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New Deal typeface

Type / Typography

Posted by Mark Sinclair, 29 May 2009, 13:42    Permalink    Comments (25)

Research Studios is currently finishing work on the titles for the forthcoming Michael Mann film, Public Enemies. Taking inspiration from the Works Progress Administration posters of New Deal-era America – which were often created by untrained designers – the studio has developed a bespoke typeface that reflects the unrefined aesthetic of the WPA

Jeff Knowles and Neville Brody have been working on the project, having previously created the typeface for Heat and The Insider. Public Enemies follows the exploits of American gangsters John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd during the 1930s and goes on general release in the UK on 3 July (1 July in the US).

"For this film we designed a bespoke typeface with references to the graphic art created around the time of the President Roosevelt's New Deal programs, initiated in the mid-1930s," says Knowles.

"Our graphic references were the associated promotional work program posters that were put together during the time, some of which were created by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The interesting thing is that the posters were not always completed by professional designers, so occasionally the typefaces and typography are quite crude and unrefined. So we had to figure that into the typeface that we designing for the film."

Knowles cites the collection of New Deal work held at the Wolfsonian museum in Florida as being integral to their research.

The New Deal typeface is being used on posters and will be used for the main titles of the film which we are currently designing. The trailer can be seen here.


I like it.
have you checked out Jason Baileys (ex Research Studios AD) in Berlin?
action man
2009-05-29 14:45:01

typo: I mean 'Jason Baileys Studio'.
of course.
action man
2009-05-29 14:49:30

I love when you see something you like this.

You do some research and you find the designers say they got their inspiration from another decade.

You see the images they did and I end up thinking to myself how much better the outcome is.

I look forward too seeing the title sequence please CR
Christopher Darby
2009-05-29 19:32:02

This typeface looks really similar to another typeface called Berber.
2009-06-01 03:30:20

Where can I pick up a copy of the face? I love reading about the research involved in design.
Evan MacDonald
2009-06-01 10:43:55

The "M" is the best bit of this typeface. It seems crude and homemade and gives so much character to the set. Love it.
Trevor Hutchison
2009-06-04 04:10:46

The alphabet feels mechanical but mechanical with the subtleness of an informed eye. It's very square but still very approachable. I agree about the 'M', the way it descends to a point and the low cross bars on the 'R' & 'A', they add real character. The spacing on the right side of the 'E' looks a little wide but other than that, really nice stuff.
Phil Garnham
2009-06-04 12:56:22

Untrained? Unrefined? Says who?
2009-06-04 16:59:16

I second Thom's comment. Untrained? Do you even realize what the WPA was about? Many of the designers tasked with creating the posters were tops in their field, that is until the rug was pulled out from under them. Many were regional, as there were shops throughout the country hit hard, and as such unknown to us. But untrained. Seriously. Most graphic designers today are classically "untrained" compared to these artists. Many have never apprenticed, or for that matter had to work on the marker comps until we had payed our dues. It's one thing to hand-render a typeface, it's clearly another to pick it from a pull-down.
2009-06-04 17:11:13

Anyone know where you can buy a print of that SF world's fair poster? Only thing I could find on it is this:
Mike D
2009-06-04 17:20:17

Tomorrow, the exclusive interview the creator of the font of the New Deal Michael Mann movie, Public Enemies, Jeff Knowles, in Buenos Aires blog VisualMente (
El Norbi
2009-06-04 17:58:51

The font is terrific and the trailer looks great but whose idea was it to put drop shadows behind the text? That's the only thing wrong with it in my opinion
2009-06-04 22:38:35

Some, were untrained
Drop shadows, yep, frustrating, but they can't help themselves!
Jeff Knowles
2009-06-05 12:33:11

This is a great adaptation of a genre typrface. Can't wait to see the movie to see how it has hopefully captured the time and place. I solid Brody typeface!
Eewei Chen
2009-06-05 13:15:15

I would also like to know where this typeface is for sale!
2009-06-06 07:47:41

Hi all,
The typeface isn't for sale, at the moment we are still doing the work for the main film, the prologue, locale and epilogue cards to be specific, so the font still in a stage that addresses the needs of the project, there is only uppercase and some of the punctuation, i.e. if there's a question mark in the text then we'll design it, this is due the the break next speed every thing had had to be done (spare the typographic crime responses, for this its is the needs of the project first), for example I heard from the client during the night they want to see, again, a slightly thinner weight for the prologue, epilogue cards, I've got a few hours today. . . ! (at this rate we'll have more weights than Knockout! HA! So, I think once the project is done and the film is out we'll go back to the typeface and create the lowercase and missing pieces and then make it available. Thats all I can tell you at the mo . . .
Jeff KNowles
2009-06-06 13:30:47

I kind of like it. I think the D looks like an O when it's small.
2009-06-13 05:17:07

I like Liquorstore better, but that's probably because I made it.
It's here:

But it's only available directly from me at the moment.
Comes with modern lowercase characters, too!

Chank Diesel
2009-06-13 14:52:14

Nice work, Jeff! Another alternative to add to the bunch: WPA Gothic - - was made with FontStruct, a modular font creator. Turns out this style is ideal for building-block creation.
Stephen Coles
2009-06-13 18:43:44

Very Nice! - what an era - larger than life!
Darren Butler
2009-06-14 19:31:01

I went to see this film earlier this week and wondered were the inspiration for the typeface came from! I would had guessed something along these lines, but it's nice to hear the designers talk about their research and inspiration for creating it.
2009-07-09 10:19:32

nice job Jeff
2009-07-09 15:11:48

The font and design are pleasing to my eyes. Most graphic designers today are classically "untrained" compared to these artists. Many have never apprenticed, or for that matter had to work on the marker comps until we had payed our dues.
Anne Covack
2009-12-10 06:49:54

mmmm.... seems some folks were 'inspired' by New Deal;
Craig Brown
2011-02-18 03:50:46

Surely you won't expect from such a commissioned typeface to bear "originality", in the sense the term is often used in typeface design.
It's more a typographically rendered version of a particular genre of period lettering.

In this sense, Berber (by Stephen Banham) and the New Deal types linked by Craig Brown in the above post are other example.

But since this has been done for a major released movie, they hired a big agency and publicized the thing. But it says nothing about the inherent qualities of a typeface (or a piece of lettering, for what matters).
Claudio Piccinini
2011-06-16 21:16:29

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