Tennessee city sets its sights on its very own typeface

Blake Farmer Mar 8, 2012

Jeremy Hobson: How’d you like to have your own font? Something that only you use, and whenever anyone sees it, they know it’s yours. Well, the city of Chattanooga, Tenn., wants to join a growing list of U.S. cities with its own typeface to be used in everything from stationary to street signs.

Blake Farmer of WPLN reports.

Blake Farmer: The former industrial town of Chattanooga has experienced a renaissance, with new art museums, bike trails and walking bridges. In the midst of repurposed factories is a city-owned skateboard park.

The added amenities attract transplants. And natives like 27-year-old biologist (and skater) Kevin Parr say they’re no longer itching to leave.

Farmer: Well tell me this. Has Chattanooga become cool enough to get its own typeface?

Kevin Parr: Uhhh, I’m not sure what a typeface is.

It’s nerd-speak for a font. European cities often have their very own. Some American cities have a special typeface, but not one that’s been custom made.

Jeremy Dooley: Alexandria, Va., for example, uses one of my fonts called Aviano Sans.

Jeremy Dooley designed a font just for his adopted hometown of Chattanooga called “Chatype.” It has a stencil look inspired by local railroads, bridges and company logos. Jonathan Mansfield helped create Chatype.

Jonathan Mansfield: It’s to simply say, see how this feels? Chattanooga feels the same way.

A handful of businesses have committed to using the font. The creators are raising money online so they can provide it for free to city government. They hope it will be used in tourism materials and become a signature for the city.

Designer D.J. Trishler says he’d like to see the font on every corner.

D.J. Trishler: It would be awesome if it was being used for that restroom sign. It would be awesome if all the rules for that skateboarding park over there had Chatype in it.

Chattanooga Councilman Andrae McGary calls Chatype a “sexy” idea that just needs to overcome some practical hurdles.

Andrae McGary: Well, it depends on a couple of things. Number one, it depends on a lot of paint.

For street signs, McGary says Chatype needs to pass some legibility tests.

McGary: But I think if people really want to see this adopted, those pieces come.

Chatype’s designers say it’s only for the locals. But they hope to inspire what they call a “typeface revolution,” when every big city has its own font.

In Chattanooga, Tenn., I’m Blake Farmer for Marketplace.

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