Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Useless Experiments in Typeface: Helvetica

I just saw the documentary, "Helvetica" and it got me thinking about design, advertising, experimentation, art and philosophy. Not bad for a film about an ubiquitous typeface.

Helvetica is so much all around us, in corporate logos, street and public-transportation signage, advertising, and occasionally, artful design, that we don't even notice its perfection and authority. Designers have reveled in it since its beginnings in 1957 in Switzerland, and designers have rebelled against it, lamenting its lack of character and corporate coldness.

In a fit of middle-of-the-night insomnia (as opposed to my usual 5 A.M. insomnia), I got to thinking: what if I were to experiment with Helvetica? I could test its strengths and limits using my own design schema. (I don't know if you've noticed) but I'm no trained designer. But neither are some of the designers interviewed in "Helvetica" and they're some of the most interesting interview subjects because all their skills are gut-based and therefore artful.

And what is more artful than record-cover design? The big, cardboard square has always brimmed with fonts and meanings. It's marketing art and I'm going for it. Note: none of these albums are actually real and are not available at any store--probably for the best.

This looks like fun. Remember how nostalgic the 80s were for the 50s? I can't explain it. Just re-examine the extreme bigness of 50s hair and crinolines, then add pure LSD and the finest grade of cocaine and you'll come to the 80s.

Sit on it, Fonz. This sans serif look is strictly for nerds in the accounting department. And you do NOT want to party with nerds in the accounting department--if you know what I mean...

I still find spoken-word albums in thrift stores, and you know I'm on that because I can relate to someone sitting in a recording studio, speaking into the mic, then urging friends and family to buy the resulting product for hours of listening enjoyment.
I'm not feeling this Helvetica version, which has lost a certain pretentious twee-ness so essential to what I imagine fictional poetry by fictional Paul Kinsey would be like.

This has everything wrong going for it, yet is an adequate reproduction of garbled design before the advent of clean, clear type that brought nothing but clarity to the table. Let's see how it looks in Helvetica.

Kind of dry, but it almost works. As much as a ridiculous premise of a badly designed and conceived album can. I would actually buy this album at the Goodwill (for 99 cents). But I'd be more likely to notice it with a bunch of goofy, curly typefaces. I like bad design--what can I say?

Disclosure: I actually don't have Helvetica type anywhere on my computer. This was remedied by good ol' Arial, which is a reasonable stand-in for Helvetica. Typeface purists, please don't crucify me.

1 comment:

el space vato said...

Helvetica... yet one more f$#king thing to tell me what to do....