Typefaces and Connotations

Influenced by Bauhaus designers in the early 20th century, Geometric Sans typefaces are sans serif fonts derived from simple geometric shapes – circles, triangles and rectangles. With minimal contrast and even widths, Geometric typefaces have a cohesive, but contemporary feel.From the Linetype essay by Adrian Frutiger. “The first sans serif font to appear in a type sample book was by William Caslon IV in 1816. This new typeface caught on quickly and began to appear all over Europe and the U.S, under the names “Grotesque” and “San Serif”. Soon bold and slender weights of this type could be found everywhere in newspaper headlines, on posters and brochures.

Gotham was created in 2000 by Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones, who are the founders of Hoefler & Frere-Jones. It was commissioned by GQ magazine to be used on the magazine covers. They created the typeface after looking at the letterforms used in bus terminals in New York City, but it was not until Obama used the typeface for his campaign, that it gained popularity (Ahmed, 6).










New York City Bus Terminals



It is now used “by Saturday Night Live, the University of Waterloo, New York University”, and can be seen in many other places (Ahmed, 8). Hoefler and Frere-Jones said they wanted to create  “handmade sans serifs…that transcends both the characteristics of their mannerisms of their craftsmen ”(Ahmed, 10). They set out to create a typeface that is timeless, has authority, “straightforward and non-negotiable, yet possessed of great personality,” honest, and friendly (Ahmed, 10).  The campaign Design Director, Scott Thomas, understood the power of visual strategies and designed the visuals knowing they would be as important as the speeches Obama gave (Ahmed, 3). The “color, form, iconography, scenery, staging, lighting, pose and production” were all designed to enhance the message of the typeface, also to be recognizable and associated with Obama and his words (Ahmed, 3).



University of Waterloo Logo




Obama Hope Poster



The typeface, Requiem was “used for Obama and Joe Biden’s names and the year ‘08’”, while Gotham was seen in the “supporting text” in the visuals (Ahmed, 3-4). Ellen Lupton in her book, Thinking with Type, categorized Gotham as “Blue-Collar Curves,” saying that graphic designers have to keep in mind the history of typefaces, connotations, and qualities. She says “the goal is to find an appropriate match between a style of letters and the specific social situation” (32). Gotham embodies the middle class, which is primarily the demographic many political leaders in the United States cater to. Ahmed explains that the typeface is “American, contemporary, sophisticated, elegant, tasteful, and straightforward” (4).



Obama Yes We Can Poster





Obama Logo-2008 Campaign



Gotham is now recognizable to many and because of the success of Obama and his campaign. This typeface still remains one of the most commonly used of all typefaces because it possesses a timelessness and exudes personality, honesty, and friendliness, even when it is not associated with Obama.




Ahmed. M Miriam. “Typeface Persona: Investigating Gotham’s Suitability for Obama’s 2008 Presidential Campaign”, Evolution of a font. (font designers Jonathan Hoefler, Tobias Frere-Jones), Hearst Magazines, a Division of the Hearst Corporation, 12/2005, http://www.miryum.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/2013-MAhmedPhDDissertation-GothamObama.pdf, 02/12/20. 

Lupton, Ellen. Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers & Editors. Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 2010.


Editors: Nicole, Samantha