Helvetica: the 55 years old sweet heart of the 60’s… is still hot?

15 Oct

Helvetica

A Documentary Film by Gary Huswit,

Produced and directed by Gary Huswit, Swiss Dots Ltd, 2007

This documentary presents the history of the typeface Helvetica, its design and  the uses of this typeface until now.  The movie shows numerous examples of commercial and public  designs using  the typeface.  It also shows   interviews of people who believe it’s the perfect typeface or  graphic designers who consider the typeface a “mass media tool,”  a menace to society, and some of them, they associate the font with wars and other problems our society lives nowadays.

The typeface was designed in Switzerland for the Haas Type Foundry.  The designers were Max Miedinger and Edüard Hoofman in 1957 and it was created as an alternative to the German sans-serif typeface Akzidens-Grotesk.

Helvetica was rapidly introduced on logos and corporate identity materials because it is  bland, geometric, and easy to read.  The font is very geometric, soft, round and friendly.  Rapidly, Helvetica  was also adapted for signage of public places, streets and transportation signage in largest cities of the world, including London and New York.  The movie shows a vast number of companies that use this typeface for branding.   The interviews and examples about the diverse uses of this typeface make you reflect on the power of choosing a typeface for a project.  Some people think Helvetica is a symbol of capitalism, others a symbol of socialism because of its widely-spread use.

The movie also presents the points of view of designers like Paula Scher, the first female partner of the prestigious graphic design firm Pentagram .  I loved her interview and it was  how much she “hate” (her own words) Helvetica , not only for her clean and boring lines, but  also for the , the political implications this type has when considering how some large corporations were directly or indirectly sponsoring the Vietnam war and now the Iraq war.   Her interview took me to read more about her and I found this new presentation she made for TED, Ideas worth spreading.   It is worth to see.  Paula Scher gets serious,  Talk at TED Partner Series.

An idea  this movie re-enforces is that as a graphic designer, it is my obligation to make a serious study of the selected font for a specific project.  It is also my responsibility to transmit this knowledge to my customer, who is the one having the last word and approval of a design or campaign.  All the above, requires a serious attention to the surroundings, acute view and review of the market and to the current trends worldwide.

How an organization wants to be perceived by the public is not just related to what the entity wants to project to the masses, nor what the graphic designer wants to portray. There are important factors such as popular culture, the daily routines and the subconscious perceptions we built with the continuous seeing of a typeface on a daily basis.

 Below is a collage I put together, with logos using Helvetica.  Seeing all  of them jammed together… make me think on the cookie cutter houses we see appear by dozens in our cities.  I get the feeling that there is not much uniqueness about using this font on a design.  It surprised me to find Helvetica all around me on signs and labels, and it was more horrifying to realize I  did not noticed it was the same font.
 The movie also  made me wonder about my use of Helvetica and if I used the font, why did I choose it.  I am still checking files on my computer but indeed, there were many files with this font! .  Now I wonder about my reasons to use that font with those documents.   A worth to see movie!

Commercial logos using Helvetica

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