Helvetica turns 50

October 25th, 2007

Helvetica Helvetica turns the big "5 0" this year. I know that may not mean much to most people, but for a typeface thats as new today as it was a half century ago, its a rather big deal.

In 1957, after the demand for a less quirky grotesque typeface design, Helvetica (originally named Haas Grotesk) was designed by a Swiss designer named Max Miedinger with one thing in mind, a clean type design with wide appeal.

The design quickly grew in popularity. The Swiss swear by it (used as their national typeface). Its use in America and internationally spread like wildfire as the commercial marketplace demanded faster means of communication, which meant designers needed a typeface that got straight to the point.

Years of its use on everything including signage, corporate logos, books, packaging, currency, clothing, and most likely anywhere else you find type, Helvetica has become the most commonly used sans serif of our time.

I believe it's success is built on many factors, some being; its great design, our societies tendency to idealize things as "the best", its accessibility on most personal computers, and its ability to live anywhere.

When I think of Helvetica's aesthetic style I think of tofu. It's neutral taste can be dull unless something is done with it. Its not fashionably frilly, unless the fashion is to be without frills.

What better way to commemorate 50 years, then to make a documentary film, and Brooklyn based indy film director Gary Hustwit did just that. The film called Helvetica, covers a diverse number of opinions from respected designers of today. The film engaged me to see Helvetica under different lights, realizing just what a phenomena it has truly become.

Is Helvetica "Over the hill"? In a lot of ways Helvetica has had a great run. I guess it has a timelessness that only Dick Clark has possessed, but as long as we have "straight forward" things to say, there will always be Helvetica in a variety of weights and styles to say it.

List of interviewed designers in Helvetica documentary: Erik Spiekermann, Matthew Carter, Massimo Vignelli, Wim Crouwel, Hermann Zapf, Neville Brody, Stefan Sagmeister, Michael Bierut, David Carson, Paula Scher, Jonathan Hoefler, Tobias Frere-Jones, Experimental Jetset, Michael C. Place, Norm, Alfred Hoffmann, Mike Parker, Bruno Steinert, Otmar Hoefer, Leslie Savan, Rick Poynor, Lars Müller, and many more. For more information about the movie visit: helveticafilm.com