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It’s been, if we’re being charitable, an uneven couple of years for Goldman Sachs. If we’re being honest, they’ve been pretty terrible. It’s not just the thunderous black cloud of the 1MDB swindling-a-sovereign-nation-out-of-$4.5-billion scandal and everything that it has thrown into sharp and hideous relief, although that’s definitely still very much an issue. There are the other scandals, of the insider-trading variety. There’s the unfortunate press received for its decision to deploy some of the “consumer relief” mandated in its mortgage settlement in the form of foreclosures. There’s the potentially criminally incompetent Treasury secretary dragging both a grand old Goldman name and Goldman’s name itself through the mud. There’s the continuing political career of one Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. There are the pitying pats on the head from regulators for managing to do the very simplest tasks, while those same regulators look to put an end to one of the bank’s few top-performing products. (Take a gander at what may well be its final incarnation, if you’d like.)

And all of this as Goldman struggles to transform itself into an entirely different bank than the venerable old vampire squid we’ve all come to fear and respect. And, to be honest, that’s not going great, either, what with the Main Street follies, lower pay, lame interns, relaxed dress code, increased transparency and cool-guy CEO, none of which seems to be impressing: not the people who work there (or used to), nor the people who invest in it, nor the governor of the State of New York.

But at last we are able to report that David Solomon has solved Goldman’s image problem, and with it, all of the rest are sure to follow: the scandals, the existential crises, the talent drought, you name it. For Goldman has a new face to show the world, and that face is Goldman Sans.

In early June, Goldman Sachs introduced Goldman Sans, a typeface it describes as “approachable without being whimsical” and “neutral, with a wink.” It’s free for anyone to download, and it would appear to be part of a continuing effort by the bank to seem more digital and open…. “The design challenge was to make something distinctive enough to be worthy of existing without being so quirky that it got annoying over time,” said Steve Turbek, head of user experience at Goldman Sachs, who was in charge of the font project. The typeface gets funky in characters less likely to show up on a spreadsheet: The & and @ characters are almost obscenely curvy, and an alternate lowercase g is a wacky, double-story affair.

Of course, the introduction hasn’t been complete smooth. Some habits die hard, like the bank’s formerly famous secrecy.

Many corporations make their custom fonts free to download…. 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…. 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.

But that’s it, right? No other caveats or kvetches? Mission accomplished for D.J. D-Sol?

“What I’m lacking is any connective tissue to Goldman Sachs as a company,” said Mike Abbink, a font designer. “I’m finding very little formal relationships to a historical point of view. It’s focused more on functional requirements, so it’s missing life to me….”

“Goldman Sans is a typeface that does not wear a tie. It’s a casual Friday,” said an unimpressed Erik Spiekermann, the first typeface designer to be elected into the European Design Awards Hall of Fame…. Mr. Spiekermann said he considered Goldman Sans well constructed, but — like many corporate fonts — boring and derivative….

“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…..”

“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.”

Even the reporters couldn’t help but have a go.

On July 17, Goldman quietly removed Article C, Section 2, subsection d, changing its download terms to the industry standard SIL Open Font License. Everyone can now use Goldman Sans to mock Goldman. Although if you want people to truly notice, you might want to pick a different font.

On the bright side, perhaps a guilty plea made in Goldman Sans will be essentially invisible.

Goldman Sachs Has Money. It Has Power. And Now It Has a Font [NYT]
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