Would It Work Here? A New Typeface for the City of Seattle

By Amanda Zurita April 25, 2012 Published in the May 2012 issue of Seattle Met

DESIGNERS JEREMY DOOLEY and Robbie de Villiers believed that a font could encapsulate the spirit of a city. To prove it they created Chatype, Chattanooga, Tennessee’s very own font, which they hope to employ everywhere from local business signage to government seals and street signs in order to create a distinctive, unique Chattanooga identity. The typeface combines elements from the city’s Cherokee and railroad past with modern features that herald its tech-savvy present. The city seems to be willing to give it a try. The designers have commitments for at least four projects, says De Villiers, though he’s not ready to divulge what they are.

Could Seattle use a similar typographical overhaul?

Oh yes, says Karen Cheng, chair of the design division at the University of Washington’s School of Art: “A typeface for Seattle could help communicate that Seattle is a young, energetic city with a strong entrepreneurial bent.” Steve Watson, creative director at Turnstyle (the folks behind designs for local brands like Dry Soda and Julep) isn’t as sold on the idea. “As much as I’d love to see a unique city typeface,” Watson confessed, “if I had to choose I’d prefer that we got our light rail and viaduct issues worked out first.”

But hold on everyone, says a person who actually has a say in the matter. Gregory Izzo is the manager of engineering and design at a little division called the Seattle Department of Transportation—the department in charge of municipal street sign­age. Turns out, there’s a small matter of federal law. “Typefaces for traffic signs follow federal guidelines,” says Izzo. “We don’t want to deviate from the approved fonts.”

Translation: Street signs are ugly for a reason. Which makes one wonder, How are those Tennessee boys going to font-slap Chattanooga exactly?

“Yes, we realize traffic signs have different, more restrictive rules,” De Villiers emailed to clarify. “Naturally it would have been nice” if the city adopted the new font for road signs. But changing the city’s drab street signage “more than likely would not have felt like Chattanooga.”

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