Samantha Sharf | A font for Philadelphia


Elements of Style | Philly residents should come together to rebrand our city


samantha

Samantha Sharf
Elements of Style

Photo by Samantha Sharf


This column in print* is written in News 706. The headline above it? Utopia. These fonts — released in 1960 and 1989, respectively — are commonly used in the print industry for their legibility and flexible spacing.

In our text-heavy world, fonts are everywhere — from the page you are reading to the sign on the building you are reading it in to the cellphone that you will likely fish out of your pocket at least once during these 670 words.

At worst, fonts distract us and are at odds with the content. Fonts can become part of a brand’s identity. In December, Under the Button posted an entry about an invitation to Amy Gutmann’s annual holiday party. The blog’s appropriately snarky grievance was about the Penn president’s choice of font — the round and childish Comic Sans.

At best, fonts subtly enhance and mirror our experience with the text, making a statement about the people who chose it — whether those people are newspaper designers or passionate citizens.

In Europe, many cities have exclusive typefaces that are meant to reflect their identity. Thanks to a few determined and design-savvy residents, Chattanooga, Tennessee is bringing the concept to the United States.

Typeface designers Jeremy Dooley and Robbie de Villiers hope to harness the power of type to enhance the city’s ongoing revitalization. The pair recently released a campaign to adopt Chatype, which they designed specifically for Chattanooga.

Dooley described the typeface to Good Magazine as a “geometric slab serif.” In such a font the tags (little lines on the corners of letters) that characterize a serif are thick and blocky. Chatype’s “slabs are inspired by [Chattanooga’s] industrial past. The geometric aspect is to add a sense of futurism,” he added. The type thus takes into account both where Chattanooga has been and where it hopes to go.
Chatype.com describes creating a textual identity as tantamount to “picking the colors in a flag.” Residents propose using the font on bike lanes and official documents, but also on business awnings and publications. The diversity of uses highlights an important fact — Chatype is spearheaded entirely by private citizens, not government officials.

The team set a goal of raising $10,000 by March 1 on kickstarter.com, a platform for funding creative ventures. With more than a week to go 239 people have donated to the cause, raising over $10,100.

While Chattanooga is roughly 750 miles away from our fair Philadelphia, we can learn a lot from this small city.

Although you and I know that Philadelphia is wonderful, many outsiders think of this place as a suburb of New York or worse, as entirely too dirty and dangerous to be worth consideration. The city’s tourism offices have put together an impressive marketing portfolio, including the irresistible With Love campaign.

One of my favorites slogan says, “DEAR VISITOR, BELL IS BROKEN. PLEASE KNOCK.” It of course concludes, “WITH LOVE, PHILADELPHIA XOXO.” All this is set in a type meant to look as though a hurried friend or lover scribbled it down.

However, it is time for that sass to come down from the billboards to the streets — more specifically to our street signs. What Philadelphia needs is its own typeface.

The task would be formidable. There are only a few-hundred type designers in the world and as Penn Design professor David Comberg pointed out in an email, “creative citizens” and evaluation “by a messy democratic process” would be necessary.

Comberg, who teachers a course on typography, added “a new typeface for Philadelphia would give us something new to argue about. If it’s a great typeface we’ll all be proud. If it goes out of style we can do it again. Just don’t make it look olde, please.”

A unique font to grace the cityscape will connect Philadelphians no matter what part of the city we live in. All we would need to do is look around. It is time to show the world that there is more to Philly than they expect through a symbol a bit more modern than that broken bell.

*In case you were wondering, online, both are in Georgia.

Samantha Sharf, a former Managing Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian, is a College senior from Old Brookville, N.Y. Her email address is samsharf@sas.upenn.edu. Elements of Style appears every Wednesday.

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