Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Helvetica, and other considerations

So, I've been thinking a lot about Helvetica. Like, how it annoys me. Like, how it's chosen as a typeface for people who don't really understand why one typeface is better than another. Helvetica was, according to Wikipedia, designed to "create a neutral typeface that had great clarity, had no intrinsic meaning in its form, and could be used on a wide variety of signage." This is a noble aim for a designer of type. To come up with a font that works well on road signage, that conveys meaning clearly and directly in such a way that the letterforms do not in any way obstruct or cause to be filtered through any preconceptions the printed text; this is a letterer's Holy Grail: the Platonic ideal of the alphabet. Instead, Helvetica has become the typeface of choice for hoteliers determined to give their corporate identity the frisson of European minimalism, of the designers of dance music fliers who've never heard of Peter Saville, and of publishers of small press "transgressive" novels who can't understand that a typeface intended for signage might not have the crucial solubility of typefaces intended for extended text.

I suppose that I'm going to have to develop that concept of solubility. It means what it says,that soluble text essentially dissolves straight into the reader's brain, without any lingering concern about what the letters look like, or what their shapes mean. And the sad damned thing about Helvetica was that it was apparently designed to be as neutral as possible, and so every designer in the world (designers apparently love neutrality) dogpiled on it and freighted it with more meanings and connotations than any other typeface extant. We read Times New Roman easier than we read Helvetica. And I hate Times New Roman. But thanks to its longtime stance as the default MS Office typeface, it seems more Helvetica than Helvetica can ever be. So yes, let's see highway signs and subway stops in TNR, and let's try to find the beauty in Helvetica again. And let's forbid boutique hotels, design-over-cuisine restaurants, and stupid t-shirts from using it. Helvetica is currently being debased by being held up as a standard of design excellence by people who think that it's okay to wear a t-shirt with a blazer: let's not encourage them.

I've been drinking, and thinking of type.

Thank you.

Good night.

1 comment:

Essąn Dragone said...

Times New Roman is my total pet peeve.


Did you ever see my exposé on the Interrobang & the Irony Mark?

And I say unto you, GODDAMN THIS IS REAL.