The February 2014 issue of ARCHITECT, which is the magazine of the American Institute of Architects, includes a report by contributing editor Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson announcing the AIA’s decision to design an original typeface for its use. Called “Architype” and developed by the renowned design consulting firm Pentagram, the new font family is the institute’s first proprietary typeface in its 156-year history.
The AIA initially commissioned Pentagram with branding of the 2014 AIA national convention in Chicago. As Evitts Dickinson recounts, “the designers had a thought: What about creating a typeface unique to the organization for its signature conference?” Because the AIA also retained Pentagram to work with on its overarching Repositioning initiative, it made sense to apply the new typeface to the AIA’s ongoing communication strategy rather than solely to the branding of the 2014 national convention. The overall goal is to increase awareness of the place of architects in society and the way we present ourselves to the world.
So, it’s all well and good the AIA chose to invest in creating the Architype font family as a key element in its promotion and rebranding efforts. On the other hand, am I alone in questioning the need for a new proprietary typeface? After all, the venerable font Helvetica has served the AIA very well for many, many years. Designing a one-off brand for each year’s national convention (sometimes involving the creation of an event-specific logo but most often relying upon existing typefaces) is one thing. The effort to craft a wholly new typeface is an entirely different matter. Despite the “technological advances” which “have made type design a swifter task,” the creation of a successful and appropriate typeface is no small undertaking. I have no doubt the associated expense corresponds accordingly.
How necessary was this new window dressing? Will the creation of Architype really achieve what the AIA and Pentagram think it will? Will it be worth the price tag and truly improve the way our profession is perceived by those we serve?
Apparently, the cost to develop the new typeface was presented to the AIA Board of Directors as part of the total budget for the Repositioning initiative. I spoke with Bill Seider, FAIA, our Northwest & Pacific Regional Director, about the institute’s current fiscal status and the allocation of funds for the rebranding efforts. According to Bill, the AIA is on relatively sound financial ground having added to its reserves for the first time since the 2008 downturn in the economy. He reminded me that the board elected to not raise members’ dues for 2014 as it had done in previous years. The bottom line is that the AIA did not redirect funds away from programs central to its mission so that it could simply indulge a hankering for something new.
The Architype font family in use.
As for Architype itself, I suspect its use may be limited to headline type and promotion of the AIA brand rather than for bodies of text; it simply doesn’t look as if it would be easy to read in large doses. I also think Architype manages, paradoxically, to appear both strong and brittle at the same time. It seems awkwardly mannered and affected (particularly the “Doric column” conceit) rather than reassuringly steady and elegant. At first glance, it also fails to adequately distinguish itself from so many of the established (and more refined) san-serif typefaces already available. If solidifying an organization’s identity was the object, I’m not sure Architype will fulfill the promise its designers claim.
AIA members: What do you think? Do you like the new typeface? Will its consistent use lead to immediate association with the AIA? Was this the right time and the best use of the institute’s limited funds (regardless of whether the AIA is in the black)?