What the Helvetica?

Words

Watching “Helvetica” this week was a very eye opening experience for me. I never realized before watching that the world of typeface was so vast, and so full of professionals truly fanatical about it. Choosing a font that meshes well with what I’m creating has always been a difficult process for me, but I never considered why that is until watching the film. One man in the movie said that “the meaning is the content of the text, not in the typeface,” which I both agree and disagree with; It doesn’t seem to be as simple as that. Type is used in many different places, and therefore serves many different purposes. In the context of typeface being used as content, (in things like books, journals, newspaper etc.) I would say this idea is spot on. What’s attractive about Helvetica is that the type is clean and does not distract away from the idea the writer is trying to get across. However, when it comes to titles a unique typeface can become part of the brand. The movie used the wonderful example of “Marvel” who creates all things superhero. As soon as someone sees that font they are reminded of “Marvel” even if it has nothing to do with them. In this sense, the typeface can be part of the uniqueness of a label. One thing that was brought up during discussion that I found interesting was whether typeface should be considered art, to which I would reply undoubtedly yes! In the words of Google art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.” “Helvetica” shows clearly that typeface is this result of human creative skill and imagination by showing the meticulous creation of each font, and just how passionate the creators are about their work. Not only that, but the typeface that is used in pieces created by others can greatly contribute to the impression it makes. How cool would it be to trace the evolution of different typefaces like Helvetica? Perhaps someday Google’s nehelveticaw tool in the making will be able to help with that.

The article entitled “In 500 Billion Words, New Window on Culture” was really great. I hadn’t heard of this new project Google is undertaking, and I must say I find it intriguing. What kept coming to mind for me, since I’m also in Shakespeare currently, is how interesting such a tool would be to trace the more than 1700 words he invented/changed. I think it would be fun to see how these words evolved and grew and to interpret the “why” of such changes. While I can understand why some humanists were concerned by the tool, I don’t think it poses any sort of threat; and would only provide another instrument in the study of words/history. I could also see how it could give linguists a view into language and its development that they never had before. Although in some ways I am reminded of “The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around; or What You Do with a Million Books” because there really is no way of interpreting or studying the billions upon billions of words that such studies would entail. 

 

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3 thoughts on “What the Helvetica?

  1. I found it humorous that type font was a topic which inspired such emotional responses from people. I will never view type font the same way again. Helvetica was a really interesting film and well done film. I wonder if there are psychological responses to certain types of font: Would you be more susceptible to purchasing a product advertised in Helvetica font rather than Comic Sans for instance? I suppose that’s a digital tool just waiting to be developed.

  2. Fonts are intense. I used to have to play with fonts for a volunteer project I did. I had 20,000 fonts on my computer and it really did make a difference. I flowy font feels more girls, a harsh font can seem angry, and some fonts I see and can think of the film poster they were on. Fonts are quite powerful and expressive. An art form in themselves.

  3. I like this: “Type is used in many different places, and therefore serves many different purposes.” I think it’s kind of silly to think that what’s written on the typeface is the only relevant aspect of the message. Typeface absolutely contributes to the mood and tone of the message.

    I think it’d be interesting to put Helvetica on a messy, grimy backdrop; juxtapose the clean with the dirty. I wonder how people would interpret that?

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