Tuesday, May 4, 2010


a few nights ago i watched a documentary called "helvetica." and if you think a documentary about the history of a typeface sounds boring, well, you are wrong.

for one thing, helvetica isn't just any typeface. it is the most used, and most legible, typeface on this planet earth. it's used for street signs, the american airlines, staples and lufthansa logos and everything printed in the new york subway system.

we probably see helvetica more than anything or anyone in our lives.

but helvetica also has a fascinating backstory. created by a swiss typography house in the 1960s, it was an expression of clean, simple, commanding modernism. it's hard to believe now, but helvetica literally changed the visual world. and now, it seems, helvetica is dividing the world into those who think it cannot (and should not) be improved upon, and those who think it is the mark of the old regime and should be done away with right away.

dramatic, right?

if i haven't convinced you yet (which i cannot imagine), might i also point out that the movie is full of remarkably good-looking typographers, many of whom are dutch (swoon) and some of whom say things such as, "some people look at wine bottles. some people look at girls' bottoms. i look at type."
gotcha, didn't i?


Marcelina Moreno said...

I just sat through a hour long lecture on this very subject last Thursday...why would you be doing this as an interior design major? I'm sure you are asking...I have a dreamy Dutch professor who believes that typeface is key to design. He actually mentioned this film twice! He's single perhaps you are soul mates.

Evan and Holly said...

I love you and I love that Evan will actually read your posts (as opposed to every other blog I read, including his best friend's). He'll want to see this though and I'm just not into documentaries, but maybe we'll see if we can see it. Because of you Frances, all because of you. :) Thanks for the info. Keep me posted. Curious minds NEED to know....for we have nothing better to do.

Bria said...

I agree - it's a fascinating documentary! I watched in grad school for a class on the history of the book, which was also super-crazy-awesome.

David's Holla Atchya! Blog said...

Yes, you did.

Popster said...

I use Times New Roman 11 point myself. I find Helvetica to be too angular and tiresome on the eyes in long documents.

Carl said...

Oh, you don't have to convince me to like Helvetica, Frances. I love it! Well, it's actually everything about traffic signs that I love. From the colors and symbols, the materials they used to make them (aluminum, steel strapping seals, metal posts), the origin and meaning of the sign, the typeface, the position, everything!

I grew up having a traffic sign-themed room. I even had my own steel strapping for my bed and school supplies. Oh, this made me miss my childhood days.