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When Helvetica Freezes Over

You’ve heard the rumors: A movie about Helvetica was being produced. You’ve seen the clips. You’ve ogled at the deadpan Experimental Jetset-designed posters. You’ve read the raving reviews. You’ve wished for better days. You’ve fought jealousy induced from all those bloggers that have bragged about seeing the film premiere at SXSW or at the intimate viewing at MoMA or at any of the other major design hubs you don’t live in. You simply can’t wait for the DVD. You have placed your hopes that respect, awareness and even awe about our profession will come flooding from all the non-designers that might be interested in seeing the documentary. You, like the rest of the design world, have been in a giddy state of climactic expectancy of seeing a feature film about a font that you may hate or love. But what you haven’t heard is this: The movie, well, it’s just okay.

Before you hiss, please let me state that I am not undermining the effort, commitment and successful completion of an improbable documentary. Traveling around the world, capturing footage of the typeface in crowded urban spaces, interviewing a medley of well-spoken designers, heck, pinning David Carson — who these days seems as difficult to capture as footage of a white shark eating a seal — are all displays of determined affection that are convincingly translated into the final product. The movie is a rare and momentous feat in the immortalization of our industry, its history and some of its most illustrious practitioners. Helvetica will live forever in its potential for cult status among creative types and future generations of designers — readily available at Netflix, I hope. However, I seriously doubt it will be the mainstream success we all wish it could be — admit it, you fantasize about Gary Hustwit’s acceptance speech at the Oscars, beating out documentaries about endangered species, war-torn countries and other unfathomable tales of valor.

The film itself is just what a documentary usually ends up being: It sheds light on a subject that is of less regular interest to a larger group of people than those involved in its center theme. Invariably, the people featured come across as intense, out of the ordinary individuals obsessed with out of the ordinary subjects; talking passionately about things only they know. And Helvetica delivers these characters in all weights. Initially, and for a somewhat disconcertingly long part of the movie, all the characters are old and white — no offense to our masters, but Father Time and Mother Nature don’t lie! — and give the film a hue of unflattering antiquity, painting the profession as a once-noble craft that hasn’t seen better days since their prime. Certainly, Helvetica needs this set up, as a product of the 50s and 60s but the film dwells too much on this era and these practitioners. With a segue from the ever-evolving Matthew Carter, it’s only after Erik Spiekermann, Michael Bierut and Jonathan Hoefler enter the picture that Helvetica starts to engage and bring to life the effect of the typeface in everyday applications. Between them and the eloquent contextualization by Rick Poynor — everything coming so naturally you almost think he is reading off a teleprompter — is where the film is at its best — probably because they are of the generation that bridged the corporatization of Helvetica in the 60s and the hipsterization of Helvetica in the 90s. And you can’t do a major initiative circling the design industry without including Paula Scher and Stefan Sagmeister, who are both representing the Helvetica Reactionaries™ and describing their inclination to forego the systematic nature of the typeface. The biggest difference between this documentary and those about penguins, spelling bees and global warming is that we know who these people are. We’ve seen their designs, bought their monographs and, most likely, seen them live at conferences. Which is why this movie is so exciting to us and why we can’t stop trumpeting it as the greatest thing since OpenType. But to anyone outside the design industry, these are just another set of entertaining, charismatic, knowledgeable talking heads, whose names they will forget once they see the next movie. Most likely Grindhouse or Blades of Glory.

Visually, the film delivers what it promises: Lots of Helvetica. In all forms. From posters to logos to web sites to a tad too many street shots — trust me, we get it that Helvetica is everywhere around us from the first five cuts to these sequences. One of the brightest moments in the film is when famed posters of Josef Muller-Brockman and Armin Hoffman are shown on screen by being “designed” out of thin air, circles and ballerinas fading in elegantly, completing the blank canvas of the poster. Unfortunately, this only happens once. In another set up, designs come into the picture like a more elegant version of the iTunes cover-flip interface. Again, just once. In one more tease, the grid of a Wim Crouwel poster is exposed, leaving many in the audience gasping. These moments along with the opening credits are courtesy of Trollbäck + Company, Helvetica fiends themselves. I wished for more of these, despite close-ups of actual artifacts, in all their printed glory fulfilling the necessary eye candy needs. The cinematography, by Luke Geissbuhler, that everyone has been complimenting didn’t seem to stand out more than in any other documentary I have seen recently — it looks professional and it doesn’t make anyone look fat.

