In appreciation of Helvetica
My name is Jeanne Weiss and I’m a font nerd.
I came to grips with this while watching Helvetica, a documentary film dedicated to the proliferation and appreciation of the Helvetica font.
Judge me if you like, but I. Was. Glued.
The film takes the viewer through the 60-plus-year history of Helvetica while gathering the opinions and thoughts of designers and typographers around the world.
Until I watched the film, I was oblivious to just how much Helvetica had shaped my world. Now, I see it everywhere!
Helvetica is ubiquitous
Most likely, you’re not even aware of the extent to which Helvetica demands your attention every day. It directs you on street signage. It’s used on official Federal documents like your tax forms. It’s a favorite of corporate logos — Greyhound, Crate & Barrel, Urban Outfitters, the U.S. Post Office, American Apparel, Nike, Kodak, Target, Samsung, American Airlines, TNT and more!
The next time you watch The Office, pay attention to that opening sequence. That’s Helvetica.
We even use it in our branding at AMPED!
Helvetica is neutral
Even with thousands of possible font choices at their disposal, designers continue to favor Helvetica because it’s clean, simple and perfect.
Said one of the designers in the film, “It’s very hard for a designer to look at Helvetica characters and say, ‘How would I improve them? How would I make them look any different?’ They just seem to be exactly right. Helvetica is a beautiful, timeless thing and certain things shouldn’t be messed with.”
Said another, “Some fonts only say one thing: Christmas! Wedding! Helvetica says everything, and that’s part of its appeal.”
Helvetica is powerful
There were so many wonderful quotes from the film about design and typography that I wanted to share them with those of you who geek out on such things. Here are a few:
“A typeface should express a mood, give atmosphere or color.”
“Graphic designers have an enormous responsibility. They are the people putting their wires in our heads. Graphic design is the communications framework through which these messages are sent.”
“Don’t confuse legibility with communication. Just because something is legible doesn’t mean it communicates.”
“If something has an important message and it’s set in a boring, nondescript way, it might be lost.”
“If you take the same message and apply a different design and typeface to it, the emotional response will be different. The choice of typeface is the prime weapon in that communication.”
“Type casts a secret spell. It makes you say, ‘I like that. That’s my kind of product.’”
“There’s a thin line between simple and clean and powerful, and simple and clean and boring.”
Standing joke: “A typographer can’t see a historical film because the fonts are always wrong.” Which reminded me of this recent story.
“The reader shouldn’t be aware of the font at all. The font should just hold, display and organize the information, not draw the reader from it.”
“Think about when an actor is miscast in a role. The viewer will still follow the plot, but be less convinced or affected. Typography is similar. A designer choosing typefaces is essentially the casting director.”
Whattaya know, I’m a font nerd AND a casting director!
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