Can a Font Renew Chattanooga’s Choo Choo?

Behold Chatype, a font and innovative urban renewal project seeking to rebrand the one-time dynamo of Dixie.

In a classic post-industrial Americana tale, Chattanooga lost its choo choo for a time. But a new font is renewing its thunder.

It all started in a coffee shop in 2011. Typeface designers Robbie de Villiers and Jeremy Dooley (two of the some 300 professional typeface designers on the planet) happened to sit next to one another one day and mused over their mutual longing to create a typeface for the fourth largest city in Tennessee. Why? Because they felt Chattanooga’s rich past and promising future warranted a font of its own.

During the 1960s, what was once known as the dynamo of Dixie – a railroad, industrial and manufacturing hub, also the site of the Coca Cola’s first bottling site – became better known as the filthiest city in America.

Chattanooga has since cleaned up its act (New Orleans, Philadelphia and Los Angeles are now dominating the grime) and is winning back its population. Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, Chattanooga quadrupled its growth rate. Moreover, the riverfront has been redeveloped, clean tech has moved in, the greenies are taking over, and an artist relocation project has spurred a creative revolution. Chatype, meanwhile, a geometric slab serif font, is initiating typographical one.

Dooley and de Villiers developed Chatype after consulting with a local historian to incorporate influences from Chattanooga’s past. The result is a blend of modern and industrial influences, with a historic slant.

The font includes a stencil variant, “a nod to the local design scene and a nod to industry,” brand consultant Jonathan Mansfied explained to Fast Co. Design. Also included in the kit are alternative characters that include elements of Cherokee letterforms (Chattanooga itself takes its name from the Cherokee word “Lookout Mountain”).

Now Dooley, de Villiers – along with DJ Trischler and Jonathan Mansfield of D+J Brand Consulting – are working with the city and individuals to incorporate the font into park signage, municipal projects, the Visitors Bureau website, the city seal and more.

Instead of relying strictly on grants and funds from local government, they are working on a community buy-in campaign via Kickstarter. The team has surpassed its goal of $10,000 from 241 backers.

Chattanoogans: expect to see Chatype in a bike lane near you.


K. Emily Bond

K. Emily Bond is the Shelter Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in southern Spain, reporting on trends in art, design, sustainable living and lifestyle.