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.