Helvetica Documentary Response

In the documentary “Helvetica”, created by Gary Hustwits, we are taken on a journey to learn how one of the world’s most used fonts came to be. When I say that Helvetica is the “most used” font, I mean it is literally everywhere! Hundreds upon thousands of corporations and individual businesses use this font style; even for TV title logos. From Toyota, Target, Staples, Yahoo, BMW, Mattel, American Apparel, The North Face… the list goes on and on. One of the best examples of a company that uses Helvetica font face is American Airlines. They began using Helvetica back in ’66 and have since then kept the same exact logo; whereas others have changed their look in some way. As brought up in the documentary, Helvetica is most likely popular due to its clear, simplistic design. There is no distracting curvy qualities to the lettering, the edges are crisp and clean; the face is simply visually appealing. This is why many fonts are not appreciated today; due to their complexity. One of the designers interviewed states that out of all of the fonts he has at his disposal, he has only used about twelve, but sticks to mainly three; Helvetica being one of them. People (as well as designers themselves) often wonder why after existing for over fifty years why Helvetica is still as popular as it was half a century ago. The answer: no one really knows. Designers in the documentary bring up their own theories as to why, but a definite answer does not exist. All in all this is a great documentary that explains to you the complex process of creating and testing fonts and of course the history of one of the most infamous font faces to ever be introduced to the world.

While watching this documentary, there were a few things that surprised me. The biggest things that came to surprise me was where Helvetica originated from. I had thought that it was a type face that was created by an American designer in the US. It turns out that in reality it was made by two men in Switerland; Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann at the Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei (Hass type foundry). Their goal was to create a cleaner version of a type face that already existed in Germany. Little did they know they would create the most famous font face used internationally. Another thing that got my attention was when one of the designers was talking about how Swiss font makers focus on the background of a letter more than the foreground. An example being rather than just focusing on the black areas of the font and how the spaces they create between the white regions make up the style, Swiss designers are known for looking more in depth at the white spacing; observing how the spacing “holds” the rest of the letter.

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