Saturday, November 17, 2007

The age of Helvetica

Can you make an engaging documentary about a typeface? The answer, conclusively, is yes.

I got my advance-order copy of
Helvetica today. Barb and I just finished watching, and it's astonishing. Told almost entirely in the voices of typographers and designers, the story will open your eyes to a landscape of both subtle and overt typographic messages and orient you at the intersection of Modernism, reactive Post-Modernism and the progeny of both – including, it seems to me, a Modernist revival.

I'm going to think more before I write more. But I already know enough to recommend this film enthusiastically. Officially available after Nov. 20 from Amazon,

(Arial, a Helvetica clone,
is the closest blogspot
lets me come to setting this post
in appropriate type.)


  1. Anonymous7:31 AM

    That sounds truly interesting, and a little dead-trees oriented. This is a blog about the future of journalism, right? Then why is the lead photo a bunch of linotype operators? (At least that's what I think they are. Saw something similar in a journalism history text.)

  2. i·ro·ny /ˈaɪrəni – noun
    1. the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning: the irony of her reply, “How nice!” when I said I had to work all weekend.
    2. Literature.
    a. a technique of indicating, as through character or plot development, an intention or attitude opposite to that which is actually or ostensibly stated.
    b. (esp. in contemporary writing) a manner of organizing a work so as to give full expression to contradictory or complementary impulses, attitudes, etc., esp. as a means of indicating detachment from a subject, theme, or emotion.
    3. Socratic irony.
    4. dramatic irony.
    5. an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.
    6. the incongruity of this.
    7. an objectively sardonic style of speech or writing.
    8. an objectively or humorously sardonic utterance, disposition, quality, etc.

  3. P.S. Typography is typography, whether displayed as ink on paper of electrons on a screen.

  4. Anonymous12:07 PM

    You lost me. So the linotype is meant to be ironic? And what's with the defensive overkill? I hope you don't handle criticism from your colleagues like that. ...

  5. A movie about a typeface? Interesting. I first learned about the Helvetica celebration in a Fast Company article. New York's MOMA has an exhibit going on through March 2008 on this typeface. As they put it, "(Helvetica is) considered the official typeface of the twentieth century." Whereas the power of the word is most often celebrated and discussed, now the way in which it is displayed is.