Can a typeface help a city thrive? That’s the hope in Chattanooga, Tenn., where a small group of designers and entrepreneurs have been engaged in a grass-roots effort to make Chattanooga the first city in the United States to have its own font. It all started last year, when a cadre of local designers began collaborating on a custom alphabet to encapsulate the city. In January, the group unveiled Chatype, as the font is known, and launched a campaign on Kickstarter.com to raise $10,000 to help cover costs. They raised more than $11,400 by March.
Chatype is still being tweaked, but public interest has been remarkably strong. The typeface is already being incorporated into the city’s official website, and it soon will start showing up on out-of-state tourism billboards and across the front of the Chattanooga Public Library. Custom fonts for municipalities are somewhat common in Europe, but this is the first time it’s been done in the U.S. (According to the Chatype team, the only similar effort was an academic-led proposal in the Twin Cities, which ultimately was abandoned.)
In trying to capture the city in a font, the designers drew inspiration from local reference points including the Cherokee alphabet, the nation’s first Coca-Cola bottling plant and sign-age from the famous “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” train station.
The new typeface helps solidify Chattanooga’s identity, according to City Councilman Andrae McGary. “All cities that are memorable have character,” McGary says in a video produced for Chatype’s website. “When you think of New York, you have a certain image that comes to mind. L.A., Seattle, Miami -- all these cities have a certain character. And the more that we as a community, as Chattanooga, can capture our spirit and put it in a meaningful, bite-sized way for people to get, I think it’s very important.”