Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gotham: The Most Overused, Best Font in the World?

I think it was during the presidential campaign for Barack Obama that I started to notice a beautiful font called Gotham.

It was simple. It was clean. It was clear. It was perfect. For the campaign, it was the typographic embodiment of everything the new president was trying to accomplish. A clear, simple message of hope and modern change.

Gotham was designed by the Hoefler Frere-Jones foundry in 2000. This is an excerpt of their description of this font.

"Every designer has admired the no-nonsense lettering of the American vernacular, those letters of paint, plaster, neon, glass and steel that figure so prominently in the urban landscape. From these humble beginnings comes Gotham, a hard-working typeface for the ages."

It is simple and classic like Helvetica but rounded and more architectural. It is also perfectly modern and a great combination with almost any other typeface. It comes in a great array of styles.

As a designer, when this font became more popular, I was in love. Suddenly, it became the "go to" font for almost every layout. Unfortunately, I guess almost every other designer had the same idea as me.

Suddenly, I saw it everywhere. This was not always a bad thing. It brought beautiful layouts to life and made good typography better.

Coca Cola used Gotham for their "Open Happiness" campaign. It also is used in their overall brand.

I also saw it used in some Target packaging.

It has also made appearances on several movie posters, in fairly nice layouts.

Then, I saw it on larger advertising and some unusual places that I was not expecting.

But, like Helvetica, I feel that Gotham has become so overused, that it has lost its sparkle and allure. It is no secret anymore to be used by only the very careful designer with a concern for good typography. I now see it in banner ads, websites and in TV shows.

Is it time for Gotham to be transitioned out? This is in the eye of the beholder and user. For me, I see it so much in so many situations that its uniqueness has worn off. It is still just as amazing as the first time I saw it, but I am less inclined to use it simply because I want to approach each design in a fresh way.

I don't think Gotham has run its course yet. And once a font has been put out there, no designer can control its use. This is part of the joy of fonts and cannot ever be owned by one person or by an ideal of design. All we can do as designers is to respect each layout as unique and approach it with a different set of eyes each time. Maybe seeing Gotham on the Maury show is enough to throw people off of its use?

In reality, most audiences would not even notice its use over something else. And look at Helvetica. It is also used almost everywhere but is still a classic. A strong enough font can stand the test of time and overuse. Gotham may follow this direction.

The most important question is, did Gotham help elect President Obama? Well, I guess it did not hurt!