A recent article in Good Design discussed how 3 type font designers are creating a cohesive look for the City of Chattanooga. All on their own. Without asking for permission or having a commission. We find it to be an incredible story of how vision, strategy, and change can occur, without having to check in with the power’s that be, or leverage a hot new technology or market trend.

For strategists, fonts might seem a strange beginning point for a discussion on shared vision, shared future, and a major urban planning effort. Even more surprising is the ignition point for the change happened in a coffee shop, when two of America’s font designers (this is a job?) started a conversation on type fonts that grew into a vision for their community.

How do we get from font designs to large-scale urban planning, change and shared vision. Easily it seems. Using fonts as a means to a design end is similar to what Apple or Nike do for product marketing. Creating a unique and representative look and feel is a standard marketing and branding strategy. The rub is that businesses generally do not start planning efforts with a font and move to a product. It’s typically the other way around.

From a simple discussion on fonts, the designers segued into how to use font to create a branding strategy for an entire city. It is a bold notion; visionary, radical, insane, and really, really smart. For all of us that have tried to do any form of urban or community planning its simplicity is sublime and enviable. Sure, these guys will get their share of egg-throwers, font-wannabee critics, and folks that are just against anything (and for nothing). And yes, the change effort will require just as much work as any traditional planning effort. The same amount of convincing, selling, involving, political wrangling, and public input. They will need the same commitment to see it through as all planners to create any plan that involves change. But darn it, you just have to admit that it looks like a lot more fun to do it their way.

Business strategists and community planners take note. The sparks that ignites strategies and large-scale change are occurring more and more in the realm of social media technologies, art and the design world. Staying current with cultural trends, not just marketing trends, business, and “go to” sources for competitive trends, will round-out your strategy palette.