Unless you are in design, you probably don’t pay much attention to the huge array of typefaces that you come across every day. From the different fonts used in emails to road signs to ads to packaging, design is everywhere. You don’t even have to look for it. It’s just there, on everything, for all of the world to see.
You probably do notice typefaces, though, even if you don’t think you do. If you’ve ever had to pick out a wedding invitation, birth announcement, or party invitation, you’ve had to think about what kind of typeface to use. Modern? Traditional? Classic? Should the words be italicized? If your favorite magazine suddenly redesigned its look, it probably chose new typefaces, too. Same thing when a food manufacturer redesigns its packaging. New typefaces stare at you from your kitchen cabinets.
Because graphic design is such an integral part of what we do at Rottman Creative, we notice it, we enjoy it, and sometimes we are surprised and delighted by it. Sometimes we even fall in love with it. We have been known to slow down while driving to look at signs, to double-back on the sidewalk to admire a shop’s name, to save brochures and other pieces of collateral because we so admired their typeface and layout.
I don’t know if we would make a movie about typefaces, but lucky for us, filmmaker Gary Hustwit did. Helvetica is a feature-length documentary about the iconic, modern, and popular typeface of that name (which is based on the Greek word for Switzerland). I can guarantee you’re familiar with it: storefronts, street signs, public transit systems, government forms, ads, and many, many other organizations and industries use it. Developed in 1957 at the Haas Type Foundry in Munchenstein, Switzerland, it was described in a New York Times movie review as “an emblem of the machine age, a harbinger of globalization and an ally of modern art’s impulse toward innovation, simplicity and abstraction.”
The film, which premiered in 2007 and won numerous awards, is absolutely fascinating. In fact it’s one of our favorite movies. Just as Helvetica has had a huge influence on the way we look at things (literally), it has influenced us on a personal level by reminding us to not take creativity for granted. What we truly love about the movie, though, is that it’s not just about the Helvetica typeface. It’s really more about graphic design, culture, the creative process, urban spaces, advertising, psychology and the huge impact typefaces have on our lives. The movie is full of insightful interviews with graphic designers and theorists, some of whom lavish praise on Helvetica, some of whom deride it as too common and ubiquitous. Watch the trailer to see Helvetica used here, there, and everywhere. Better yet, rent the movie. Then decide which side you agree with.
On the Helvetica website, you can buy not only the DVD or BluRay disc, but also t-shirts, the movie poster, tote bags, and other prints. Perfect gifts for the graphic designer in your life! But you need not be in advertising, marketing, or graphic design to appreciate the movie. If you appreciate popular culture, modern design, the ways things affect us when we don’t even realize it, you’ll like the movie. Or maybe even love the movie, just like us.
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