It's no secret - we Chattanoogans are pretty proud of our downtown. Often used as the measuring stick of progress since our dark days as the world's dirtiest city, it stands as a shining beacon of what a city can accomplish with a solid vision and a lot of hard work. But recently the signs of progress are a bit more literal with...well...new signs.
This month launches the rebranding of downtown, beginning with brightly colored banners highlighting each of downtown's five districts: Bluff View, City Center, North Shore, Riverfront, Southside and University/MLK. In addition, new way-finding signs will be erected which have the district name across the top. And if new signs seem like a small feat, think again.
"Downtown's way-finding signs haven't been replaced in close to 20 years, and we've been working on getting new ones up for the past two years," explains Tiffanie Robinson, program manager with River City Company. "You would think a task like this wouldn't take much time, but it's actually an expensive project that has to be privately funded but conducted by the city. We've worked with downtown businesses and organizations to fundraise as well as the city to execute them going up." These signs will help tourists find downtown attractions and retailers, but River City officials hope that they, along with the new banners, will also bolster some hometown pride.
In addition to highlighting the areas of town that make Chattanooga unique, the signs boast something no other banner or billboard in America can - a font specially designed for the city (in fact, you're looking at it right now-this story is set in Chatype Regular). No other city in the world has designed and implemented its own font from the ground up, and when Chatype was launched earlier this year it garnered international attention. There are only 300 professional typeface designers in the world; two of them happen to live right here in Chattanooga - Robbie de Villiers and Jeremy Dooley.
When brand consultant D.J. Trischler, 27, discovered this, he had to meet them. Two coffee shop meetings later the three men, plus Trischler's business partner, Jonathan Mansfield, were on their way to undertaking the herculean task of rebranding a city. "The pump was primed; the tracks had been laid for an effort like this," says Mansfield, 27, writer and account manager for D+J Identity. "Locally and afar there's been a lot of work done in typeface development and municipal branding and dreaming about what Chattanooga can be, so we really came along and were able to tie the strands together. It's really about us standing on the shoulders of giants," he humbly adds.
Remarkably, after nearly a year of grueling work, a bender at 48-Hour Launch and a Kickstarter campaign that raised $15,000 in capital, the men gifted the font to the city. Not only that, they designed the banners for River City pro-bono. "We had two ways to go - one, we could fight the battle of valuing our work and convincing the city to pay that or we could say it's worth it to us to have it done and donate it," explains Mansfield of the Chatype endeavor.
Already the city has incorporated the typeface into its newly redesigned website and The Public Library plans to use it on everything from reference signs in the library to the bookmarks it gives away. The Chattanooga Visitor's Bureau also has big plans for the font, using it in ads and billboards across the Southeast. "It's so difficult to define what it is about Chattanooga that makes it so special but one thing I can safely say is that there's an incredible amount of collaboration and sensibility of people wanting to work together to lift us all up collectively," says de Villiers. "I've never seen anything like it."
Appropriately, teamwork is also the theme of downtown's re-branding campaign, beginning with the districts. "People like to feel like they belong to a special group, so when a district receives its own brand, people feel very proud of that title and the area that they're living or working in," notes Robinson. "We wanted to showcase the uniqueness of each district and create collaboration of their individual communities."
The banners and typeface are just the first phase. D+J is also hammering out the details of a slogan for Chattanooga, much like "I LOVE NY" or "Keep Austin Weird." Once launched, River City and D+J hope to put the slogan on buses, sides of buildings, billboards, bumper stickers, shopping bags and more - all written in Chatype of course. "I think all of us would like to see Chattanooga have a better visual brand, something that when you get off the airplane you feel like you're in Chattanooga," says Trischler. "Right now it's all very segmented. You go to East Chatt and that's one Chattanooga; you go downtown that's another. Our vision is to somehow unify the city. That may seem very idealistic and lofty but I think it's an awesome goal."
Ultimately, the men hope to capture all the unique, special, wonderful things about Chattanooga into one unified voice to promote it better to the world. They've already done that to some extent just by creating the typeface. Once the word gets out, there's no telling how far it will go.