Friday, March 20, 2009

Helvetica (the documentary): a summary and an opinionated review

A documentary about a font seems like a wonderfully geeky idea. However, I felt like there wasn't much to this film. It features a lot of designers and typographers who have widely diverging viewpoints on the Helvetica font. (You know, the one that looks like this.)

One guy says that Helvetica is the McDonald's of fonts: a ubiquitous, thing which people choose by default, even though it's crap. Like I hadn't already thought this myself!

Others believe that Helvetica is the evolutionary endpoint of a particular aesthetic, or even the best of all possible fonts.

Still another guy thinks that Helvetica was great in the sixties, but its flaw is that all the characters were meant to look maximally alike which makes it harder to read. Best line of the film: While he describes himself as loving fonts, he says, "I've never sort of woken up with a typeface coming out, you know, like some people... I've got to do this, and they go to their, whatever, their easel, and these amazing brush strokes. I don't have that urge. You know, I wake up and usually I want to go back to sleep."

Beyond the opinions, most of the information in the film may be found in the Wikipedia article on Helvetica (the font).

If you like montages of Helvetica-in-the-wild, this film is for you.

Myself, I prefer Gill Sans.

Edward Tufte does too.

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