Forward this via Mail Lars anticipated the Helvetica boom of recent years when publishing Homage to a Typeface in However, the story of Helvetica is not only a story of success but also the story of the democratization of design. They could hardly be a more eloquent testimony to the fact that if you have something to say, you will say it even better with this typeface. Anywhere, anytime, in any medium. Anything written in this typeface wants to be read.
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What one might come away with from the book and review is the possibility that type preferences are simply individualistic For example, on one page you see the Otl Aicher-designed Lufthansa corporate identity that used Helvetica; on the next, photos of shoddy restaurant fasciae that used Helvetica. You could then go on to quote one of the quotations about Helvetica that are threaded through the book, commenting on how perceptive or provocative the quote is.
But if you approached Helvetica a little less complacently, with the intent of asking questions about some of its assumptions, premises, and contradictions, there would be more to say. The cream on the pie. To explore this possibility, I can imagine an alternate, more pragmatic Helvetica book. What caused Haas, the Swiss type foundry, to undertake the design when it did in the mids?
Was it as simple as some people have said: that the type called Haas Neue Grotesk or New Haas Grotesque , later renamed Helvetica by another type foundry, was made in response to trends in continental graphic design? What choices did Haas make in selecting the 19th-century model — or models — that it would base its new type on?
After exhausting questions like these, the hypothetical book would try to situate Helvetica within the larger context of 20th-century typeface design, and it would lay out some criteria for how typefaces can be evaluated. It would probably argue that though personal taste can never be entirely rejected, and that though there is no way to make entirely objective evaluations of things like typefaces, definite qualities and features can be discerned that may elevate some types above others.
Applying these notions to Helvetica, the book would conclude that the typeface is intrinsically unremarkable, and that it probably owes its renown to good timing compounded by the tendency of some to ascribe false qualities — false ideals, even — to typefaces.
Helpful as a clear-headed book like this would be, it would still fall short of an explanation of how Helvetica has managed to retain its undeserved status — so much so that a homage to it could be published at this late date.
I have looked at lots of typefaces and I am sure that, compared to similar types in its class and even typefaces in general, there is nothing elemental about Helvetica. But there were also no good reasons why it should have been Helvetica, and not some other typeface—contrary to what the book wants us to believe.
Again and again, there Helvetica is: traffic signs, book covers, newspapers, corporate logos, shop windows. Taken together, these examples reassert a familiar point: yes, typefaces are important to an extent, and bad ones can cause bad problems; but most of the time, it is hard to claim that a particular typeface Helvetica or otherwise has either undermined or rescued what would have been a success or a failure.
Be the first to know. Follow Typotheque on Twitter or Facebook. Of course this only applies to the posters, record covers, and so on — the designed items. When it comes to the pedestrian applications of Helvetica, the book operates under a different set of mistaken assumptions. This gets to what is most frustrating about Helvetica: Homage to a Typeface.
It manages to avoid exploring any of the questions that surround Helvetica—interesting questions whose discussion might have made for an interesting book. One such question that came up repeatedly as I flipped through the book has to do with the assumption that typefaces — and especially typefaces like Helvetica — can still be thought of as single, fixed entities. As this process of adaptation and re-interpretation continued over the last few decades, it stands to reason that there developed a huge number of Helveticas along with typefaces derived from Helvetica derivatives — some of which are vastly divergent from the original, and some that just show subtle variation.
The computer-based type design techniques that have become prevalent over the last fifteen years can only have accelerated these mutations. Maybe better than any other typeface, Helvetica highlights the problems with the way we have come to understand and talk about types. How much can a given design be modified, enhanced, or extended before it is no longer itself?
That family of three heavy, narrow typefaces was made not by Max Miedinger in the mids, but by Matthew Carter in the mid s for Mergenthaler Linotype, a Brooklyn manufacturer of typesetting equipment. These may sound like fine points, but in the context of a book about something as confusing and multifarious as Helvetica, they would be worth taking seriously.
Helvetica: Homage to a Typeface, review
What one might come away with from the book and review is the possibility that type preferences are simply individualistic For example, on one page you see the Otl Aicher-designed Lufthansa corporate identity that used Helvetica; on the next, photos of shoddy restaurant fasciae that used Helvetica. You could then go on to quote one of the quotations about Helvetica that are threaded through the book, commenting on how perceptive or provocative the quote is. But if you approached Helvetica a little less complacently, with the intent of asking questions about some of its assumptions, premises, and contradictions, there would be more to say.
Homage to a Typeface
Helvetica: Homage to a Typeface