Choosing which font to use is not a decision to be taken lightly. Graphic designers often labor over typeface options for hours until they find the perfect lettering to visually express their work — and for good reason. Font has been packed with symbolism since the early 20th century, from the Nazi leadership monopolizing the blackletter typeface and transforming it into a sign of German national identity and terror, to the Cold War, when the Latin alphabet grew to signify loyalty to global powers. And in today’s politically volatile climate, typography is as important as ever.
The 2016 U.S. presidential election provides the most recent and recognizable example of the power behind typography. The two lead candidates adopted two strikingly different symbols to represent their campaigns. Hillary Clinton’s “H” was clean and sophisticated, a symbol that encapsulated the identity she hoped to cultivate on the campaign trail. She also employed one typeface, aptly called “unity”, across all her digital media platforms. Jennifer Kinnon, the design director for Clinton’s campaign, did not underestimate the power behind these typography choices. “Every single thing we do with design in the campaign is to act as a surrogate for our candidate,” she said. “We want America to get to know her and understand who she is and her vision for America.”
Donald Trump on the other hand, opted for more simplistic and accessible imagery, namely a red baseball cap with “Make American Great Again” written in Times New Roman font. The straightforward message and recognizability of the font played well for Trump supporters. While naysayers may argue that his whole marketing strategy looked like the workings of a high school student opening Photoshop for the first time, it encapsulated his image as the every-man’s president. And, it worked.
— Dubai Font (@DubaiFont) May 4, 2017
Even entire cities are harnessing the power of typography. Dubai, in the UAE, recently announced it was releasing its very own font, integrating both the Arabic and Roman alphabets, that will be used for all official correspondence. The marketing strategy for the font revolved around a message of free expression, encouraging social media users to use the hashtag #ExpressYou. Although the typeface was aimed at uniting the city and forging a stronger identity, critics were vocal in their displeasure and were quick to point out hypocrisy. Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted: Dubai says “expression knows no boundaries,” it “is strength and freedom.” But it means a font, not free speech. And John Lillywhite, publisher at Al Bawaba chimed in, saying: About those cute contracts specifically outlawing free speech for workers in #Dubai… will they be in #DubaiFont now? #ExpressYou.
Another arguably more successful example of typography producing a sense of unity comes from the new typeface Aravrit. Designed by a 32-year-old Israeli graphic artist, Liron Lavi Turkenich, the font combines Hebrew and Arabic alphabets to produce a written language that can be read by both Arabs and Israelis. Turkenich embarked on this project after picking up on the politics behind language, especially prominent in Israel, a country that is trying to make Hebrew the only official language, despite millions of Israelis whose first language is Arabic. “In addition to the positive reactions, the project also brings up important discussions,” Turkenich told The Independent after launching Aravrit. “I feel that it gives people a way to express hope, from a very basic point of view – language.”