October 12, 2011 in Blog
The Helvetica font may be the most widely publicly-displayed font in the world. Point yourself in any direction in a downtown area and, chances are, you will see multiple instances of this ubiquitously pleasing design of Roman/Latin characters.
I recently watched the documentary called, simply, “Helvetica”, and it struck a chord with the two continually dueling aspects of my personality: my creative sensibilities and my more methodical tendencies. While words written in Helvetica are often endowed with a simple, ambiguous beauty, this beauty can be somewhat explained by the symmetrical and comforting use of “white space” that frames words in Helvetica font.
Gary Hustwit’s informative and insightful film features interviews with many font and print designers, in which they talk about how the font was designed, how it gained popularity in different uses, its over-use and its ability to convey a message with unmatched clarity.
To put the popularity of this sans serif masterpiece into perspective, think about the logos of 3M, American Airlines, BMW, Jeep, Microsoft, Target or JCPenney. They all use Helvetica, and yet, due to unique color schemes and inter-character spacing, they all appear unique. Many, if not most, airports use this font for all of their informational signage, and many cities, especially in Europe do as well. Public transit systems, tax forms and the Space Shuttle program use Helvetica.
When viewed apart from a message, the font appears quite bland. But it is this blandness that makes it so likeable: it lets the words convey the message without the distraction of serifs or awkward, asymmetrical spacing.
Are you tempted to see how your business’s name would look in this simple, effective character set? I know I was. I tried putting together a newHelveticised ”The Writing Engineer” logo in simple, bold colors, and it did look nice. But the critics of this font – there are plenty that were interviewed for the film – expressed many of the same mental frustrations that I had when I saw my new retro-modern logo: it looks too common, too simple, too overused.
So, is this finally the end of Helvetica’s run as top dog in the world of fonts? I don’t think so. I think it will always be used to convey messages that need to be clear and uncluttered. But I also think there will be a significant return to more artistic, expressive typography and font use, allowing graphic designers, marketers and other communication leaders to incorporate the fundamental tenets of their organization into their marketing efforts in a subtle, yet irresistible way, using fonts with unspoken boldness, creativity, sleekness and nostalgia.
Does your organization mandate the use of a specific font or set of fonts or simply allow anyone to individually express their message using their favorite font?
If your company is united on the font front, which font does it use for its:
- letters and email?
- stationery and business cards?
- reports, studies and specs?
- other collateral?
Personally, I think the companywide use of a font or set of fonts conveys professionalism, and I cringe a little bit every time I see an email signature that randomly uses “Comic Sans” rather than some of the more widely-used fonts.
The more I write, the more I come to appreciate the beauty of certain fonts. Call me a font geek if you like, but this documentary makes a very good case for the importance of the subconscious impact on potential clients your choice of fonts can have.