Gotham Typeface

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Visual Essay about Gotham

Text of Gotham Typeface

  • This study, rather than a written essay about the history of a typeface, has the intention of being a visual graphic research. After being confronted with Gotham typeface, we felt the urge to understand what makes a type trend in this specific case. Therefore, and without losing perspective on a wider context, we decided to analyse a path rather than specific features.This way when it comes to its classification, we start by placing the Gotham typeface in history, and also connect it with the inspiration that gave birth to it. After understanding its predecessors, it makes sense to comprehend how, when and where they take place. Thus, we must not only know the details of formal configuration and drawing, but also establish comparisons with other widespread typefaces. It is also important to gather several kinds of usages of Gotham in several different contexts. Still, we decided to consider the Barack Obamas campaign, comparing it to Mitt Romneys campaign in order to understand the main role of the typeface in the transmission of associated values. After this, it is important to understand whether and why this famous font family has become the new essential typeface for contemporary communication design.As our main objective we look forward to understand if there is a mainstream use of Gotham in such a way that it can be considered as a type trend or if it can become a long-lasting event in time.


  • Abstract3

    Pre GothamFrom tradition to nowadays Comprehension of the tradition of sans serif geometric typefaces until Gotham typeface8-15

    From New York to New Jersey Analysis of the visual inspiration for the creation of Gotham and review of the brief given by GQ and comparison with the creative process of Copperplate Gothic16-23

    Gotham From the character to the typeface Gotham as a typeface. Comparising to other similar typefaces. 26-27

    From the workshop to the streets Examples of famous utilizations of Gotham28-33




  • Post GothamFrom Obama to Romney Comparison between Gotham (used by Barack Obama) and Mercury (used by Mitt Romney) and the main values associated with the graphic features of each typeface36-45

    From American Apparel to Tom Ford Understanding if and why Gotham has became a new trend in communication design and branding and compare that with other type trends.46-51

    Conclusion Try to predict the lifetime of Gotham in terms of widespread usage.52



  • 8

  • 9From tradition to nowadays

    From Las Vegas to New York


  • 10

    Gotham typeface is a result of centuries of tradition of type design. It is important, in this stage, to quickly understand the path that led to this result. The historic influences are, in this case, extremely important. We must consider, for once, that the design of typefaces is as old and written language itself. Therefore, we must firstly take a look at the very first examples of the Latin modern alphabet.

    The Greeks have firstly developed a writing system from the inheritance of Phoenician alphabet. The Greek characters were rational and had very explicit rules, based on geometric shapes. The Greeks also had a special interest for rationality and that explains the constant proportions of their writing.

    Soon after, the Romans started their writing system going from the Greek alphabet. It soon became certain that it was not enough to consolidate a universal graphic language. Because of this, the Latin alphabet was born with several modifications to the one that served as an inspiration. We can see that there is still a geometric rule that applies and the same rhythm is clear as it was with the Greek writing. We can also see that now it has suddenly became more clear, with the inscription of points or blank spaces to mark the difference between words.

    We must also say that both classical civilizations had also other types of written language that were normally for faster written or learning exercises. It isnt, for this purpose, interesting.


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    The evolution of typefaces continued with the creation of the first Roman typeface by Nicolaus Jensen. After the in-vention of the movable type method by Johannes Gutten-berg in the 15th century, Jensen moved to Venice, where he opened his printing workshop. It was only a question of time before he developed the first typeface inspired in the Roman scripts. This style was different from the Gutten-berg typeface, as it was based on a clearer style of writing, without the characteristic features of the German medieval calligraphy.Not only there was now a clear geometric inspiration, but also the ascenders and descenders gained strength and a dimension that made them stand out from the line of the x. In a way, the roman typeface made by Jensen was not anymore a repetition of vertical elements with thick con-nections that made the text hard to understand. It was now a more clear way of reading, with the characters having an appearance that looks very modern.


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    BOTTOM:De envagelica praeparatione. Sample page of the book printed by Jenson (1470).

    BACK:Roman carved stone: the modular alphabet. Rome, Foro Romano

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    Later in time, the creation of Bauhaus school in the late 19th century began a new way of thinking arts and crafts. Inspired by the thinking of William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement, the school was based on the theory that all professionals should control the whole creation process in design and architecture. Formation was taken based on theory (with artists and scholars such as Paul Klee, Marcel Breuer and Wassily Kandinsky) and practice by art crafts-men. The school based the teaching on rules of geometry and rationality. Perfect geometric shapes and primary colours were privileged as simple reasoning.


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    Not long after, Paul Renner created Futura, a typeface inspired by Bauhaus visual inspiration. Renner was not connected to Bauhaus, even though they were from the same historic period and shared a big part of their beliefs. Commissioned by the Nazi Government, he created Futura in 1927. Quoting Lupton, Futura, completed by Paul Ren-ner in 1927, embodied the obsessions of the avant garde in a multipurpose, commercially available typeface. Although Renner disdained the active movement of calligraphy in favor of forms that are calming and abstract, he tempered the geometry of Futura with subtle variations in stroke, curve, and proportion. Renner designed Futura in numer-ous weights, viewing his type family as a painterly tool for constructing a page in shades of gray.


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    BOTTOM:Overlook of Futura typeface, created by Paul Renner in 1927.

    BACK:Photo of Bauhaus school faade using a modular typeface.

    Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy ZzAa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz

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    After understanding what is the historic tradition behind the creation of Geometric Sans Serif typefaces, we are now going no analyse the process of creation and the inspira-tion of Tobias Frere-Jones for designing Gotham. But first, we are going to watch another typeface and realise what was the process for designing that.Andy Cruz and Rich Roat created House Industries in 1993, after both quitting their jobs on another type found-ry. They developed their company and created a type foundry that not only designs typefaces, but also a series of objects based on one same inspiration. More than type design, they provide a solution for integrated design that gathers inspiration and concretization.Based on the aesthetics of Las Vegas and the lettering on the faades of the buildings, they designed a series of four different typefaces to recall that reality. It is a sequence of different typefaces that actually provide us a visual inspi-ration for graphic design more than a typeface for contin-uous reading. This is after all the spirit of Las Vegas. Ellen Lupton says that Castaways is from a series of typefaces based on commercial signs from Las Vegas. The shapes of the letters recall the handpainted strokes made by tradi-tional sign painters and lettering artists.


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    TOP:Lettering from Castways hotel and casino: conceptual inspiration.

    BOTTOM:Lettering from plaque in Las Vegas, Nevada: visual inspiration.

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    After understanding how the sans serif typefaces were created generally, we now get to understand how Gotham was designed. First of all, it is important to understand what was the reason for the creation of our typeface. GQ Magazine asked the Hoefler & Frere-Jones Foundry to create a new typeface for the magazine. It is important to remember now what they were asking. According to Jonathan Hoefler, they wanted a sans serif typeface with a geometric structure. The curious part is that GQ wanted a masculine, new and fresh look. Also, they needed something that was going to be very fresh and very established to have a sort of credible voice to it.Our question is then how should we meet the briefing and create something that lasts in time. Tobias Frere-Jones answered this by walking through New York with a camera on his hands. He found some lettering on buildings that were particularly interesting for this. The signs of the beginning of the century proved to be a source of inspiration that, even though they were not new in the strict meaning of the word, it would be a new interpretation. Also, by the beginning of the millennium, TV shows like Sex and the City, Friends and Every