Lessons from “Helvetica” and Lupton

While watching “Helvetica,” something that really stuck with me was the idea that typography, and the Helvetica typeface family in general, is so versatile. The letters and words formed from the typeface can take on a specific meaning and a personality relative to the context they are used in. Though the letters alone are seemingly simple, the potential for different messages and complex meanings communicated through the Helvetica medium knows no bounds. One of the designers in the film described it as “openly interpreted;” for example, it gives off a “cheeky” feel when used with American Apparel, yet a clean and  business-like one when used for American Airlines.

I never realized just how much Helvetica is a part of our daily lives – I actually realized after class that the Newhouse sweatshirt I was wearing was made up entirely of Helvetica type; go figure! I learned that the way something is presented to us through type truly does define the way we react to it, and though letters may seem so second-nature and simple by themselves, when strung together they can mean a multitude of different things in different situations and to different audiences. Typography is power.

To go along with this idea, the section on type classification in Lupton’s first chapter showed me how different typefaces are categorized based not only on their appearance and physical qualities, but also on the feeling that they convey. For example, even the subtle differences between a Humanist and Transitional typeface are noticeable when it comes to the deeper meaning behind them; a roman-style Humanist type face is more classical and formal, while a transitional typeface is slightly ‘sharper,’ yet it somehow feels more approachable and friendly.

Before the start of this class, I seriously had never noticed or even considered the immense  volume and range of typefaces I see every second of every day; I now find myself overanalyzing everything from the wordmark on my Kleenex box to the stairwell signs inside buildings on campus.  I’m finally beginning to appreciate the strange, fascinating world of typography in my day-to-day life.



  1. I’m glad to know the course is already helping you see the world in new ways. … And kudos for being the first to post. That kind of time management will serve you well. : )

  2. Typography is power. That is such a great statement and so beyond true. It amazes me again and again though that one typeface, Helvetica, has so much of it! In combination with color and design, typefaces can say so much. There could be a really great design with a powerful typeface in a totally different language, but the message would still come through. So cool.

  3. I agree with Meg that it is very interesting how versatile a typeface can be. Like what Beth quoted in her post, you can say “I love you” or “I hate you” in Helvetica.

    As a designer I think it’s my job to give a typeface context. Typefaces are tools- just like white space and other graphic elements- that can be used to get a message across in the best possible way.

    Helvetica is unique because it is so popular and ambiguous, it gives the designer a lot of control in saying what they want to say. This versatilely is unlike a lot of typefaces. For instance with Comic Sans it’s hard to get people to take your message seriously, with Times New Roman there isn’t much room for creativity.

    I do agree that Helvetica should be used in moderation though because it isn’t unique so your design looses it’s special identity.

  4. I also found it interesting that Helvetica is so versatile. Like you point out, “it gives off a “cheeky” feel when used with American Apparel, yet a clean and business-like one when used for American Airlines.” The same exact typeface can give off extremely different feelings for many different things. I love your statement, “Typography is power.” It truly is! I think that is seen with a typeface like Helvetica. Helvetica is around us everywhere, (even on your sweatshirt!) and that kind of world-wide presence is powerful.

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