You can say “I love you” in Helvetica. And you can say it with Helvetica Extra Light if you want it be really fancy. Or you can say it with the Extra Bold if it’s really intensive and passionate. And it might work.
— Massimo Vignelli
When I first saw Helvetica a Documentary Film by Gary Hustwit it was a late night offering on PBS’s Independent Lens, about a year after its premier. Of course I heard about the film and its message and was waiting anxiously for an opportunity to take it in, and that I did. Glued to the television almost unbelieving that they’d actually make a movie about a single san serif type. Knowing full well that not all would appreciate it, I mean really appreciate it, people like myself are few and far between. So there’s the catch, it’s a movie about a typestyle. But not any font, this is Helvetica mind you. It is modernism personified. It is big, like world-wide art movement big. The filmmaker knew this and saw the story behind the ubiquity that we live and breathe.
Personally this film was a reinforcement of the beauty and simplicity of the typeface, my own views exonerated, articulated and played back for me. Coming from someone born and raised in a pre-digital soup of Swiss grid, 70’s commercial art, and a love for white space, I agreed completely with almost everyone interviewed and appreciated their take on the typeface. Which ranged from love and hate, yes and no or even indifference –it’s just a typeface damn it! Oh the irony.
Most agreed on the social impact of this sans serif font on society and even some managed to wax philosophical on the art reflecting life argument. The post-modernists rediscovered it all over again and tweaked it, the white haired old men defended it vehemently and the 80’s grunge/garage people cursed its blandness. Still, it’s the default font that we’ve come to know, on computers and elevators, big box retail and warning labels, it’s here to stay until the next revolution of the century.
Had after hours private screening for colleagues and friends at the office, just couldn’t resist proselytizing and taking the boat out into deep typographic waters. The reaction was expected from the feminist crowd, – an obvious lack of women and people of color, some iconoclastic cheering for the deconstructionists but eventually the structure of the grid and the simple/basic design philosophy and strong visual structure that came from Switzerland fifty years ago sunk in. It worked, they were converted.
—Tim Youngs, Creative Director