Goldman Sachs Has Money. It Has Power. And Now It Has a Font

As does Sumner Stone. He is a designer of over 180 typefaces, the author of “On Stone: The Art and Use of Typography on the Personal Computer,” and a person who, in the late 1960s, moved to Kansas City for a job at Hallmark just to work under the fontsmith Herman Zapf. “Dalton Maag’s business has been primarily the kind of work that we see with Goldman Sachs,” Mr. Stone said. “They make very safe typefaces for big corporations who want something typical.”

John Hudson, who has designed typefaces for Microsoft, IBM and Apple, is another critic. In response to an open call for opinions about Goldman Sans on TypeDrawers, an online discussion forum, he wrote: “The design represents what is becoming the norm for corporate custom typeface development: lack of courage and imagination, and increasing desperation on the part of type designers trying to figure out ways to minimally differentiate the design from the ones they created for other clients with the same lack of courage and imagination.”

Many corporations make their custom fonts free to download, partly to allow international users who do work for the company to modify the character set, adding the characters they need for foreign alphabets.

When Goldman released Goldman Sans on June 2, it followed suit. But a link below the download button sent users to something called the “Goldman Sachs Restricted Font License.” Buried within the legal document was Article C, Section 2, subsection d, which stated: “the user may not use the licensed font software to disparage or suggest any affiliation with or endorsement by Goldman Sachs.”

Within a few weeks, a poster at Hacker News noticed the nondisparagement clause. Soon, all over the web, all kinds of people — bank haters, typography geeks, First Amendment stalwarts — were writing mean things about Goldman Sachs in its own font. Many went with the obvious “Goldman Sucks,” which looks almost authoritative in Goldman Sans. Others dug up Matt Taibbi’s memorable description of the bank in a 2010 Rolling Stone article: “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

The line doesn’t seem nearly as bad in Goldman Sans, which has a certain neutering effect. When the phrase “Goldman Sachs performs human sacrifice every Wednesday” is rendered in Goldman Sans, it seems like something you might see posted on a sign in the bank’s cafeteria.

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