User:Alphabeticalization/Gotham (typeface)

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Category Sans-serif
Classification Geometric sans-serif
Designer(s) Tobias Frere-Jones
Foundry Hoefler & Frere-Jones
Date released 2000

Gotham Rounded,

Gotham Condensed

Gotham is a family of geometric sans serif typefaces designed by American type designer Tobias Frere-Jones in 2000. Gotham's letterforms are inspired by a form of architectural signage that achieved popularity in the mid-twentieth century, and are especially popular throughout New York City.[1]

Since creation, Gotham has been highly-visible due to its appearance in many notable places, including a large amount of campaign material created for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, as well as the cornerstone of the Freedom Tower, the tower to be built on the site of the former World Trade Center in New York.

Creation and Style[edit]

The Gotham font was initially commissioned by GQ magazine, whose editors wanted to display a sans serif with a "geometric structure" that would look "masculine, new, and fresh" for their magazine. Although the magazine was initially considering a series of fonts that either looked like techno CD covers or were more traditional like Futura, they agreed that they needed something "that was going to be very fresh and very established to have a sort of credible voice to it," according to Jonathan Hoefler.[2]

Frere-Jones' inspiration for the typeface came from time spent walking block-by-block through Manhattan with a camera to find source material,[3] and he based the font on the lettering seen in older buildings, especially the sign on the Eighth Avenue facade of the Port Authority Bus Terminal. "I suppose there's a hiddern personal agenda in the design," Frere-Jones said, "to preserve those old pieces of New York that could be wiped out before they're appreciated. Having grown up here, I was always fond of the 'old' New York and it's lettering."[3]

The lettering that inspired this typeface originated from the style of 1920's era sans-serifs like Futura, where "Type, like architecture, like the organization of society itself, was to be reduced to its bare, efficient essentials, rid of undesirable, local or ethnic elements." This theme was found frequently in Depression-era type in both North America and Europe, particularly Germany.[4] This simplification of type is characterized by Frere-Jones as "not the kind of letter a type designer would make. It's the kind of letter an engineer would make. It was born outside the type design in some other world and has a very distinct flavor from that."[2]

Reviews of Gotham focus on its identity as something both American and specific to New York City. According to David Dunlap of the New York Times, "Gotham, deliberately evokes the blocky no-nonsense, unselfconscious architectural lettering that dominated the [New York] streetscape from the 1930's through the 1960's."[5] Andrew Romano of Newsweek concurs. "Unlike other sans serif typefaces, it's not German, it's not French, it's not Swiss," he said. "It's very American."[6]

According to Frere-Jones, Gotham wouldn't have happened without the GQ commission. "The humanist and the geometric... had already been thoroughly staked out and developed by past designers. I didn't think anything new cold have been found there, but luckily for me (and the client), I was mistaken."[3]

On the Freedom Tower[edit]

Gotham was prominently features in 2004 as the typeface on the cornerstone for the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site, itself owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey which also owns the bus terminal that inspired the typeface. In a Fourth of July speech at its unveiling, then-Governor George Pataki cited the cornerstone as the "bedrock of our state." The text is written in all-uppercase letters, which was criticized, as some wanted a mix of upper and lower-case to "give the words a human voice."[7]

In the Obama Campaign[edit]

Original materials for the Obama campaign used the serif Perpetua, however campaign staffers John Slabyk and Scott Thomas made the change to Gotham, and the font was used on numerous signs and posters for the campaign.[8]

The International Herald-Tribune praised the choice for its "potent, if unspoken, combination of contemporary sophistication (a nod to his suits) with nostalgia for America's past and a sense of duty."[9] John Berry, an author of books on typography, agreed: "It's funny to see it used in a political campaign because on the one hand it's almost too ordinary yet that's the point. It has the sense of trustworthiness because you've seen it everywhere."[10] Graphic designer Brian Collins noted that Gotham was the "lynchpin" to Obama's entire campaign imagery.[11]

