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Helvetica: The Apotheosis of the Invisible Art
April 21, 2007 10:07 AM   Subscribe

In 1957, Swiss typographer Max Miedinger invented "the official typeface of the 20th century" -- Helvetica [previously discussed here, via Arts and Letters Daily].
posted by digaman (44 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Helvetica Meditations.

A documentary film.
posted by digaman at 10:12 AM on April 21, 2007


Helvetica won? Dammit. I had all of my money riding on Drunk Robot Pimp compressed extra bold.
Must stop gambling. I never win.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:18 AM on April 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


I liked Amputée Sans-serif, but the M's looked like N's.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:22 AM on April 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


This typeface (font?) is closely connected to the subway signs of the TTC in my mind - that and other official-looking signs around cities. It's pleasantly neutral and bland, with no serifs to distract from the message. Anything you write in this has to be obeyed.
posted by sudasana at 10:23 AM on April 21, 2007


How to spot Arial - the differences between Helvetica and Arial.
posted by Mwongozi at 10:31 AM on April 21, 2007


Arts and Letters indeed. Helvetica, I love you still.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:32 AM on April 21, 2007


Helvetica vs. Arial: the game.
posted by tepidmonkey at 10:34 AM on April 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Being an old guy, I remember when Helvetica first started appearing around NYC in the mid-late '60s. It seemed like a fresh uncluttered breeze amidst the clutter -- like orthographic air conditioning. It said: "The Man is telling you to do this, but the Man is hip enough to be clean."
posted by digaman at 10:36 AM on April 21, 2007 [3 favorites]


In the Solaris commentary, Steven Soderbergh jokingly states that his use of Helvetica for the credits was his attempt to revive the use of the font.
posted by The Deej at 10:44 AM on April 21, 2007


Do not forget The Helvetica Scenario.
posted by oonh at 10:49 AM on April 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hevetica don't have nothing on Futura.

But for screen display I have to say I enjoy Georgia above all.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:02 AM on April 21, 2007


Helvetica that is
posted by Rhomboid at 11:02 AM on April 21, 2007


Helvetica's nice, but I'm convinced that Futura gave the Allies just that little bit extra necessary to win WWII. If were an art historian, that'd be my thesis.
posted by kimota at 11:13 AM on April 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh, I was looking for a link explaining Apple's Geneva font as a footnote in the history of Helvetica, and found this font history page.
posted by kimota at 11:20 AM on April 21, 2007


kimota: Futura gave the Allies just that little bit extra necessary to win WWII.

I've always thought of WWII as essentially a Gill Sans war.
posted by athenian at 12:01 PM on April 21, 2007


love hate relationship with lucida grande here. second futura.
posted by phaedon at 12:25 PM on April 21, 2007


Helvetica continues to impress me with just how versatile it can be (honest!) I use the crap out of it and Univers.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:31 PM on April 21, 2007


Helvetica is all the tacit goodness of the world made type. It's that moment of unsuspected grace in an otherwise clumsy and crunching life. It's everything I like best about humanity, warm smooth concrete in the sun - those a's and e's most especially. Mmmm.
posted by adamgreenfield at 12:41 PM on April 21, 2007


Yes, but Gill's lower-case "g" "x" "and "z" are the stuff dreams are made of.
posted by fandango_matt at 1:15 PM on April 21, 2007


I've long had a thing for Impact, myself, but duly acknowledge Helvetica as Queen of the Font.
posted by WPW at 1:26 PM on April 21, 2007


Futura r0x0rs Gill Sans, any day of the week, any week of the year. Yeah, Gill's got a groovier 'g', but as that article so aptly points out, the lower-case 'a' is fucking ridiculous and unbalanced (as is the lower-case 'f'). Additionally, the lower-case 'y' is too horizontal and the lower-case 't' is positively infuriating—it looks like it was amputated, and the stump slowly curled and atrophied over time into a hideous mess.

Also, I'd like to give a shout-out to my homies from the 19th century. Word up, Bodoni!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:31 PM on April 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Awesome post, thank you
posted by sneakin at 2:47 PM on April 21, 2007


Such memories tied to a font. Back when I used to hand set cold type, (DAMN!) I could do anything I needed with Helvetica and Goudy Old Style.

