Monday, February 4, 2008


My dad is an architect and he used to get some flak from us kids for keeping a book called "Properties of Cement" as bedside reading (though what could be more conducive to sleep?). Do we all become our parents?

Last week, thanks to Netflix, I watched a feature length documentary on the typeface called "Helvetica." Considering that this was an entire movie about a font, the film was far more fascinating than it had any right to be. I enjoyed every minute of Helvetica and, on the other hand, I couldn't even finish our other Netflix rental Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

There are ideas and philosophy behind everything, even the things you don't notice. I'm not sure I like what helvetica stands for. Helvetica is used more than any other font in existence and we see it thousands of times a day. It's like the triumph of beige in a world that cries out for color and meaning and depth.

On the other hand, there are things to admire about it. According to the documentary, the name "helvetica" is a latinized word meaning "the swiss typeface" and if nothing else Helvetica is almost quintessentially swiss. Precise, without frills or embellishment, perfect in its functionality.

If you have an interest in the look of the world around you, then check out Helvetica. (stills and clips/trailers)


La Bibliotecaria Laura said...

One of my favorite books to this day is Typographic Elements of Style by Bringhurst. It is a beautiful book--the proportions and page layout is true to the design recommendations within. It is a lovely book.

If you enjoyed Helvetica, check it out. As someone who is still working on designing a font, I have a huge love and appreciation of fonts and anything lovingly printed.

La Bibliotecaria Laura

Steak said...

This time you've got it right, Ben. Helvetica is, without question, the very best typeface. I love Helvetica so much that I often randomly stop people on the street to lecture them at length in a hectoring tone on the virtues and merits of Helvetica.

Sometimes people tell me that they do not need Helvetica. They say that Ariel is better. These people make me very angry.

Who would use Ariel? If you need a san serif typeface, why settle for the pale imitation when you can type some words in fine style with the "real deal"--Helvetica!

I swear. If just ONE MORE person tells me that they like to type out their emails with Ariel, that person is going to get a t-ball bat slammed right across the face. Courtesy of Yours Truly.

Who doesn't like Helvetica NOW, buddy?

Nick-dog said...

Sounds like a cool documentary.


Jake Wiese said...

I've always admired the work of Mr. Gene Hatke. Unfortunately, his greatest work, The Lafayette Women's Clinic, was torn down a few years ago. It was so symmetrical...truly a work of art.

I haven't seen Helvetica, but I did see the prequel, Times New Roman. I'm looking foward to the third movie in the series, Times New Roman: In Bold.

regina doman said...

ARIAL REIGNS! Especially Arial Narrow, my favorite font in the whole world.

Not rules, reigns.

I like that word better.

Oh, and I spelled it correctly too. We're not talking about the Little Mermaid here.

annemcd said...

Ah, so what you are saying is that its the IKEA of fonts?

MES said...

Oh, Ben, we just watched Helvetica, too! I thought it was very interesting, although I started falling asleep at the end. I'm not into Helvetica as a typeface myself. I prefer Garamond! ~ Mary (formerly Hack) Sheiko