Thursday, October 11, 2007


[Helvetica film poster.]

A chance I didn't think I'd have: I got to see the documentary film Helvetica (2007) last night, a one-time screening at a nearby community college. Helvetica is of course the ubiquitous modern typeface. Helvetica a wonderful film: a chance to hear type designers talk about their work, their ideas of beauty, the history of post-WW2 type design, and Helvetica itself (some love it; some loathe it). Many shots of workspaces and work, with pencils, erasers, coffee cups, and Macs. (Not a single Windows machine in the film.)

Coming out of the theater, I saw Helvetica everywhere: signs on walls, announcements on a television monitor. Helvetica: we're soaking in it.

My favorite moments in the film: Matthew Carter's explanation of how he begins thinking through a type design, Michael Bierut's commentaries on corporate letterheads and Coca-Cola ads, and Erik Spiekermann's confession:

I'm obviously a typomaniac, which is an incurable if not mortal disease. I can't explain it; I just like looking at type. I just get totally out of it. They are my friends, you know. Other people look at bottles of wine or whatever, or, you know, girls' bottoms. I get kicks out of looking at type. It's a little worrying, I must admit. It's a very nerdish thing to do.
The film's site has several short clips, including one with Erik Spiekermann. The DVD arrives on November 6.

Helvetica (A documentary film by Gary Hustwit)

Related posts
Font haiku : Type terms : Typographic walking tour

["We're soaking in it": Readers of a certain age will recognize a reference to "You're soaking in it," from television commercials for Palmolive Dishwashing Liquid.]

comments: 2

Genevieve Netz said...

I know Helvitica has a wonderful history and is beautifully suited for many jobs, but personally, I'm still a fan of Verdana.

Michael Leddy said...

I used to have Verdana as the default for my browser -- it's a beautiful font (one of Matthew Carter's). My favorite sans-serifs are the humanist fonts Gill Sans and Lucida Sans (Lucida Sans is now my default). I like Helvetica in public places, but on a page or screen it looks too cold to me.