In terms of the content, Helvetica draws a beautiful arch — mostly aided by Poynor’s remarks — that takes the viewer from the origins of Helvetica in Switzerland as the gangly-named Neue Haas Grotesk to its ubiquity days as a default font in personal computers to its uncertain future in the hands of increasingly visual users who may or may not be designers. The film places much emphasis on the fact that Helvetica is everywhere, thriving in its neutrality, but not enough is made of the typeface itself, there is no real exploration of the shapes of the letters. Passing comments are made about the lowercase “a”, the uppercase “G” and the endings of the “c”, but a thorough examination on what these unique forms embody is missing. It’s also softly mentioned that Helvetica comes in light and bold, but no observations on what happens in between those weights or, even a more glaring omission, what happens when those letterforms were redrawn to be condensed or extended. Even when some of these less popular weights make it into the film. It’s also interesting that Helvetica’s dominance in the landscape is presented more as the result of non-designers, and designers, defaulting to it than it being the result of the process that puts Helvetica in all these places — the process of graphic design.

If anyone can cheer about this movie it’s type designers. This is the apotheosis of hundreds of years of working on the letterforms that enable communication. This one product getting recognized as basic to human interaction is a testament of the effort, care and knowledge that goes into crafting a typeface. Graphic designers, however, should put down their giant, foam #1 fingers, because this movie does not do us many favors. It reduces the process of graphic design to a typographic choice. A choice that anyone can make. It doesn’t speak to the nuances of crafting any of the posters, book covers or store awnings the movie shows. It doesn’t mention that this choice is the result of conversations with clients, the understanding of context and the practice of setting typography. It doesn’t delve into the subtle communication differences that come from using Helvetica Bold at 180 or Helvetica Light at 24 points. It mostly operates on the premise that choosing Helvetica, by default or not, defaults to an appropriate solution. As graphic designers we may cheer for seeing our heroes and the artifacts that have inspired us for 50 years in a feature film, but we should be equally concerned that Helvetica presents a simplification of our complex, and easily misunderstood, industry. If the movie rises to mainstream success, I doubt graphic designers will finally enjoy the understanding of the public at large and reap any elusive benefits of such clarity. This global appreciation that we have continually clamored for is more likely to come when hell freezes over than from an 80-minute film on a font.

I love Helvetica

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ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 3249 FILED UNDER Review
PUBLISHED ON Apr.11.2007 BY Armin
WITH 36 COMMENTS
Comments
Hook’s comment is:

We have a screening coming soon in my area put on by AIGA Nashville. And while I'm excited to see it, I can at least now walk into it with some post-viewing perspective courtesy of your article. We will be covering the screening on our blog after the event, perhaps collecting sentiments from a variety of local pros - it will be interesting to see what people say in our area of the design world. Thanks for the article, good stuff.

On Apr.11.2007 at 05:44 PM
ege’s comment is:

Thank you for the honest review Armin. One of our biggest problems is the need to be nice. Sometimes just making an effort isn’t good enough. I wish there was a bit more honesty when it come to our industry and how it is perceived by the general public.

I have not seen this film yet, but I am looking forward to it. At least now I know what to expect. I am a fan on the documentary genre. The story-lines tend to touch me in a way that studio films do not. I hope this one does the same.

I too love Helvetica.

On Apr.11.2007 at 05:47 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

You have placed your hopes that respect, awareness and even awe about our profession will come flooding from all the non-designers that might be interested in seeing the documentary.

Nope.

When Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ came out so many Christians seemed to think it would result in the conversion of the world.

Nope.

I think most people tend to believe that 'if the world can just see my thing in a great mainstream presentation, they will be as excited about it as I am.

Nope.

I do look forward to seeing this film though.

On Apr.11.2007 at 07:29 PM
Pesky illustrator’s comment is:

I hate Helvetica enough to hire a hitman...

