Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Helvetica | The film.

"Graphic Design is the communication framework through which these messages about what the world is now, and what we should aspire to. It's the way they reach us. The designer has an enormous responsibility. Those are the people, you know, putting their wires into our heads."
- Rick Poynor in Helvetica
Because I believe, like Poynor, that the designer has an enormous responsibility, I surround myself with things that educate and inspire me. Smart and creative things that trigger my imagination and reinforce my passion for design. One of these sort of things I was negligent to digest until last week was the film Helvetica. It's an independent film about type and graphic design, all surrounding the use and history of a particular typeface called Helvetica. (See it above my keyboard in the photo? In red? That's Helvetica.)

As Michael Bierut says, "Everywhere you look you see typefaces. But there's one you probably see more than any other one, and that's Helvetica." It's literally everywhere. It's everywhere because it's clean, modern, rational, neutral...okay, okay...and it just happened to be an Apple system font, which means everyone with a Mac had Helvetica. Mac-users over the years have been responsible for producing print communications, branding and advertising. Therefore, you get lots of Helvetica.*

Helvetica is used by the US government (tax forms), American Airlines, NASA, Panasonic, American Apparel, 3M, AT&T, BMW, Jeep, JCPenney, Lufthansa, Microsoft...the list goes on and on. Because this font is ubiquitous it goes unnoticed so I love that this film has brought it to light. If you get a chance, check it out. It might just turn you into a typomanic!

Here are several other quotes from the film I thought were worthy of sharing:

Rick Poynor: Type is saying things to us all the time. Typefaces express a mood, an atmosphere. They give words a certain coloring.
Erik Spiekermann: It's air, you know. It's just there. There's no choice. You have to breathe, so you have to use Helvetica.
Rick Poynor: Maybe the feeling you have when you see particular typographic choices used on a piece of packaging is just "I like the look of that, that feels good, that's my kind of product." But that's the type casting its secret spell.
Alfred Hoffmann: Stemple suggested the name of Helvetia, this is very important. Helvetia is the Latin name of Switzerland. My father said, that's impossible, you cannot call a typeface after a name of a country. So, he said, why don't we call it Helve-ti-ca. So, in other words, this would be "the Swiss typeface". And they agreed.
Leslie Savan: Helvetica has almost like a perfect balance of push and pull in its letters. And that perfect balance sort of is saying to us - well it's not sort of, it *is* saying to us - "don't worry, any of the problems that you're having, or the problems in the world, or problems getting through the subway, or finding a bathroom... all those problem aren't going to spill over, they'll be contained. And in fact, maybe they don't exist."

*P.S. This entire post has been written using Helvetica. Is that a surprise?


  1. I am a non-adobe suite PC user whose always dreamt of using Helvetica.

    I noticed that Helvetica is not your default font for your blog. What font do you use for your blog?

    P.S. I really like Rick Poynor's quote.

  2. Hi, Jess. My chosen blog font (usually) is Georgia. Glad you enjoyed the quote! Are you a designer?

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