In 2008 Barack Obama, then Senator of Illinois, was running for President of the United States. The world was ready for change, and it was ready to elect the nation’s first African American President into office. Behind the big smile, charismatic personality, and swagger…there was that logo and his campaign for hope and change that would eventually help him get elected.
Obama was everywhere! His face was on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and the poster created by artist Shepard Fairey that became synonymous with the campaign, but as a graphic designer, I was interested in the typeface that was being used, GOTHAM.
Up until then, Futura and Helvetica were my go-to typefaces. They both gave my clients what they wanted in a simple, functional, and modern look- it did the job. I often wondered if the designers behind the Obama campaign also had its “go-to” typefaces and if they also had a set that did the job when they felt stuck on choices and they needed something bold and clean. Did the designers foresee how extraordinary and important Gotham would become to this campaign? Did they have any idea a 26-year-old graphic designer in Southern California was ready to be pulled out from the basic pits of Helvetica hell?
Something happened on that day. The typeface was so familiar, I couldn’t pinpoint where I first saw it but I knew there was so much planning and thinking that went behind this decision on putting a fresh, modern take on this familiar typeface and making it new. So began my obsession with Gotham…
I couldn’t wait to use it on my first project. The casino ad heading read “MILLIONS OF WINNINGS” so clean, so powerful, the client loved it. That pat on the back ignited a ten-year binge of Gotham and its use across hundreds of casino campaigns between 2008 and 2018. Do you need a bold font? I got it, Gotham Black. Do you need a regular, not too bold, not too thin font? I got it, Gotham Medium. Do you want a thin futuristic, minimalist font? hmmm, oh, I got that too, Gotham Thin.
I needed help. A typeface intervention.
My name is David Varela and I am a Gotham-aholic.
In early 2018, I got just that, the intervention, a reality check/kick in the face only a good friend would give out of love. I was sitting in on our third creative meeting that week, I was brought in as a lead designer on our biggest client’s summer casino campaign. Our art director, like every Friday, started off his meeting with “Happy Fri-yay”. It was a little annoying but I smiled, not because it cheered me up, but because I thought it was Thursday, anyways…
I was given the task to team up with our copywriter and come up with headlines for the new campaign “Blistering Bags of Cash”, “Summer Heat Nights”, “Summer Spin Spectacular”. I couldn’t wait to get back to my desk and try out the whole Gotham Family on our headlines. On my way there I was stopped by my boss, who asked if I was working on the new campaign, “yes sir” I replied. He then asked if he could make a suggestion, sure, he asked if I could go “easy” on the Gotham font. GO EASY?!?! Those two words sent me into a creative frenzy and downward spiral. I spent the rest of the day typing “Go Easy” on my screen (in Gotham Black) over and over and over. Had I hit a typeface wall? A creative block?
Those words “Go easy on the Gotham” haunted me the rest of the year. 10 years of Gotham use, dwindling. Donald Trump was now our president. Gotham’s HOPE had now been taken over by the Make America Great Again red hats. Gotham had become a security blanket for so long. Did the typeface make me feel safe? Was it just easy to go to Gotham? Whatever it was, it was time to say goodbye and begin a new creative quest to find a new favorite typeface. Thank you for 10 great design years, you made the world believe in hope and support change in our world and you got this 26-year-old designer through 10 years of casino promotional campaigns, but in the end…