On Apr.11.2007 at 10:49 PM
Ricardo Cordoba’s comment is:

It mostly operates on the premise that choosing Helvetica, by default or not, defaults to an appropriate solution.

I guess that is inevitable when dealing with a typeface that has a reputation for being "neutral" (whether it is or isn't is a discussion in itself, of course -- or material for a movie sequel, heh-heh).

It’s also softly mentioned that Helvetica comes in light and bold, but no observations on what happens in between those weights or, even a more glaring omission, what happens when those letterforms were redrawn to be condensed or extended. Even when some of these less popular weights make it into the film.

Really? No mention of Helvetica Black, used so well by Vaughan Oliver, Neville Brody and others in the 80s and 90s? No mention of the Helvetica Neue family, with its multiple weights numbered in the same way Univers is? :-O

As graphic designers we may cheer for seeing our heroes and the artifacts that have inspired us for 50 years in a feature film, but we should be equally concerned that Helvetica presents a simplification of our complex, and easily misunderstood, industry.

Perhaps, but this is probably inevitable in a feature-length movie. I'm sure Wordplay simplified things about its own microcosm, too, but as an outsider, I loved it.

I am happy just to have a film which, as you said, makes the invisible visible for the general public (and I am reminded a little of Marian Bantje's post about the New Yorker article on Matthew Carter).

On Apr.12.2007 at 12:01 AM
oscar’s comment is:

I'm happy this film exists and will definitely see it when it finally arrives here during Typecon 2007.

As to mainstream appeal, I never expected it, and my feelings were confirmed when my wife (who is reasonably type-aware through me) simply said: "A movie about Helvetica?!"

On Apr.12.2007 at 03:44 AM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

Thanks for the tempered review, Armin. I'm still excited about seeing it, though armed with a modified expectation.

So...will the sequel be called Arial ?...'cause the sequels are never as good as the original, you know.

On Apr.12.2007 at 09:12 AM
ed mckim’s comment is:

i'm holding out till Ken Burns shows this one up with his blockbuster-to-be about the Ashlee Simpson of typography "Shadow: The Arial Story"

On Apr.12.2007 at 11:58 AM
ed mckim’s comment is:

damn it. i need to start reading all the comments before i post.

On Apr.12.2007 at 12:04 PM
Josh B’s comment is:

I'd say this review is fair and tempered. However, much of it is a reaction to the excitement designers are expressing about the film (and its possible, but improbable mainstream success), and not so much a reaction to the film itself. Only someone with the knowledge of a designer could criticize the film for not devoting more time to the actual letterforms themselves, or the variety of weights it comes in. The average non-designer has no such knowledge, and therefore completely different criteria for criticism. It might even be safe to say the average person would think too much time was devoted to discussing letterforms and grids. What a snooze.

But therein lies one of the big questions about this movie: Should it have been made solely for an audience of designers, or for a wider cross-section of the populace? Surely Gary Hustwit asked himself this question throughout, and it would seem he went the way of wider appeal. Maybe the DVD will have a for-designers-only bonus feature.

Still, i think this could easily open the door to more exposure of our industry in the mainstream. Bravo has gone from Project Runway, to Top Chef, to Top Design, and last night the premiere of Shear Genius, a hair styling competition show. It seems inevitable that graphic design is next, or at least soon. Hey, why not? What clever name can we give it?

On Apr.12.2007 at 12:08 PM
Doug B’s comment is:

It seems inevitable that graphic design is next, or at least soon.

I disagree. Graphic design doesn't share that 'fashion show' mindset that the examples you listed do: runway fashion, haute cuisine, interior design, hairstyling...

No one who watches the E! channel cares what next years typefaces will be.

Honestly, neither do I...

On Apr.12.2007 at 02:41 PM
felix’s comment is:

Doug I take it you haven't been (or worked) in NYC.

It's hard to watch Top Design without thinking to set your watch to Top Graphic Design. Is it inevitable? No. But it's plainly viable. As long as Donny Deutch isn't involved .. maybe Beirut, Heller or Millman moderating... maybe have to liquer Heller up.

