Optima vs. Gotham: Campaign Typeface Smackdown '08
John McCain's spankin' new Straight Talk Express sits in an airplane hangar in Cleveland, Ohio just a few weeks ago, and one of the most important details has been recently applied to the side of the fuselage. The candidate's name appears in Navy Blue Optima Extra Black at about 5,405 point (I took the height of the aircraft windows to be approximately 1,081 point and measured accordingly). However, if you look at the official logo of the McCain campaign the candidate's name appears merely in Optima Bold. Could there be a typographic arms race heating up the Presidential campaign of 2008?
In our branding-of-everything world, where folks meticulously tweak their myspace page and we update our headshots, it seems we expect no less from our future presidents. Although Gotham was designed by Tobias Frere Jones in 2000 for GQ, it has a classic 20th century American quality that can help a candidate who some think was born in another country. It is no surprise that it was inspired by the Eighth Ave. Port Authority Bus Terminal sign in New York City. However, Art Director Roger Black recently noted that Obama's logo has evolved from Perpetua upper lower to another HTF face, Requiem in small caps. The first was accessible and optimistic. The new logo feels like there is work to be done and a bit more formal. Maybe the open tent will have a velvet rope. Is it possible Jonathan Hoefler will be designing White House Dinner invitaions in his future?
In choosing Optima, is McCain sending a centrist message? Designed in 1958 by Hermann Zapf, Optima tries to be a bit of everything with a modernist edge. Serif or sans? You decide! I remember the Catholic church using it in the 1970s to get me to attend those youth masses on Saturday. Fat chance! Maya Lin used it to inscribe the names of the soldiers on the Viet Nam memorial. Seymour Chwast of Pushpin recently told Steven Heller of the New York Times, "Optima is one of the worst pre-computer typefaces ever designed. It was created to satisfy everybody's needs. A straightforward, no-nonsense, no-embellishment face, it comes in regular and bold but little character can be found in either weight. Optima is not appropriate for use by Senator McCain".
It is interesting to note that neither candidate chose the bold san-serif italic treatment that some previous candidates have embraced to project progress or evoke the future. That may be due to an economic future that will look murky at best through election day.