Good Fonts, Bad Fonts, and the Presidency

Somehow we’ve let the election season come to a close without thanking both parties for making this an 100% H&FJ election. Continuing the signature voice of its 2008 campaign, Obama for America kept Gotham as its typographic keystone, this year adding our Sentinel typeface as a companion slab serif. The GOP chose fonts from us as well, the Romney campaign settling on Mercury for its serif and Whitney for its sans.

We’d especially like to thank the teams at Obama for America and Blue State Digital for making us a part of their outstanding work on Barackobama.com. Eagle-eyed viewers may have noticed that webfonts from H&FJ made their first appearance on that site earlier this year, an especially meaningful milestone for all of us. It’s not often that your first beta tester is the President of the United States.

If the coming days bring a bitter electoral challenge, or the next four years bring the nation continuing deadlock on Capitol Hill, Americans will know exactly who to blame: typeface designers. According to this study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, bad typography may be useful in softening the stance of the politically extreme. The theory is that awkward or uncomfortable typography disrupts a reader’s “confirmation bias,” one’s tendency to only see things that are agreeable. What amateur typography might do for a candidate’s credibility is anyone’s guess, and whether the study’s choice of Times Bold really counts as an acceptable control for “good typography” remains an open question. But I look forward to the 2016 election, in which the honorable grunge candidate will face off against his esteemed colleague using Comic Sans. —JH

Change We Somehow Can’t Quite Believe In, Though We Just Can’t Put Our Finger On It

Every four years, the month of November tenders an exciting opportunity for financial speculation, this year offering an almost practical alternative to your lending institution of choice (still solvent as of presstime) or your flameproof mattress. Behold the high-stakes world of political memorabilia, now doing brisk business on the internet.

To my surprise and delight, this year’s “process pieces” about the election included dozens of articles about the Obama campaign’s exceptional graphic design standards, none of which failed to mention Gotham, the campaign’s official typeface. Obviously not every piece of Obama paraphernalia featured the font — organizations unaffiliated with the campaign certainly produced their share of ad hoc design, and this was a candidate who attracted a tremendous number of independent enthusiasts — but the typography employed by the campaign itself was remarkably consistent, which is what made it newsworthy.

A search for “Obama” on eBay yields more than twenty thousand items, including these three pieces of questionable Obama memorabilia (Fauxbamarabilia?), none of which features the campaign’s signature typeface. First and last are rally signs set in Gill Sans, which is close to Gotham, but no cigar. At the top it’s paired with Lucida, at the bottom with Times Roman; let me suggest to anyone interested in counterfeiting printed ephemera that you look a little further than the fonts that came with your computer. The middle one has a certain primitivist charm that suggests the work of a cheerful amateur, but the legend “Paid for by Obama for America” marks it as a likely fraud: if it’s not, it’s the only piece of American political printing I’ve ever seen that doesn’t also include a union bug.

Anyway, if you’re hunting for genuine souvenirs, try the campaigns themselves. Both the Obama and McCain organizations are still unloading their extras. —JH

Fontogenic

Typeface: Gotham Medium

Veteran campaigners know that the best way to gain someone's vote is to be photographed holding their baby. It seems that the same goes for fonts: it’s hard to take a non-partisan stance when one of the candidates looks so good standing in front of your typeface. Helvetica director Gary Hustwit shared this image with us, along with a hopeful observation about both the candidate and the typeface behind him:

“I think it’s interesting that the design of Gotham was influenced by early Modernism, another movement that was about change and social idealism. And I like that the design aesthetic that may help move Obama into the White House was inspired by the humble NY Port Authority Bus Terminal sign.”

A Font We Can Believe In, from the Helvetica Film Blog. —JH

Politics Without Gotham

Typeface: Knockout No. 48

Not all political typography has to be set in Gotham (though it seems that way) — here for example are some calls to action by Shepherd Fairey that don’t use any Gotham at all. They use Knockout No. 48.

Designers in Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington, and Maine have primaries this weekend; Virginia, Maryland and DC, you’re up Tuesday. This means you. —JH

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