On Apr.12.2007 at 06:04 PM
John Mindiola III’s comment is:

word. every time i watch the apprentice, i think to myself: when is THE DESIGNER going to happen? i mean, every other task has a graphic designer/design team at the disposal of the money hungry contestants. it makes sense: when creating marketing buzz, DESIGN is a necessary component. why not strip the ego-bloated yuppies and insert some cash-strapped but super-skilled cats who will try to design their tails off for a chance at a sweet spot at pentagram or duffy, or for a cash prize of $10 mil, or some kickin combo of dough and exposure to start their own studio. give them a week instead of 24 hrs. really see what gimmicks the contestants will resort to when it's 2 hrs till showtime: needless nudity, foil stamping, celebrity endorsement, etc.

heck, maybe even make 16 teams of 4 comprised of print/illustration, signage/installation, web/interactive/mobile, photography/video. shoot, the bickering between teammates would be entertaining enough.

"Onyx?! Poplar?! Are you f***ing serious?! Why don't we just scribble our sh** with crayons?!" "Hey, did you say crayons? Cos I just got a really great idea..." "No way, I aint using f***ing Crayola. I'm trying to win a million bucks, not create the next set design for Elmo's World!" "Yo, will you guys shut the f*** up?! I'm trying to record the sound a crayon makes on paper for our Flash movie." "...Hey guys, we have a problem: I can't find Razzmatazz or Watermelon anywhere in this PANTONE swatch book. Damn, maybe I'll try the fabric swatches..."

seriously, if this turns into a real show, I WANT SOME CREDIT. AND SOME CASH.

On Apr.12.2007 at 07:33 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Really? No mention of Helvetica Black? […] No mention of the Helvetica Neue family, with its multiple weights numbered in the same way Univers is? :-O

They do show some Helvetica Black examples here and there, but it's never clear that there are various weights. Which is one of the primary reasons this type family is so popular. And definitely no mention of Helvetica Neue.

> However, much of it is a reaction to the excitement designers are expressing about the film (and its possible, but improbable mainstream success), and not so much a reaction to the film itself.

True. But in a way, they are both tied together, specially as a discussion among graphic designers. The film comes with great expectations for the design community and, in my mind, I don't think the movie, as a movie, will fulfill our deepest needs and desires to be understood.

As a documentary, Helvetica is good, it does what it's supposed to do… Although I do wish it would have a different effect: Scare people away from choosing fonts, a little like how I would be scared to play with these fellas.

On Apr.13.2007 at 08:31 AM
Doug B’s comment is:

felix’s comment is:

It's hard to watch Top Design...

I agree with that (as a fragment of your sentence).

The reason that shows like Iron Chef, Top Design, Queer Eye, etc... work on cable is that the general viewing public has some level of (viceral) appreciation for cooking, interior design, styling their hair, shopping for fashionable clothes, etc...

These are things that they (the viewers) do on a regular basis in their everyday lives, and these shows take those sometimes banal tasks and make them more exciting by adding that cable TV 'special sauce'.

If someone were to launch a reality-based show on graphic design, it better have more human interest in it than showing a camera over a designer's shoulder for 8 hours while he/she designs a poster to compete against the other rival design firm down the street. And, it should be more believable than The Apprentice's phony/laughable ad campaigns as well. The general public (NYC or anywhere else) doesn't have the general knowledge/appreciation/interest in graphic design that they do in interior design, cooking, fashion, etc. It simply wouldn't $ell, whether it had merit or not.

Observe the google math to back up my argument:

Googling in quotes: "Michael Bierut" + "Debbie Millman" + "Steven Heller" + "Paul Rand" + "Doug Bartow"* = total of 542,516 hits

Google "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" = 682,000 hits

Google "Sanjaya Malakar" = 1,410,000 hits


you can't argue with The Google.


cheers!


* a solid 716!

On Apr.13.2007 at 10:16 AM
felix’s comment is:

I don't see your logic. Google has nothing to do with cable TV.

