Case Study: Gotham Type Specimen

Client: Academic
Project Type: Print, Editorial, Information Design
Tools Used: Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign


The function of a type specimen is to showcase a typeface by introducing its personality and unique features. These are most often used to help clients check the style, functionality, uses, and qualities of a typeface before deciding if they want to use it as a part of potential projects.

The goal for this academic assignment was to produce a 16-page type specimen that revolved around a specific theme. We had the freedom to play around with how we wanted to showcase the information and were encouraged to feel free to make it “wildly flamboyant or classical in the approach”.

The Challenge :
I was very excited about the opportunity to really have fun with this assignment. It had felt like I hadn’t had a project without a concrete design brief or style guideline requirements to follow in a really long time. I wanted to challenge myself with this assignment, develop a strong theme and really showcase the personality of the typeface.


Designed by Tobias Frere Jones in 2000, Gotham was a typeface originally commissioned by GQ Magazine. The editors wanted a sans-serif with a “geometric structure” that would look “masculine, new and fresh”.

Walking block-by-block with a camera through Manhattan, Frere Jones was inspired by the font lettering seen in older buildings— especially the sign on the 8th Avenue Port Authority Bus Terminal.

8th Avenue Bus Terminal in New York City

I also collected any quotes and blurbs about the typeface that I ran across during my research that I thought helped communicate who Gotham was and how it was already being perceived.

Some of my favorites were:

“They’re the matter-of-fact neon signs that emblazon liquor stores and pharmacies, and the names of propreitors plainly painted on delivery trucks. These letters are straightforward and non-negotiable, yet possessed of great personality, and expertly made.”
Hoefler & Co


“To preserve these old pieces of New York that could be wiped out before they’re appreciated. Having grown up here, I was always fond of the ‘old’ New York and its lettering.”
Tobias Frere Jones

Moodboard and Concept Development

After the research process, I knew that I wanted to have my theme revolve around New York City. I began researching and collecting inspirational images of the buildings, people, New York’s iconic symbols and noting potential color palettes.

Although, halfway during my concept development I found that having my theme be ‘New York City’ was way too broad. New York is one of the most popular cities in the world with an abundance of sub-cultures, iconic alumni, landmarks, Burroughs, television/film refrences and iconography. I felt that if I was to keep New York City as a whole as my theme. I would get lost in all the possible refrences and end up producing something that would end up showcasing New York City more than the Gotham.

So, I restarted my concept development and focused my attention on choosing a more specific theme with a more minimalistic approach and I decided I wanted my theme to celebrate the iconic New York taxi cab.

Exploring and moodboarding different minimalistic layouts for inspiration.

Color Palette

The four colors I chose for the color palette were pulled directly from the colors of the New York Taxi cab. To further communicate this theme in a clean and minimalistic way I decided that color-blocking with a monochromatic color pallet would look best and be a lot of fun to play around with in my layout design.


I began the layout process by figuring out what I wanted to do with my 16- pages. I marked down the pages that I knew needed to be in certain places like the f/b cover, half-title, title, and colophon. Based on my research of type specimens I knew that it was best to include a page that displayed the history of the typeface, the a-z display of the type family and a page that showed the unique characteristics that the typaceface offered.

With the unoccupied spaces in my booklet, I wanted to have some fun by displaying some of the quotes/blurbs I found during my research and do explore some more fun ways to display the fonts.

Cover and History Layout Digital Trials
Exploring Fun Ways I Can Display Gotham for the Extra Pages
Digital Trials for the A-Z of the Type Family

Special Features

This was an area of the type specimen that I saw as an opportunity to display some information design skills. I had nine distinct features that defined Gotham that I wanted to showcase. Following my ‘sub-theme’ of using quotes about the typeface, I went through my list until I found one that displayed all nine of the special features. This ended up being one of my favorite pages in the booklet.

The Final Booklet

This assignment was one of my favorite project I’ve made so far in my design career. It was a lot of fun, yet still challenging, and gave me the opportunity to showcase my skills for print, information, and editorial design. I was able to find a strong theme communicated who Gotham was, what it offers, where it comes from and all without overshadowing the typeface.

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