Week 3: Helvetica

What really interested me in the documentary, “Helvetica,” was all the different opinions and views the designers had on the typeface Helvetica. It is used everywhere, and its frequent use has not faded. Is Helvetica used too excessively? Perhaps. But some designers in the film explained that Helvetica is such a default, especially for public signage and posters, because it isn’t a very expressive typeface, and that the meaning is in the content of the words that the letters spell out. Vignelli argued that one could still write “I love you” in the different font styles of Helvetica, and each would exude a different feeling, even if it isn’t a fancy scripted typeface. Also, Bierut gave the example of the reform in many advertisements, as as the Coke ad, by switching to Helvetica and making the message clear and straight to the point.
On the other hand, many designers in the film also were turned away from Helvetica’s over-simplicity and plainness. David Carson’s rationale that legibility does not necessarily mean communication sparked a thought into my mind that I had never really thought about before. His work often times is messy and seemingly unorganized, but the viewer can still understand the message he is trying to convey. Spiekermann described type to come from handwriting, and Helvetica has too little contrast and rhythm to be anything close to the handwritten form. After hearing so many thoughts on the typeface, it has changed the way I see Helvetica and the ways and places it is being used. I still haven’t decided if I enjoy the simplicity and the “naturalness” of its figure-ground relationship, or am turned off by its inexpressiveness, but I do agree that it can be used nicely in certain, smaller doses, but it has become somewhat overly ubiquitous.


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