Why Cooper Hewitt is giving away its new bespoke typeface (Quartz)

By Michael Silverberg

When a big organization rebrands itself, it’s usually a big undertaking. The whole process of conceiving and implementing a new design can take many months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. At the end of that, you’d think the last thing they’d want is to give away the design.

But that’s exactly what the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum is doing. And that decision is central to its new identity.

The New York–based museum, which reopens in December after a three-year renovation, commissioned a custom low-contrast sans-serif typeface from the designer Chester Jenkins for its logo, website, signage, and graphics. When the typeface (also called Cooper Hewitt) was announced last week, it was made available as a free download—not just the font, but its source files, which means designers can build on it. So far, it has been downloaded 1,200 times.

Cooper Hewitt’s new wordmark logo was designed by Eddie Opara using a custom typeface by Chester Jenkins.
The museum’s director, Caroline Baumman, says distributing the typeface for free was a way to demonstrate the Cooper Hewitt’s commitment to its mission: “We’re all about giving the public access to great design—to our collection online, to our typeface, to our programs—and this was a natural step for us.”

It’s not a natural step for most type designers, who make their living by creating and licensing fonts. The Cooper Hewitt typeface is based on Galaxie Polaris (also designed by Jenkins), which starts at $300 for a standard license of a full set of styles; the price can go up dramatically from there, depending on how it’s being used.

About Ryan C. Fowler

Ryan is a curricular fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C. He also teaches at Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster Theological Seminary.
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