Could Cincinnati Benefit from Its Own Typeface?

This is the first in a series of posts about civic design, iconography, and branding. Some of these ideas I’ve had for awhile, but now with GOOD Ideas for Cities coming to Cincinnati I figure it is a good time to share.

The question comes by way of Chattanooga, Tennessee where two out of the world’s few hundred typeface designers reside. They’ve designed Chatype – a typeface for Chattanooga. But first, a little background via GOOD:

Chatype came about when D.J. Trischler, a brand consultant, discovered he’d been sitting next to typeface designer Jeremy Dooley at their local coffee shop. The two became fixated on a question: What if Chattanooga had its own typeface? The idea may sound strange from an American perspective, but it’s actually the norm throughout Europe, where even small cities employ unique typefaces to distinguish themselves. In the United States, the only similar attempt was a failed one by academics in the Twin Cities, according to the Chatype team. Yet Trischler and Dooley say this is the first-ever attempt to create custom typeface at the grassroots level, rather than from the demand of a city government.

The two typeface designers started to sell the idea on KickStarter and just passed their fundraising goal of $10,000 with 5o hours left.

The following video via vimeo explains the campaign well:

So that’s where and why the question originates. Is this a good idea for Cincinnati? I don’t see the harm in employing unique fonts. After all, who doesn’t love typography? It would be noteworthy if Cincinnati was the first city, or at least the first major city, with its own typeface. It would be nice to have an identifiable municipal font used on everything from letterhead to bike lanes to street signs. A Cincinnati typeface (Cintype?) would be something that sets the city apart from other large American cities, and it relates nicely to Cincinnati’s growing reputation for design and branding.

Are there any typeface designers in Cincinnati? I know of at least one Cincinnatian who has designed a typeface. His name is Tobias Brauer and he’s an associate professor of visual communication design at Northern Kentucky University. Read more about him and his first font here.

But wait, doesn’t Cincinnati already have its own font? You can see it in the header of this blog. It’s an Art Deco typeface that was created for and used throughout Cincinnati Union Terminal. Here it is via CincinnatiViews.net:

Cincinnati Union Terminal font

If Cincinnati was to create its own typeface for city purposes, I’m not sure an Art Deco style would be the wisest choice. I found quite a few examples of it throughout the city, sometimes in unexpected places like the Moerlein Lager House, so I’ll share my findings:

Here is a video made about Union Terminal’s typeface for this youtube user’s “final project in digital typography”:

And some photos of it at Union Terminal via AbigailSteinem.com:

This book about Union Terminal uses the typeface as well:

The Union Terminal typeface was not limited to Union Terminal, however. The Moerlein Lager House has some of it too. I noticed it in the Schoenling sign in yesterday’s post, and now I find out via 5chw4r7z’s post that it is the original sign from the Schoenling brewery that once stood on Central. 

Schoenling sign typeface, photo via 5chw4r7z

Still, there are other Cincinnati typefaces that one finds if they go snooping.

For example, this one from graphic designer Ellen Lytle:

Cincinnati typeface by Ellen Lytle

Carew Tower uses a similarly Art Deco themed typeface:

Carew Tower Directory typeface, via baronid.com

Carew Tower Directory typeface, via baronid.com

The adjacent Hilton Netherland Plaza employs the same typeface, photo via kimsmithdesigns:

Hilton Netherland Plaza, via kimsmithdesigns.com

And here’s an older photo of the Netherland Plaza before it was a the Hilton Netherland Plaza via maggieblanck.com:

The prevalence of Art Deco typography in Cincinnati isn’t surprising considering its many striking buildings in that style. I’m not going to list them all, but there are several other fine examples beside Carew and Union Terminal.

An Art Deco typeface may not be the most suitable for letterhead and street signs and street lettering, but the question remains: Could Cincinnati benefit from its own typeface?

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Comments
14 Responses to “Could Cincinnati Benefit from Its Own Typeface?”
  1. Mark Stegman says:

    Thank you for pointing out our art deco typeface. I think it represents our city very well, but if we were to overdo it, it may lose its luster.