Put Chip Kidd on a stool with crossed legs, loafers, no socks (ala jonathan alder) toss in 3 glasses of chardonnay, and bingo- instant drunken drama.

better yet, get Heller drunk and wax Nazi propaganda for 30 minutes... that might be another (PBS) show.

On Apr.13.2007 at 12:05 PM
ed mckim’s comment is:

I agree with Doug B

I don't think any show about a graphic designer would be all that interesting to anyone other than a graphic designer, and to be honest, most graphic designers would probably shun the show after four episodes because they would be so disgusted with the choices of designs that they would revolt (if it's anything like Brand New, at least)

I also think it would not be successful because most of graphic design is so mundane and ephemeral and time consuming that it would be impossible to have any projects worth mentioning created in a week...

that is to say that if i were to be interested in it, i'd want to see some projects like national ad campaigns for public forums like rail stations, but that would take weeks to design and then weeks on top of that to print. the only projects you could use would be logos, brochures, or posters and they wouldn't even be able to hit the market to see if they are effective. and that's assuming they aren't facing a client.

the reason that the apprentice is so successful and easy to do is because they are the client, and they get to make all the choices. granted in some episodes they have to present to crowds as if they were the designers, the designers are at someone else's mercy the whole time, not to mention in shows like the apprentice, the people they are presenting to know and understand exactly what their goals, process and strategy are because they are the same kinds of people. there is always something lost in translation between designer in client no matter how well you present it. i know the next logical argument is that presenting the design to the client would be how you would decide who is the most successful, having the winner chosen by the client... but i don't think that making a show that is based on a small part of the process is going to be all that moving... the event might still suck even if it has great posters.

On Apr.13.2007 at 01:00 PM
Josh B’s comment is:

Little did I know that my overly optimistic wish for a graphic design reality competition show would cause such a divisive and serious reaction. My goodness. I'm glad Felix is on my side.

As for Doug B's Google numbers... well you compared google searches of people who aren't on tv, to people who already are. That doesn't work. Who the F was Sanjaya before America Idol? He sure as hell didn't have any google presence before his seemingly endless, and tortuous, 15 minutes of fame.

As for arguing it can't happen because it would be boring to show what we really do, to that I say "pffffttt". Do you think Project Runway has anything to do with how the fashion design world really works? Reality TV shows are built to be entertaining, not real, and there's no reason a graphic design show couldn't be formatted to be entertaining too. I'll leave that up to the TV people. Not to mention the airtime corporations could get having designers tackle their problems every week. The show could have a lot of commercial potential.

On Apr.13.2007 at 01:48 PM
Doug B’s comment is:

As for Doug B's Google numbers... well you compared google searches of people who aren't on tv, to people who already are. That doesn't work. Who the F was Sanjaya before America Idol? He sure as hell didn't have any google presence before his seemingly endless, and tortuous, 15 minutes of fame.

You are proving my point for me. Google tracks popularity, not face time on TV. What people are talking/blogging about is what drives up those ratings. People talk about music, cooking, fashion and interior design. People don't talk about graphic design (other than the handful known as 'us'). It's that simple fact that would make a graphic design show (that was only about graphic design) a sure cancellation.

Do you think the design equivalent of Sanjaya would be marketable?

Cowell: "Ghastly"

On Apr.13.2007 at 02:09 PM
Josh B’s comment is:

Doug-

If you wanted to compare searches for the popularity of "graphic design" and "fashion" on google, you should search for those 2 things. Not "michael bierut" and "sanjaya". I expect a full report.

On Apr.13.2007 at 03:08 PM
Shahla’s comment is:

This thread has woven itself into a continuation of
Jessica Helfand's, now closed, question over at Design Observer.

Where is the drama in graphic design?

On Apr.13.2007 at 03:40 PM
ed mckim’s comment is:

Do you think Project Runway has anything to do with how the fashion design world really works?

So you want to make a show that is a false representation of what designers do? or are you saying it should be something that has nothing to do with what designers really do?

