Some people care about shoes.  They buy them often, they consider carefully which pair to wear, and they notice other people’s shoes, perhaps even judge others by their shoes.  I notice fonts.  I just do.  For the most part, I notice the gag-me awful ones and the perfectly fitting fonts.  A realtor in our small town just established his own business: his signs are the most artless, ugly, horrific, disaster of graphic art.  My daughter-in-law and I just point and groan when we see them. 

I used to make the common mistake of using multiple fonts in a document when so many first became available. (cringe) I remember my first encounter with Helvetica back in 1988: the Director of Admissions sat at my desk and rhapsodized about the clean lines, sans serif, readability, attractiveness, etc. etc.  I don’t fuss with fonts much with blogging, but with other documents I spend time clicking, trying different fonts, judging their appeal.  I will not use Times New Roman.  Comic Sans seems too childish, a good choice only if you’re typing a thank you note from a six month old. 

Using Netflix’s Watch Instantly, I enjoyed Gary Hustwit’s documentary, Helvetica.  The 80 minute film gives the history of the font designed by Max Miedinger in 1957 in Switzerland. You meet two dozen graphic designers, who discuss their use or non-use of Helvetica. 

The parts I enjoyed the most were the three-minute sequences of signs –street signs, business signs, slogans on clothes, billboards, civic signs– which were interspersed between the interviews with the designers.   Helvetica is truly ubiquitous.  Even the IRS tax forms are printed with it!  Here are some tidbits I scribbled down as I watched:

         ~  “Creating order is typology.”

          ~  the DNA of letter forms (these designers are passionate; but I loved that turn of phrase)

          ~  “Graphic designers can’t see historical movies because the fonts are always wrong.”

          ~  If you are heavy in the middle you wouldn’t wear tight tee shirts.  Helvetica is heavy in the middle and needs lots of white space around it.

          ~  ABH = anything but Helvetica

          ~  Helvetica came out of modernism.  Grunge typography came out of postmodernism.  Designers today are swinging back to Helvetica but are using it in unique or more creative ways.

Now, it was an enjoyable DVD for a cold, January Sunday afternoon while my husband napped, but I wouldn’t spend money to watch it.  There was a sprinkling of salty language and a few salty images (especially in the grunge section.)  If you get off on graphic design and fonts, you may enjoy it.

What is your favorite font?

15 thoughts on “Helvetica

  1. ah, my favorite font?  depends on my mood and the topic.  I know someone who would not read a particular book about being a godly wife merely because she could not stand that each page had at least 3 fonts on it.  So as I start reading your post here, I burst out laughing.  My daughter asked “what’s so funny?”  I tell her that it’s something that Mrs Bakker wrote.  She said “you always laugh at Mrs Bakker.  But that’s okay, ’cause I like Mrs Bakker.”  So, Carol, you are a happy memory in our household.  May the Lord continue to bless you as you bless us with laughter

  2. Hi Carol,Thanks for the lovely e-mail! (more later)My new favorite font to use in regular documents is Palatino Linotype. In size 13. Makes nice, clean test format!I love playing with fonts too, and my students like a worksheet in some weird-but-readable font. Janie

  3. (We went to a movie with my brother in law (a musician) and his lovely wife — I think it was one of the Spider Man movies… and as it began, he leaned over, as the music soared, and in a loud enough sotto voce to be heard above the music, whispered “I *LOVE* this FONT!!”  Cracked me up completely because I was so sure he was going to say “composer” or “theme” or something music related!

  4. my = *might*
    I will admit to not reading something because the page looks messy (lots of different fonts/colors), but I dont think Noel is talking about me 🙂

  5. I would like a new font on my blog, but I must admit to being too lazy to figure out how to change it. In particular, I’ve tried a couple of times to enlarge the font to no avail.  One of my favorite fonts for a newsletter type publication is Perpetua. I found it on Microsoft Publisher.As I read this post, I fondly remembered the old font balls in the IBM Selectric II typewriters I used in college.  I can’t remember why we changed them, but I think my boss liked Courier for some things and another font (can’t remember now what it was) for others.  Ahh, the good old days. Not!Blessings,Sandy

  6. One of my favorites for everyday use is Chalkboard. Its informalness appeals to me, like a comfortable pair of jeans. But I also love Apple Chancery’ flowing grace and prefer Georgia for my blog.I don’t know if this would be of interest, but the fonts used on highway signs are being changed to “Clearview”. It’s much easier to read than the type that’s been used for decades on our highways. Here’s an article. My dh designs roads and highways and was the first to use it in Arizona on one of his projects.Regarding the woman who wouldn’t read a book because of the multiple fonts on each page – I have a hard time picking up books that are ugly colors. Although I find multiple fonts completely distracting, too.SDG!

  7. Ack!  My son (Kyle) posted a comment but it was me (Ruthanne) who somehow made it post two additional times.  I’m sorry!  Not sure what was going on there between me and my computer after he left my desk!  I loved nettieheidmann’s story about her brother-in-law during the movie.  That is *just like* my Kyle.My favorite font is Bernhard Fashion, but I only use if for certain situations, not everyday usage.  Several years back when I lived in Atlanta I had a home-based gift basket business I called “Malibu & Co. Gifts”.  I used that font on my business cards .Something about that font just makes me feel good inside, like a favorite color or fragrance.(Again, please forgive me for causing my son’s comment to post too many times!)~ Ruthanne

  8. LOL  I felt very low brow for preferring comic sans, size 14.  But then I contemplated for a bit and came up with this excuse:I’m very near sighted.  Comic sans is just bold enough without being too bold, and has very readable letters.  No frills, no fadey thin lines, easily seen while reading at my computer.  Since I’m nearsighted my friends all get to read the font that is most comfortable for me.  On a side note, our dear Pastor used to use this for his sermon notes because of its easy readability.  I don’t know if he still does.  Additionally I have pretty much become the most pragmatic I’ve ever been in my life.  No frills or furbelows here.  After child number three arrived most purely decorative items left, along with writing as a hobby and interesting fonts.  Not only was this Ds the tie breaker child (kids-3, parents-2) but he counts as more than one child.  It really is true that once you have three kids adding more children just becomes a matter of semantics, bed space, and seating in the car.  Children numbers 4 and 5 slid in with lots of fanfare, but little change to the logistics, other than adding incrementally to parental insanity.  At any rate, I don’t have time to fiddle with the pretty fonts that I like, and since I struggle to read them I’ve just sidelined them.  So I use the much derided comic sans.However, when printing invitations, newsletters, etc. I do find appropriate fonts for those things.  They still have to be eminently legible, though. 😀

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