Saving a city with a serif

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February 13, 2013
Saving a city with a serif.

ThumbFonts can become synonymous with brands. Picture, for example, "Yahoo", "Disney", or the masthead for "The New York Times"; in each case, the brand and the typeface are virtually interchangeable. With this in mind, a team of designers isn’t just rebranding a company — they’re rebranding a city.

In the 1940s, Chattanooga, Tennessee was hopping, thanks to its railroad and industrial plants. In fact, the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s big band number “The Chattanooga Choo Choo” and a movie by the same name feature the city in all its progressive glory.

Sadly, like many great places, this promising hub lost its mojo, and became known as one of the filthiest cities in America just two decades later. Fast-forward to today, when two Chattanooga residents — as it happens, a brand expert and a typeface designer — met by chance in a coffee shop. Musing over the impact a rebranding might have on their fair city, DJ Trischler and Jeremy Dooley came up with the idea for a font — and from there, Chatype was born, as was the impetus for urban renewal.

Joined by typeface designer Robbie de Villiers and brand expert Jonathan Mansfield, Chatype became a true collaboration. The font itself was inspired by the city’s history — its Cherokee roots, the Coca-Cola bottling company’s first plant, and its manufacturing roots — to arrive at what they label "geometric slab serif". Mansfield explains, "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."

The development team has high hopes for Chatype, believing the city — with its growing artistic community and entrepreneurial spirit — is perfectly poised for a strong and unified city identity. They’re currently working with officials on adopting the typeface into signage, city websites, the Chattanooga seal, and more, while the library and Visitor’s Bureau have already incorporated Chatype into their materials.



This historic American city has quadrupled its growth rate in the past few years, and is on track for its own cultural renaissance. Now that it has a unique form of branding firmly in place, Chattanooga could serve as inspiration to other cities looking for revival or simply a customized look. Whether or not other places follow suit, Chatype has helped Chattanooga regain its momentum — much like the little engine that could.



Could your home town use a font of its own? What would it look like? Let us know in the comments.

Stacey Kole

Stacey Kole is a freelance writer and former magazine editor. When she’s not crafting copy or chasing after her two little boys, Stacey can be found drinking coffee, tea, or anything else with caffeine. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.

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