I’ve long been meaning to watch Helvetica, a documentary about fonts, design, and modernism more generally, but also about the specifics of a typeface that many consider a culmination of that line of design thinking, since it so perfectly represents the modernist ideal.

So I finally did, and man, what a beautiful movie. I loved it — couldn’t have been any better in my book. It even had a surprise ending! (No, I’m serious! A movie about modernist type ended by mentioning the new MySpace aesthetic — I was talking about that idea to someone just the other day.)

Among other observations, one is that once you watch this movie, you’ll notice that Helvetica is used for everything around us. I noticed that while I was watching the movie, I was eating food with Helvetica lettering used on the package, the United Airlines material all used it, including the seats, the book next to me was lettered in it on the cover, it’s default for a bunch of my display on my Mac, and of course is all around the UI on my iPhone. It’s just about ubiquitous.

And it’s sort of incredible in its neutrality and versatility — you can use it in almost any context because of that neutrality.

Finally, though, as you watch you just have to appreciate the letterforms themselves. It’s a really monumental piece of work — this typeface that does so much of our hard work in typography but is also so expressive. And I’ve never really looked at the way that the letters in words set in Helvetica bold really, really hold together in an incredibly stable way. It’s hard to imagine a single thing being different about the type.

Beautiful, beautiful movie, and very highly recommended.

[also watched Juno on the flight out, and thought that was a great movie, too, in a completely & utterly different way]

3 Replies to “helvetica”

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