I watched a documentary called Helvetica tonight and it totally blew my mind! I didn’t think it was going to be good, and it wasn’t amazingly riveting, but it was really interesting and made me think about typeface in a whole new light.

Helvetica centers around the history and function of the typeface Helvetica, which is the most commonly used and recognized font. It sounds really boring, I know. But it made me consider how different fonts function in our everyday life without us even realizing. One of the people interviewed in the documentary said that typeface should be invisible to the reader but at the same time determine how that reader comprehends and interprets the text. In the early sixties when Helvetica became popular, it replaced almost all other typeface in advertisement. It was seen as a neutral and efficient font that implied meaning and power because it was not only clean but also had a “human” element to it. Who knew fonts could have so much personality?

It was also really cool to see how fonts are created and named and distributed. I really never thought about font as an art form or a business, but it is. There are whole companies that own specific fonts. A lot of the interviewees were old guys who created typeface back in the day and it was really cool to hear them talk about the difference in our relationship with fonts now as opposed to back when they were starting out. Again I hadn’t really thought about this, but because we use computers all the time and are constantly creating our own documents, we are completely aware of font and how it functions on the page. Back in the day it was something that no one but a few people in a few professions ever had to consider.

I could go on longer but I think you guys should just watch the movie. It’s on instant Netflix if you are interested.


About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels was released by Oxford University Press in March of 2020.
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