Composing stick... galley... proof press... letterpress... Man, it was TOUGH to build webpages with that stuff.
posted by The Deej at 3:23 PM on April 21, 2007


Damn, Deej, I wish I had a composing stick for webpages. Then there'd be something handy to beat the ever-loving shit out of IE6.
posted by Haruspex at 3:47 PM on April 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm going to go see this movie about Hevetica tonight.
posted by thecjm at 3:59 PM on April 21, 2007


thecjm, I'm thinking of seeing it as well, shall we wear our MeFi hats?
posted by greatgefilte at 4:34 PM on April 21, 2007


Where's the love for Bookman?
posted by wendell at 4:37 PM on April 21, 2007


{{{{{{{{ Bookman }}}}}}}}

Only on MeFi would someone boast about seeing a movie about a font, and another user demand love for a different font.

Not that there's anything wrong with it.
posted by The Deej at 5:15 PM on April 21, 2007


And once the birthday festivities are over and you're finally sick of it: fonts like Helvetica.
posted by Typographica at 5:17 PM on April 21, 2007


fonts like Helvetica.
posted by Typographica


See?! It's not just us... even other fonts like Helvetica!
posted by The Deej at 5:32 PM on April 21, 2007


I spent ages choosing my thesis font and eventually decided upon Eric Gill's Perpetua. The italics are especially beautiful.
posted by sindark at 5:48 PM on April 21, 2007


I actually quite like Calibri.
posted by Artw at 6:13 PM on April 21, 2007


In my personal version of hell, the only typeface is Times New Roman.

My all-time faves are Bodoni and Frutiger.
posted by Slothrup at 6:21 PM on April 21, 2007


Nerds!
posted by tgyg at 7:32 PM on April 21, 2007


I'm a big fan of Futura as well. Helvetica is nice.

Not the sort to say things are "evil", I will say that Comic Sans is evil, and I can't count how many times I've encountered it when dealing with new corporate clients. I have them stop. I really do.
posted by juiceCake at 9:31 PM on April 21, 2007


I often cite Code Style to my clients, here's their font sampler index, Windows font survey results, Mac font survey results, Unix font survey results and their Combined font survey results.

I hope some of y'all may have similar, perhaps better, sites to share.

I design in Verdana because it takes the most space of the top percenters.

I hates little feets and batwing ears.
posted by taosbat at 10:04 PM on April 21, 2007


I am, unexpectedly, digging Calibri. It's clean and pretty.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:09 PM on April 21, 2007


I just got back from seeing Helvetica the movie. I would recommend it to anyone who is interesting in fonts aka everyone reading down this far. It was a fun movie, very well done, and the designers they interview are almost all interesting characters. And Erik Spiekermann is hilarious in his role as Helvetica nay-sayer.
posted by thecjm at 12:49 AM on April 22, 2007


Is the Toronto Star article basically a headline and nothing more for anyone else, or is it just me?

sindark writes "I spent ages choosing my thesis font"

Huh - I feel a little guilty that I just used the same font I use for everything else. I spent ages building the figures though, and an eternity compiling the actual data.

From a non-design-person, Windows-user perspective, I'll risk the wrath of all here to state that until Microsoft starts shipping with Helvetica, you won't see it showing up in very many corporate documents. I personally went out of my way to collect a copy, but I don't use it in my documents for one simple reason: Nobody else I collaborate with has a copy. I know Windows is supposed to seamlessly substitute Arial whenever anything calls for Helvetica, but I don't trust it to do so. (Plus, my former adviser is so technologically inept that any hint of a font substitution warning or dialog box would likely send her over the edge in panic.)

taosbat writes "I often cite Code Style to my clients"

Now that page was useful! Made me realize that my laptop knew I had Helvetica, but my desktop was still substituting Arial! Changed font mapping in the registry, problem solved, and site bookmarked.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:52 AM on April 22, 2007


I'm glad Code Style was good for you, caution live frogs. I use it to help folks select sensible fonts for their web pages.
posted by taosbat at 9:20 AM on April 22, 2007


Aw, the Star moved the article into its paid archive last night. A big fat Comic Sans "boo!" to that.
posted by digaman at 9:33 AM on April 22, 2007


Ok, you want a link? Here's a fucking awesome link. It's a study that was done where they tested readability of different popular available-for-the-web fonts. Here's a study they did with a larger set of fonts. And here's a study they did with different font sizes.

Actual studies, not seat-of-the-pants "what a stupid name for a font" studies.

Finally, here's a chart of just about all the usable percentage font-sizes for CSS, so you can see how different browsers render the fonts. It's kick-ass. It helps save the world. Fucking click it, you font-bitch.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:56 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Er... in response to "I hope some of y'all may have similar, perhaps better, sites to share."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:57 AM on April 22, 2007


The Helvetica of Mexico (or so UnBeige calls it)
posted by amberglow at 7:04 PM on April 23, 2007


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