Helvetica: A Type of Story

Yesterday I watched Helvetica the documentary. A movie about a font?!? Well, depending on how you’re wired, it might be a lot more interesting than you think. I know it sucked me in (but I guess I’m a bit of a nerd, so don’t my word for it). Here’s the trailer.

I’m obviously a typomaniac… I can’t explain it, I just like looking at type. – Erik Spiekermann

Watching this film, I was surprised to find how widely-used Helvetica really is. The typeface celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007, and has been the go-to font for many graphic designers ever since. Spiekermann put into words the disease inflicting most of those interviewed, these men and women had an incredible fascination with type. Maybe you can relate, maybe not, but I got a kick out of listening to so many nerds speak so fondly of the intricate details that make Helvetica so beautiful. It’s cool that some people care so deeply about the typefaces that we are all so surrounded by yet take so for granted.

It’s a letter that lives in a powerful matrix of surrounding space. Oh it’s brilliant when it’s done well. – Mike Parker

One of the beautiful things about Helvetica is the negative space surrounding its characters. I first came to love Helvetica when I started making decals. We had a plotter that would cut the letters and shapes into sheets of vinyl, then we would “weed” out the excess material, leaving just the decal behind. Working with Helvetica was great precisely because of the negative space. Weeding out the material between and within Helvetica letters, unlike many other fonts, was always quick and smooth.

If you want to check out this film, you can find in on youTube or iTunes. While you’re at it, take a little quiz to find out what font you are (I was Helvetica, what are the chances?).

Hopefully as you see advertising, print, and digital media, you’ll take note of some of the fonts used, and have a little more appreciation for the beloved Helvetica.

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