Helvetica The Movie

by Krishna on November 23, 2011

So as I had planned, I watched the documentary “Helvetica” on Netflix. It is a well-made film consisting primarily of interviews with type designers interspersed with a zillion visuals of Helvetica font used all over the place. Not being from a graphics background, I was astounded to see how ubiquitous the Helvetica typeface is. Most corporations use it for the design of their name. Street signs are written in it. Even T‑shirts!

The interviews were interesting enough with some of them having intensity and passion in their advocacy or criticism of Helvetica. Some of the type designers talk of Helvetica as the “perfect” typeface because every choice (such as the horizontal orientation of the edges in “C”) cannot be bettered. The critics say that because of this aspect and also because Helvetica is everywhere, using Helvetica implies conformity with the mainstream and when you are part of the counter-culture, you would want to go in a different route. Of course, this needs to be taken in context with the typefaces used before Helvetica in print advertisements.

If you are creating web applications, you cannot use Helvetica as a font as it is a commercial font and for some licensing issues, it doesn’t come bundled with every operating system (apart from Macs). So instead of Helvetica, we have Arial that is on everyone’s computers. If you had asked me to compare the two fonts sometime back, I wouldn’t have cared, nor would I have known the difference. But there it is. At some point, Microsoft decided to actively promote Verdana (instead of Arial) on the web, using it for everything, including the MSDN site. On the desktop, the default on Microsoft Word for Sans Serif fonts is Calibri, which strangely was a replacement for the Serif font Times New Roman.

I like Calibri for documents as it is very readable on a monitor. But for regular text on the web, I prefer Georgia, which is the default font on this blog theme (Thesis) — again a very readable font, and it does seem to be very popular online. For mono-spaced fonts for code, I like Consolas, a big improvement from Courier New. Headings — I am not so sure. Georgia looks fine, but headings are very significant in conveying the mood of a website, so doing something different and unique can be worth the effort.

{ 1 comment }

michal kurek December 29, 2011 at 8:56 am

i plan to see it as well 😉 maybe i encourage myself in the next week.

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