A few years ago, I worked with a company that used Gotham as it’s house font. I think it was actually one of the early adopters the typeface from the Hoefler and Frere-Jones (H&FJ) foundry. For various reasons, they never got the license to use it on the web. It was reasonably expensive at the time (although not prohibitively considering it is such a complete and wide ranging typeface) and H&FJ were making it available only to a few hundred sites that had petitioned them.
Today, H&FJ announced that thirteen years on from the creation of the font, it is available to all through their cloud-based webfonts service.
We missed the boat.
Gotham was a commissioned typeface for GQ magazine and is based on the letterforms of all-american signage throughout New York. It launched in 2000 and since then, has been a staggeringly popular choice for designers and typesetters It has shaped the logos of companies and organisations the world over, such as Discovery Channel, 9/11 Memorial and The Royal Opera House. It quickly replaced Helvetica as the popular font of the decade, possibly due to its combination of beauty, clarity and flexibility.
More recently, technology companies have been trotting out Gotham. Webs services like Foursquare, Yahoo and Squarespace all use it as their brand font of choice. But famously, Gotham had a very slow start as a web font. (It launches for everyone today, 13 years on from it’s creation). H&FJ were not in a rush to get it out and wanted to ensure that it was not only crafted beautifully for web, but also had the pricing and back-end structures ready for a worldwide rollout.
They worked with a few guinea pigs to test out the font for web. The most famous being the Obama campaign and BarackObama.com. Having this typeface was key to his campaign, led by Design Director Scott Thomas.
With the introduction of Gotham as a webfont service, and it’s instant availability to all, we are certain to see an influx of examples of Gotham used throughout the web. Sites like Obama’s led the way and held an edge- the amount of traffic driven to those sites by designers alone to see how they set Gotham for web must have been huge. A handful of sites were able to set themselves apart as the chosen ones, and had many years of strengthening their brand recognition across the web.
Those that missed out will now either continue with their use of Helvetica, Futura or other substitutes they are now used to… or will start the journey of rediscovering their font of choice and how it works in the web context.
The challenge from this day onwards for designers will be how they can set their work apart from the masses of Gotham that will appear on the web.
One thing is for certain, it is a modern classic and a truly beautiful font. I have enjoyed working with the typeface for print, and the web is a better place for being permeated by Hoefler and Frere-Jones’s work.