Not to mention the airtime corporations could get having designers tackle their problems every week. The show could have a lot of commercial potential.

the problems designers tackle on a weekly basis isn't anything worth showing. the only things that designers do that are recognized by regular people as "good design" is not done on a weekly basis. the things people look at and go "wow!" are not only few and far between, but rarely a sole designer's work, almost never done without client consent, is usually done over an extended period of time, and is usually just a small part of another corporation's greater brand, marketing initiatives, and directions. simply put - great design is usually associated to the corporation it is advertising, not the designers who do it... my dad wouldn't say "wow, mckinney+silver did a great poster for audi" it's always "wow, audi has a really nice poster"

let's not even get started on the contempt most humans have with consumerism and how annoyed most people are with ad overkill anyways, and just agree that a show about making advertisements, spliced with different advertisements probably made by the same people for the same products and companies featured in the shows would be like a giant infomercial in prime time.

On Apr.13.2007 at 04:01 PM
Shahla’s comment is:

HGTV's collector inspector's creator will help you get a 'graphic design' reality TV show on the air. Then, and only then, will we deservedly see blog entries like this one about Bravo's "Million Dollar Listing" -written and commented on by graphic designers- regarding your show.

On Apr.13.2007 at 05:01 PM
Josh B’s comment is:

So you want to make a show that is a false representation of what designers do? or are you saying it should be something that has nothing to do with what designers really do?

No. What I'm saying is there's a way to make graphic design entertaining. It doesn't have to show the drudgery of making charts and tables in the back of an annual report. It doesn't even have to be exactly representational of the trade. Do you think fashion designers get their panties in a bunch because Project Runway isn't true to their trade? They might. But who cares. I find it interesting. And I bet lots of people have felt compelled to learn more about fashion design because of that show.

the problems designers tackle on a weekly basis isn't anything worth showing.

So don't show that part. Clearly I have to paint a picture that makes this idea feasible in your cynical, naysaying, rain-on-the-parade minds. So here we go...

The album cover: The Beastie Boys are putting out a new album. The designers/contestants get to meet the band and hear the music. The designers then have 24 hours to concept and design an album cover. But because these weekly tasks need a twist... this week they can't use a computer. They get to work. The James Victore-ish designer of the group makes something entirely with grease pencil and electrical tape. The Vignelli-ish one of the group gets some Letraset Bodoni and gets all flush left ragged right on the mofo. The David Carson-ish one collages and rips and rotates and makes it otherwise illegible. And so on. They reconvene, pitch their ideas, Mike D loses his shit over the best one, and we have a winner. The David Carson-ish one loses and goes home.

And for anyone who feels the need to take me and my idea very seriously... Just don't.

On Apr.13.2007 at 08:42 PM
ed mckim’s comment is:

cynical or not, that show still sucks.

On Apr.13.2007 at 10:14 PM
Malcolm Garrett’s comment is:

Reality TV sucks, ergo the show as outlined could easily be a "success".

On Apr.14.2007 at 04:53 PM
Design Matron’s comment is:

Armin, thanks for breaking with the pack on this one. I had a similar reaction. Dare I say, I was kind of bored? The film felt like a slow, somewhat lazy walk between a few design studios. Visually it could have been so much richer: those glimpses of posters and other design artifacts set the stage more than the impressionistic shots of designers in their offices. (Though it is fun, if ultimately irrelevant, seeing others' workplaces. For instance, does Erik Spiekermann always have freshly cut flowers in his studio?) I wanted to see many more examples of design, both historical and contemporary; this is one movie that could have benefitted from a more frenetic pace of editing, and it would have complemented the fleeting way most people experience design. Eye candy, as you put it.

I also wanted to see more examples of Helvetica as it has appeared in popular culture––different from the corporate identities, retail signage and advertising the movie seems to focus on––which I think would have helped give the film's larger generational and technological themes greater shape.

I'm curious to see the reviews in the mainstream press when the film is eventually released.

On Apr.16.2007 at 03:30 PM
Ben Weeks’s comment is:

Sounding the depths of google continued: How do our design heroes rank against "real" celebrities?

