By Nina J P Evans

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Thoughts on Helvetica

The most famous, or at least the most recognizable, typeface in the world. I’m not sure if that’s because it was designed in 1957, we all like the things our parents and grandparents used to have in the home. Or is it purely the clarity and balance of letterforms used especially well in headings that appeals? As similar as it is in typographic form to Univers, Arial and lesser known Folio. The font Helvetica has indisputably a better sounding name, which incidentally almost wasn't the case, thankfully, it was renamed from Neue Haas Grotesk. 

Of the thoughts about Helvetica, I especially liked Michael Bierut’s Coke analogy, he nails it! As Helvetica in appearance looks nothing like the font on the Coke can, yet it has the very ‘Real Thing’ to it. Lastly, there’s Kyle Copper’s conversation with Mr. Rand, as well as being amusing it also cleverly makes you reappraise the functionality of the font. We need adaptability to grow and to value textual meanings in typographic layouts… communication is key. Helvetica is clearly a font that is taken both seriously and  humorously in a deadpan kind of way. The anecdotal quotes below are mostly pulled from Gary Hewitt’s documentary ‘Helvetica’, yes it’s a film title too, whatever next!

I’ve chosen quite a vintage feel to the images below in contrast to the way the font is used by many of today’s leading brands. 

You can say, ‘I love you’ in Helvetica. And you can say it with Helvetica Extra Light if you want to be really fancy. Or you can say it with the Extra Bold if it's really intensive and passionate, you know, and it might work.” ~ Massimo Vignelli

It’s The Real Thing. Period. Coke. Period. Any Questions? Of Course Not.” ~ Michael Bierut

Maybe the feeling you have when you see particular typographic choices used on a piece of packaging is just I like the look of that, that feels good, that’s my kind of product. But that's the type casting its secret spell.” ~ Rick Poynor

A real typeface needs rhythm, needs contrast, it comes from handwriting, and that's why I can read your handwriting, you can read mine. And I’m sure our handwriting is miles away from Helvetica or anything that would be considered legible, but we can read it, because there’s a rhythm to it, there’s a contrast to it. Helvetica hasn't got *any* of that.
Interviewer: Why, fifty years later, is it still so popular?
Erik Spiekermann: [sighs] Why is… bad taste ubiquitous? ~ Erik Spiekermann

And I think I'm right calling Helvetica the perfume of the city. It is just something we don’t notice usually but we would miss very much if it wouldn’t be there.” ~ Lars Müller 

I discovered that I never really used Helvetica but I like to look at it. I like the VW beetle, too, although I’ve never driven one. ~ Stefan Sagmeister

I remember a time at Yale when my work was being critiqued by Paul Rand. Mr. Rand told me only to use Helvetica as a display face never in text, then he squinted, leaned in, and whispered in my ear, because Helvetica looks like dogshit in text’.” Kyle Cooper

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