Saturday, September 28, 2019

Helvetica (2007)

There were a handful of fonts that everyone knew about, only because teachers told us that our papers had to be in one of those fonts.  They had to read a lot of papers, so they didn’t want anything fancy or hard to read.  So, you’re choices were something like Times New Roman or Arial.

Then, there was Helvetica.  I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve never heard the name.  Yet, someone made an entire documentary about the typeface, which started out as Neue Haas Grotesk way back in 1957.  Someone suggested changing the name to Helvetia, which was the Latin name for what would become Switzerland.  Rather than use the name directly, someone added the C.

You may be asking what’s so special about Helvetica.  It’s a very widely used font.  In fact, it’s common because it’s relatively generic.  Before the font was introduced, advertisements could have all sorts of crazy fonts.  Helvetica gave a very clean, easy-to-read look.  It was meant to convey information without the word itself becoming a spectacle.  When you look at signage, you look at the word or the letter and get what information you need from it without thinking about it.

Those interviewed for the documentary seem to fall into two camps.  Some believe that Helvetica was genius.  It did exactly what it was designed to do, which was convey information.  There’s an elegance in its simplicity.  Others thought that it was too bland.  It’s like glorifying white bread for being flavorless.  Why would you want someone to not notice the font?  That’s part of the design of an ad or a logo.

The film was 80 minutes, which was a little long for me.  I felt like 20 minutes or so could have been cut off.  I didn’t really feel like I learned much about the font, other than where it came from and what the intended use was.  Honestly, though, I don’t think most people would watch it at 60 minutes.  This isn’t to say the documentary is without merit or use.  I’m sure there are people that would be interested in it, but I don’t think most people would rent the DVD.  Maybe streaming, but I doubt there will be many rentals.

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