Google "Walt Disney" = 31,000,000
Google "The Beatles" = 20,700,000
Google "Jay Z" = 15,000,000
Google "Martha Stewart" = 3,980,000
Google "Louis Vuitton" = 3,880,000
Google "Pablo Picasso" = 1,690,000
Google "Frank Gehry" = 1,280,000
Google "Philippe Starck" = 1,190,000
Google "Diana, Princess of Wales" = 758,000
Google "David Carson" = 455,000
Google "Jonathan Ive" = 301,000
Google "Miuccia Prada" = 220,000
Google "Stefan Sagmeister" = 92,600
Google "Armin Vit" = 11,400
Google "Ben Weeks" = 1,040

I am:
29,807 times less popular than Walt Disney,
1,625 times less popular than Pablo Picasso
11 times less popular than Armin Vit :)

On Apr.16.2007 at 11:08 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Here is a Quicktime movie with all the animated posters I mentioned originally, by Trollback + Co. See why I wanted more?

On Apr.22.2007 at 08:43 AM
Danielle’s comment is:

I thought the documentary was "okay" too. I saw it in LA last weekend. The best part of the event was the "helveticake" after the screening. The most disappointing thing for me was the fact that although more than half the designers out there are women, somehow the director chose to interview only 2 women in the entire film. Hmph. I guess women don't have opinions about type.

On May.02.2007 at 04:08 PM
Scott’s comment is:

Armin, first paragraph: “You have placed your hopes that respect, awareness and even awe about our profession will come flooding from all the non-designers that might be interested in seeing the documentary”.

Armin, last paragraph, AKA, conclusion: “If the movie rises to mainstream success, I doubt graphic designers will finally enjoy the understanding of the public at large and reap any elusive benefits of such clarity.”

These, and other comments made throughout the thread make me wonder if designers worry too much about our public stature, as if we were sniveling little wannabes passive-aggressively cowering in the corner of the playground—ooh, ooh, pick me! This movie is for us—who the hell cares about John Q. Public?

Johnny likes design if it sells his product. Johnny likes design that makes him look cool, that makes his legs look slim and his rear bodacious. Johnny likes design that comes in 5-speeds and racing stripes. Johnny likes design that makes him look like he has more money than he actually has, that makes his music look like it sounds good. Design is appreciated for what it can GET Johnny. Johnny is a fan of design when it can make other people fans of Johnny.

Why is one of the first and last worries about what OTHER people think? Do we think like whores now, rather than just act like them? Pick, me, pick me! Helvetica is window dressing for Johnny (literally), so who the hell cares what Johnny thinks—he can lick my knobby ascender—and who needs an Oscar when you have a Max?

On May.03.2007 at 10:08 PM
JImmy’s comment is:

I saw the film a week ago. It's as good as anything Ken Burns has done. It's a documentary for chrissake, and a damn good one at that!

On May.07.2007 at 01:38 PM
Ash’s comment is:

You should have written this in Helvetica. Your font gave me a headache.....

On May.09.2007 at 08:34 AM
Sarah Townsend’s comment is:

Aloha. Whether you like Helvetica or not - it made the BBC today:

BBC News | Helvetica at 50

On May.09.2007 at 04:53 PM
art chantry’s comment is:

this is from THE STRAW MEN, by Michael Marshall (Jove, 2002):

"Most (1950's signage) have been torn down now, replaced by brutal information boards stamped out in Helvetica, the official typeface of purgatory. Helvetica isn't designed to make you feel anything good, to promise adventure or gladden the heart. Helvetica is for telling you that profits are down, that the photocopier needs servicing, and by the way, you've been fired."

this seems to me to be the way the the majority of the vast non-designer public feels about Helvetica. it ain't a love affair...

On Jun.17.2007 at 02:42 PM
CJ’s comment is:

I saw this in Chicago and really enjoyed it. I don't believe this film ever was trying for major appeal. The filmake stated his intentions when I saw it, "I made it for myself." The film is not going to hit all the marks... it just can't. What I loved about it was how it took Helevetica and used it as a base to describe the modern history and evolution of design. We're all proud of what we do and what we try to accomplish whether we like Helvetica or not... it was a huge part of how we think about design and the ethics we all strive for in visual communications. I thought it was a great piece and a must see for any up-and-coming designers.

On Jun.19.2007 at 06:38 PM