Helvetica Documentary

  • Typefaces express a mood and atmosphere
  • They give moods a certain colouring
  • Helvetica dominates all typefaces
  • Helvetica is ubiquitous
  • Typography is all about the space between the letters, not the letters themselves
  • Helvetica is modern, clear and good for everyday
  • Light/bold affects the mood if you wrote ‘I Love You’
  • 1950s – post-war period, feeling of idealism and social responsibility across many designers
  • Swiss designers drove design along in 1950s
  • Helvetica emerged in 1957 where there is a need for rational typefaces that can be applied to all sorts of media forms, had to be clear and legible
  • Wim Crouwel:
  • ‘I love modernism, I want it’
  • Interested in clarity
  • Should be clear, readable and straightforward
  • Used grids to create order and clear typography
  • Helvetica was a step from the 19th Century typeface
  • Helvetica was more neutral
  • Typeface shouldn’t have a meaning itself, the meaning is in the text itself not the typeface
  • Matthew Carter:
  • Learnt to make type by hand in steel
  • The lower case letter ‘h’ is where most designers would start
  • Sans serif or serif font
  • Straight sided letter, then need a round letter like an o
  • Look at the weight of the round of the o against the straight vertical of the h
  • Letter p has straight and round and a descending stroke (goes ‘below the line’)
  • Make them into words to experience reading the word to judge it
  • The structure of type is made through horizontal terminals (in letter a, c, e etc)
  • Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann designed Helvetica
  • The Swiss pay more attention to the background and the space between characters
  • They make sure the background holds the letters which lives in a powerful matrix space
  • Max Miedinger was a graphic artist, but he realised he could make more money in type
  • Eduard Hoffmann employed Max Miedinger to design Helvetica
  • Haas was where the two worked to create Helvetica
  • Linotype owned Haas Stempel and now owns Helvetica
  • Helvetica literally means ‘The Swiss Typeface’ as Helvetica comes from the latin for Switzerland from ‘Confoederatio Helvetica’
  • Michael Bierut:
  • Talking about Coke adverts in 1950s, design crime, compared to after 1957 with Helvetica
  • The message is clear: drink Coke!
  • What could you use instead of Helvetica?
  • Helvetica had been overused by every company
  • Helvetica embodies everything and says everything opposed to a typeface made from icicles which only says one thing
  • Readers should not be aware of a typeface at all, it should just be clear and hold the word… Or should they?
  • Erik Spiekermann:
  • Typography makes words visibly
  • Helvetica was a good typeface at the time but now it has become a default and it’s like air, it’s there
  • All the letters are made to look the same, and the aim with typeface is to make it individual
  • Neville Brody:
  • The type tells you about the company: Helvetica says you will fit in, not stand out like grunge fonts
  • Helvetica is a badge, a mark of membership
  • It’s easy, it’s well-rounded, not dangerous
  • Helvetica has a perfect balance of push and pull in its letters
  • Don’t worry, all those problems won’t spill over they will be contained, maybe they don’t even exist
  • This simple typeface tells you the ins and outs and the dos and don’ts of street life
  • Dull blanket of sameness that this type tells you
  • There is a need for a change after a while
  • Designers wanted to get away from the horrible slickness and clean feeling of typography and produce something that had vitality
  • Controversy was created after irrational and expressive new way of designing
  • Lars Müller:
  • Helvetica is the typeface of socialism, it invites everyone to type design
  • Helvetica is the perfume of the city
  • We don’t notice it, but we would notice if it wasn’t there
  • Paula Scher:
  • Let go of the press type and illustrate the type
  • Typography can have personality and spirit like drawing does
  • It can be your own medium
  • Broad palette to express all kinds of things
  • Helvetica was the typeface of the Vietnam period, it is the typeface of the Iraq war too
  • We are in the same era
  • Stefan Sagmeister:
  • Hates helvetica
  • Got bored with it, wanted to break away from it
  • Was into rock music and went to art school by inspiration from album covers
  • Really bored in looking at typography and thinking about which type to pick for a project
  • Started to make own type for a Lou Reed cover where hand-drawn typography resonated
  • People in the 1970s were craving not-modern things, they wanted change and expressionism
  • They were against one thing: Helvetica
  • David Carson:
  • People see him as throwing years of clean and modern design out the window
  • Raygun Magazine was experimental and would try things that sometimes went wrong
  • Badly written article was put into Zap Dingbat (symbols) because it wasn’t worth reading!
  • Thin line between simple, clean and powerful, and simple, clean and boring
  • Rise in grunge typography
  • Having mistakes looked good in the grunge period
  • Erwin Brinkers & Marieke Stolk:
  • Helvetica is like a natural mother tongue
  • Helvetica is in our blood
  • Some people are fearful of how Helvetica embodies standardisation, but he is not
  • Michael C. Place:
  • Not a classical type guy
  • Collects things that makes something beautiful out of something ordinary
  • Enjoys using the ordinary to make beauty
  • Wants an emotional response from a design piece
  • Always wanted to design an identity for an airline
  • Designs to stand the test of time
  • Thanked Max Miedinger on his wedding invite for the font Helvetica
  • Enjoys challenge of making Helvetica speak in a different way
  • Still as fresh as it was 50 years ago
  • Manuel Krebs & Dimitri Bruni:
  • Not as obsessed with Helvetica as they were
  • They like restrictions, cannot operate without them
  • If possible they will only use rational typefaces without expression, one size, one typeface, one colour
  • They think that Helvetica will lead you to a certain design language
  • Helvetica in itself has a certain aesthetic and style that you will use it like that
  • You will do what the typeface wants you to do
  • If you are not a designer, just use Helvetica Bold in one size and it will look good
  • Michael Bierut: We have possibly reached the end of a trend in design
  • David Carson: It’s not about the software, you need the eye and sense of design
  • Paula Scher: The more you see it the more you appreciate it
  • Matthew Carter: New young designers coming in with fresh modern ideas
  • Michael Bierut: People have tried to come up with updated Helvetica, but it never is very good
  • Wim Crouwel: Time is changing, why you use a certain typeface for a certain job has a different meaning than in the 1950s, you are always a child of your time and you cannot step out of that
  • Neville Brody: Graphic communication as an expression of their own identity, type decisions you make start to construct who you are, just as fashion does




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