Creating a Font To Continue a Legacy
In 1978, artist Gilbert Baker created the rainbow flag, one of the most iconic symbols of the LGBTQ pride and social movement. Last month, Baker passed away at the age of 65. To honor his legacy and the symbol he created, Ogilvy teamed up with NewFest and NYC Pride to create a new font inspired by Baker, named “Gilbert”, available for download on the website www.typewithpride.com. Ogilvy.com spoke with Creative Director Chris Rowson about the project and carrying on the legacy of Gilbert Baker.
Ogilvy.com: Tell us about the background of “Type With Pride” and how it came about.
Chris Rowson: We’d worked with NYC Pride, we’d worked with NewFest. We actually just launched last year a really nice piece of work for NewFest, an LGBTQ media and film organization, where we launched this really beautiful and simple poster, art direction campaign which actually projected Gilbert Baker’s rainbow flag onto members and screenwriters and followers of New Fest. In terms of this actual project, obviously we heard the news about Gilbert Baker, and we wanted to create something in memory of him. Something that would celebrate his life, but also celebrate the icon, which is the rainbow flag. For us, both as designers and part of the LGBTQ community, it’s a really strong design icon. Something that started out as such a simple idea—I don’t even think it was intended to become that big, it was literally something that was sewn together for a rally and then became this huge icon. For both communities, it’s a strong icon, and it’s a strong icon because it’s a positive icon. It’s never been about anything negative, it’s always celebrated the positive. It’s powerful because of the colors and the meaning behind each of the colors. That was the real inspiration; we wanted to celebrate something that he created that actually changed peoples’ perception about that community.
O.com: What about all the design elements of the font and the choices that went into designing it?
CR: It wasn’t just about the colors of the rainbow flag. It was very much that we dissected the flag; we just pulled apart the colors and the shape of them, the proportion of them, and kind of created this simple, simplistic bit of geometry, these elongated rectangles. We wanted to keep it true to the rainbow flag and also have that kind of visual connection, that device, that thing that makes you feel that it’s come from that rainbow flag. It’s keeping those hard edges, but kind of bending the shapes, so we were not forcing any extra geometry or shapes into the typography itself, and keeping it as true to the rainbow flag as it could be. And kind of by accident, we started kind of creating this design style that referenced the 70s. Typography like the Walkman logo, around that era. It very much was similar design language, really strong, simple, fixed geometric shapes. We kind of stumbled across that by accident, but it was a really happy accident and it felt so right to continue down that route.
One thing we added was the overlay technique. Rather than just keeping bold, solid colors that fit together and don’t intersect, we actually like the idea of it being fluid and intersecting. Because there are so many views, genders. It’s a kind of really open community, and a really open world, and we want to live in an open world so we should be fluid. So we liked the idea of that crossover and that overlay, it kind of creates new things. People aren’t just one thing, they’re not just gay, or not just transsexual, everyone can be a mixture of things. So that was kind of the design language and where it went from there. The other interesting thing, we kind of designed this as a display font, more as a graphic than an actual font. Then we got the idea of turning it into a black and white font. And we found this software, Fontself, who have become our partners on this. We actually then found out that they started creating this really innovative thing, colored fonts. That’s something that’s never really been available before, to actually type with colored font. There are some limitations still, but it’s amazing, and it’s a really funny coincidence that we could actually launched this font in color, because that’s how it deserves to live. That was an amazing part of the story, and we just kind of went full steam ahead.
O.com: What would you say is the overall goal or mission of “Type With Pride”?
CR: We created it as a memorial, but we hit something much bigger. Pride uses this flag to represent pride, the community. So we kind of say, why can’t we use this font to do the same thing? Carrying a flag around every day, or having a big sticker on your bag or laptop, not everyone can do that. But having a font that you can download and install and type with or send emails with; you can write with this font. We love the idea of people actually using this as a symbol to show their pride. Something that is kind of almost invisible to the eye, but you can use it every day, every email you send, every banner you create for pride rallies or events, you can use this font, and it’s a clear representation. Our goal is to make it as synonymous with the LGBTQ community and gay pride as the flag itself.
O.com: How do you think brands, agencies and companies should approach social change issues?
CR: It’s something I want to be part of, and use our powers for good. It’s something many other designers, creative directors, creatives genuinely want to do. For me, you’ve gotta be 100% committed. And also, for me, you should strive to create more than just a campaign that will disappear, or jump on the back of a cause for the wrong reasons just to get a little bit of publicity. It’s gotta be something that you are 100% committed to and also create something that can become a kind of utility or a symbol. Or, something that genuinely helps a community or changes the perception of a cause, or whatever it is you’re trying to stand for.
O.com: That’s what seems key to this project in particular. It’s not about going viral, it’s something that can be used in the actual cause itself.
CR: Exactly. It’s a font and we’re giving it for free as well which is really important. That was a huge thing. Because the rainbow flag is a free icon. There are no rights on it, you don’t have to pay to hold it up as a banner, so that was really important. So it was the same thing. We weren’t trying to make a buck out of it. And it’s now something that we’ve put out in the world that anyone and everyone can use forever. We’ve kind of really built this project pro bono; lots of evenings, early mornings and weekends, because it’s something we’re passionate about. We’re not using it to make money. And it’s something that, there’s no negative side to it, it’s a really positive thing we’re trying to create.