    When Cesar Pelli designed our Aronoff Center for the Performing Arts he incorporated the typeface into the building to help connect the modern arts center to our historical roots; when going from Proctor & Gamble Hall to the Jarson-Kaplan Theater, look up, you will see this typeface.

    I was elated when I saw the typeface in the new Christian Moerlein Brewery on the river. Part of our history is incorporated in this typeface.

  2. Nick Ross says:

    a 2011 grad of the graphic design program at DAAP did this as his thesis project this past year:

    http://ucgd2011.com/zack-mueller/

  3. Dan Reid says:

    How great would it be if the city adopted this in street signage?

  4. Interestingly enough, the Cincinnati Reds also have their own unique typeface. While decidedly different from the art deco typefaces you reference, it is still quite unique and identifiable.

  5. Jim Frierson says:

    Seth:

    Thanks for noticing what’s happening here in Chattanooga with the creation and successful launch of a completely original civic typeface. See the latest at chatype.com.

    Tonight we will celebrate the fundraising campaign on Kickstarter that, like the Ohio River at Cincinnati, spilled over its banks. Among the 300 donors are many from across the nation who simply admire innovation in design, individuals without any apparent hometown ties to this city.

    However, we can only chuckle at one gratuitous comment: “It would be noteworthy if Cincinnati was the first city, or at least the first major city, with its own typeface.”

    Really? Isn’t it a bit late for that notion?

    The ethos of GOOD magazine suggests that truly “major” cities are the ones with vibrant, entrepreneurial cultures. Ultimately, these are the ones that lead.

    We believe that the most meaningful city rankings are not about relative population counts but quality-of-life and sustainable growth.

    You and Professor Brauer are always welcome to come here for a healthy dose of design inspiration — graphic and urban, product and landscape.

    We could invite you onboard a crown jewel of our riverfront and a National Historic Landmark — the Delta Queen. Your citizens may yet remember that its home berth from 1948 to 2008 was Cincinnati … until the Queen’s owners sent it downriver and into drydock, where Chattanooga entrepreneurs found and rescued it.

    As the editor of this superb Over-the-Rhone blog, you might revise your post to read, “It would have been nice if …”

    Tonight we will raise our glasses of Big River ale in a hearty toast that Cincinnati might follow in Chattanooga’s wake.

    Cheers,

    Jim Frierson
    Vice Chair
    Chattanooga Green Committee

    • Seth says:

      Jim,

      Thanks so much for comment. I plan to respond to you more fully in an upcoming post but for now let me share two points:

      1. By saying “the first major city with its own typeface,” I did not mean to insult Chattanooga. I simply meant to denote a difference in size and influence of our two fair cities.

      2. I didn’t think it was too late to say such a thing because I was under the impression that Chatype’s implementation isn’t guaranteed by the success of its Kickstarter campaign. Certainly, I hope Chatype is successfully implemented. It seems only right that Chattanooga would continue to serve a laboratory of innovative civic design.

      Best wishes from one scenic river city to another,
      Seth

  6. Jim Frierson says:

    Seth:

    We are amused and flattered by the interest of Cincinnati to follow our typography example, not insulted in the least.

    The implementation of Chatype in our community is beyond question. Because its creation was unsolicited and spontaneous, its adoption does not depend upon official endorsement by any public agencies. In fact, this grassroots birthright may be the right model for a wide range of civic innovations.

    Last night’s spirited outdoor event at The Crash Pad marked a $10,000 fundraising milestone, assuring the co-designers that have earned this community’s support. A handful of us have been recruited for participation in the next pilot stage of Chatype.

    Many other celebrants join me in reiterating the invitation to come to Chattanooga see for yourself. When you observe the many historic and current ties between our cities, you may conclude that both of us are indeed major-league places.

  7. Dominique says:

    The Old English “D” is pretty much a universally recognized symbol of the Detroit Tigers and is used quite a bit around town here in metro Detroit.
    Here’s a recent article from the Detroit Free Press about the “D” and it’s close identification with the city http://www.freep.com/article/20110930/NEWS01/109300444/Tigers-D-logo-shows-Detroit-pride-tells-story-over-time
    As the article points out, people instantly know the “D” symbolizes Detroit…and not Dallas or Des Moines.

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