This is exactly where a custom typeface can shine. All in all, a typeface is uniquely suited to the task of communicating the soul of a city. We hope to see more of this kind of thing all over the country.”
[Images courtesy of the designers]