Wednesday evening Joey and I left WWDC for a bit and attended a screening for Helvetica. A film that as the director, Gary Hustwit, says is “a movie about a font”*. The screening was at hosted by the San Francisco AIGA for their Design Week, and it was excellent.
For those of you who don’t yet know, Helvetica is “among the most widely used sans-serif typefaces internationally”1 and this year (2007) happens to be its 50th anniversary. Over those fifty years it has been in the wordmarks of an uncountable number of corporations and has developed quite an reputation both good and bad among graphic designers the world over.
And yes, Helvetica is also the default font for much of OS X.
The film is a meditation on Helvetica and the impact it has had on design over its 50 years. It has interviews with a number of designers from the US and Europe, including a brief appearance by Hermann Zapf. Interspersed throughout were cuts of Helvetica sightings, on busses, bathrooms, mail bags, billboards, etc. that emphasize its overwhelming, yet unnoticed, ubiquity.**
The designers in the movie all had strong feelings about this notorious typeface and each of the had some choice quotes- like those next to this post (which are covers to a cool notebook by Veer).
Most criticism took on Helvetica’s complicity in supporting “god-awful conformity”. Naturally, in my own nihilistic way, I choose to accept it for what it is, a finely crafted and very popular san-serif typeface. And to direct my criticisms of modernism to the school of thought, not its instrument of design.
I hear that the DVD will be released later this year in October- I’m waiting anxiously for it and you should too!