Observers of the primary and general elections compared Obama's design choices favorably to those made by his opponents. In her campaign, Hillary Clinton used New Baskerville, a serif used by book publishers, law firms, and universities, while John McCain used Optima, the same font used for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.[12][9]

The short-lived John Edwards campaign used Gotham as well.[13]

As found Elsewhere[edit]

Gotham has found its way into other commercial media, as well. Coca-Cola, The Maury Show, the Tribeca Film Festival, and the Georgia Governor's Office of Customer Service have all used Gotham in logos.[8] The Georgia government cited Gotham's "clean, fresh lines" and variations which "offer a variety of options for use in all marketing, advertising and signage applications" as reason for its use.[14] Starbucks used the typeface in conjunction with the 2008 Presidential Election to advertise an offer for free coffee to people who vote.[15][16]

Frere-Jones has expressed reservations over his typeface's ubiquity: "With Gotham’s origin—and my own stubborn opinions—I think that anywhere in the suburban sprawl would be the worst place for it: advertising for featureless subdivisions, the specials board at the Exit 23 Dairy Queen, bumper stickers that say ‘I [heart] my SUV’ and so on."[3]


Gotham originally was introduced with an italic as well as a range of widths.[1] In 2007, a Rounded variant was introduced due to a commission from Print magazine.[17] In 2009, Hoefler & Frere-Jones introduced new Narrow and Extra Narrow versions.[18]


  1. ^ a b "Gotham:History". Hoefler & Frere-Jones. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  2. ^ a b Hustwit, Gary (2 February 2008). "A Font You Can Believe In". Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  3. ^ a b c d Siegel, Dimitri (8 August 2002). "Is Gotham the New Interstate?". The Morning News. Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  4. ^ Werner, Paul T. (16 July 2004). "Freedom Tower Type". AIGA Journal of Design. Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  5. ^ Dunlap, David (8 July 2004). "A 9/11 Cornerstone, Chiseled With a New York Accent". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  6. ^ Romano, Andrew (27 February 2008). "Expertinent: Why the Obama "Brand" Is Working". Newsweek. Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  7. ^ Dunlap, David (8 July 2004). "A 9/11 Cornerstone, Chiseled With a New York Accent". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  8. ^ a b Doctor, Eric (7 November 2008). "Campaign messages marked by typography". The Rice Thresher. Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  9. ^ a b Rawsthorn, Alice (6 April 2008). "Brand Obama, a leader in the image war". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  10. ^ Tschorn, Adam (2 April 2008). "The Character Issue". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  11. ^ Heller, Steven (2 April 2008). "To the Letter Born". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  12. ^ "...and Non-Fontogenic...". Hoefler & Frere-Jones. 21 February 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  13. ^ "A Change We Made". Hoefler & Frere-Jones. 4 January 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  14. ^ "Governor's Office of Customer Service Brand Standards Manual" (PDF). Georgia Governor's Office of Customer Service. Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  15. ^ Neale, McDavitt Van Fleet (3 November 2008). "Starbucks Using Gotham Typeface to Endorse Obama?". Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  16. ^ "If you vote, Starbucks buys your coffee". YouTube. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  17. ^ "Gotham Rounded: Corners Cut by Popular Demand". Typographica. 10 January 2007. Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  18. ^ "THE NEW GOTHAMS: 46 New Fonts from H&FJ". Hoefler & Frere-Jones. 20 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Friedl, Frederich, Nicholas Ott and Bernard Stein. Typography: An Encyclopedic Survey of Type Design and Techniques Through History. Black Dog & Leventhal: 1998. ISBN 1-57912-023-7.
  • Macmillan, Neil. An A–Z of Type Designers. Yale University Press: 2006. ISBN 0-300-11151-7.

External links[edit]

  • [1] - An extra from the film Helvetica which discusses the invention of the font.

Category:Hoefler & Frere-Jones typefaces Category:Geometric sans-serif typefaces