“Helvetica” [the film]

In class today we watched the film, Helvetica, a documentary that explores the history, use of the typeface, and various stand points of its use from different graphic designers.  The film not only discusses Helvetica, but also opens the discussion about Modernism and Post-Modernism.

Essentially, we were asked to answer two questions: What void did Helvetica fulfill?   And, what are the various stand points of the different graphic designers.

Since I tend to write too much for each of these blog posts (to the point of loosing my poor reader’s interest) I will keep it short, sweet, and simple.

What void did Helvetica fulfill?

  • “Born” in 1957 in Switzerland
    • Post-WWII in war destroyed Europe
  • Need for order, functionality, efficiency, honesty, etc.
    • Designers felt a social responsibility to provide appropriate type and designs
  • Helvetica is successful and embraces negative space and figure ground relationships in a way that had not been explored before
    • Mood: neutral, bold, modern
    • Corporations embrace the neutrality of the typeface and make it a part of the visual identity
  • Now, Helvetica has become a default font
    • therefore, a diminishing return in impact of font

Various Stand Points of Graphic Designers:

  • Massimo Vignelli
    • Modernist
    • Helvetica is good for everything, “spells out Modern”
    • “Type should not be expressive”
  • Erik Spiekermann
    • Post-Modernist
    • Was a good typeface, but has become a default à default for Mac and PC for a while
    • Letters all look too alike, needs more individuality between each letter
  • Paula Scher
    • Post-Modernist
    • Corporate culture of design
    • Helvetica, clean, fascist
    • “Morally opposed to Helvetica” because of corporations support of Vietnam war
    • In her generation, Pushpin Studios was the ideal design firm to work for because the designs were fresh, alive, content-heavy
    • Illustrates type for personality, expressio
  •  1970s
    • Produce vitality (despite Vietnam War), get away from slickness, lack of emotion of Helvetica

While watching the film I was alarmed at how many places Helvetica is used.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that the letters on this very keyboard are Helvetica.  And, I am pretty sure that I can’t un-see Helvetica in my surroundings anymore.  I had never even thought about the impact and over-use of a typeface until it was pointed out to me.

Another part of the film that suck with me was a segment with David Carson where he explains why Helvetica is not always a good font using the example of typography as to how it conveys meaning to nouns, verbs, etc.  My favorite was the word caffeinated to which Carson says, “look at this! There’s nothing caffeinated about it!” I couldn’t agree more with Carson on the point that in an isolated situation, Helvetica is not the best font to demonstrate the meaning or mood associated with the word decaffeinated.

Overall, the film was informative about the history of Helevtica, and made good cases for both pro and con Helvetica.  Yet the film still seemed to be a little more in favor of the positives of Helvetica.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s