After learning more about the circumstances and inception of Helvetica, I feel very sorry for its state right now. It was made to be neutral, clear, and its ideal, in some sense, was to be the solution for the world. And it was. Major corporations everywhere used it, and signages used it, and posters used it, and practically everything used it.
And that, is the essence of le problemo Helvetica faces today. Its awe-inspiring quest to be the solution, ironically, became the problem. Its neutrality, which stood at the core of its birth, was useful to practically everything: advertisements, clarity, impact etc, but the extensiveness of its use started to twist and paint and dye (or die?) the neutrality that was ever so important to the typeface. In fact, if I recall correctly, one of the ladies in the movie commented on how she had interpreted Helvetica as the font that supported/fueled the Vietnam war. And she isn’t alone in the awry misinterpretation of the typeface. So jaded has the public become to the onslaught of Helvetica in all its weights and uses that more often than not, it just…is.
On a side note, I confess to never having like Arial in sizes above 10pt. I don’t really know why. I’ve avoided it since wayyy back unless absolutely necessary: e.g. when the teacher specifically requests that it be in Arial, 12pt, no less. (cringes inwardly) So I’m not sure where I stand on the Helvetica love-hate continuum, because I’m not (consciously) familiar with Helvetica… yet.
On the other hand, the movie also presented the opposite view. The view of the Modernists, upon whom Helvetica elicits the oohs and aahs, the flutter-me-bys of gazing upon perfection. And I think, if used correctly, Helvetica can still do that. I’m not too familiar with the beautiful counterform they talk about (Painterface will teach me soon, I believe… #apprehensive). But I hope I’d understand what they mean by just how “solidly it sits in its counterform”, and how “the counterform makes the letters, not the other way around” means as well! Then again, due to the love of using grids then, I suppose I can understand that intellectual and mathematical delight of things falling in exactly the right place. Mmhmm~
Just to sate the curiosity of the similarities and differences between Arial and Helvetica, this site by Mark Simonson might be of help! I’m currently just staring at this example of Rates (Helvetica) vs Rates (Arial), and am slowly understanding, a wee bit, what Helvetica’s “solid counterform” might mean.
And as a side-dish to Arial v Helvetica, one might be interested in this too: “The Scourge of Arial”. Quite the dramatic title.
Well then, until next time!