Love or Hate

Helvetica The well-known type in the Graphic Design world, which some can’t get enough of it, and others seem to find it a boring, inexpressive type without character.
In a film by Harry Huswitt called Helvetica there is a mixture of opinions about this type that is so well-known and used.

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Massimo Vignelli a modernist says:
`The life of a designer is a life of fight: fight against the ugliness just like the doctor fights against a disease. For us a visual disease is what we have around and what we try to do is to cure it some how with design.´
His comments are truly from a modernist, the idea of space order and clear layout that will give the viewer a legible organised message.
As he confirms it:
`A good typographer always has the sensitivity about the distance between the letters. We think typography is black and white, typography is really white, and it’s not even black. It is the space between the blacks that really makes it. In a sense is like music, it’s the space you put between the notes that makes music.´
As many modernist Vignelli is a critic of the postmodern typography as he says representing all the modernist views: `We (modernists) always had a tendency to use very few typefaces. It’s not that we don’t believe in type. We believe there are not that many good typefaces. If want to be really generous there’s a dozen, basically I use no more than three.´
Vignelli continues to express his opinion on how he disagrees with type being expressive he says:
`There are people who think that type should be expressive. They have a different point of view than mine. I don’t think type should be expressive at all. I can write the word `dog´ with any typeface and it doesn’t have to look like a dog. But there are people who think when they write `dog´ it should bark!
Vignelli then gives his opinion in regards to Helvetica he says: ` what Helvetica is: it’s a type face that was generated by a desire of having a better legibility. It is a modern type. It is a very clear type. It’s good for everything, pretty much. You can say I love you in Helvetica. And you can say with Helvetica Extra Light if you want to be really fancy. Or you can say it in Extra Bold if it’s really intensive and passionate, and it might work´.

Vignelli is one of many modernist graphic designers that saw Helvetica as cure, for a chaotic and illegible Graphic design, the search for legibility was important for modernists and an idealism.
As designer writer Rick Poynor says:
`Helvetica emerges in that period, (modernism) in 1957, where there’s felt to be a need for rational typefaces which can be applied to all kinds of contemporary information, whether it’s signs systems or corporate identity and present those visual expressions of the modern world to the public in an intelligible, legible way.´

Is impossible to speak about Helvetica without mentioning Swiss style and the modernist ideas in relation to this typeface.

Wim Crouwel again a `modernist´ shares the same views that Vignelli mention he says:
…If I see today designers that use all types faces –one day one typeface, the other day the other type face, all in favour of a certain atmosphere, I’m not…I don’t like that.
Crouwell reinforces again modernist views on clarity and neutralism he says:
` I’m always interested in clarity, and it should be clear it should be readable, it should be straightforward. …Neutralism was a word that we loved. It should be neutral; it should have a meaning in itself. It should… the meaning is in the content of the text, not in the typeface. That’s why we loved Helvetica very much.

The development of Helvetica was in the period of the Swiss style when all the designers were searching for something new.

Helvetica was born in Münchenstein Switzerland the original name for Helvetica was Neue Haas Grotesk designed by Max Miedinger when Edward Hoffman, who was the boss at Haas type foundry, asked Miedinger to help him to make a modernized version of Akzidenz Grotesk, a traditional 19th century German san-serif.
There was a development of work between Hoffman and Miedinger, as Alfred Hoffman (the son of Edward Hoffmann) says: `You can easily say that this was a joint product of both Miedinger and my father. Miedinger couldn’t produce a type face alone; neither could my father. But when both were working hard together then something good resulted.´

As many say one of the reasons why Helvetica is so successful is the all about the shape of the well designed the letters as Mike Parker says : ` when you talk about the design of Neue Haas Grotesk or Helvetica what it’ s all about is the interrelationship of the negative shape the figure ground relationship, the shapes between characters and within the characters with the black if you like, with the inked surface…. so the counters and the space between the characters just hold the letters… It’s not a letter that is bent to shape it’s a letter that lives in a powerful matrix of surrounding space. It’s …oh its brilliant when it’s done well.

From a number well-known brand, and every day signs using Helvetica, it has become a common type that you see everywhere and you no longer realise; some argue that is not even special anymore.
Some have opposing views to Helvetica and Erik Spiekermann is on them he says: `Helvetica was a good type face at the time it really answered a demand. But now it’s become one those defaults that, partly because of the proliferation of the computer, which is now twenty years…because it’s ubiquitous; it’s a default. Its air, you know, it’s just there. There’s no choice. You have to breathe, so you have to use Helvetica. It Bring style with it; so every type face does…It’s a nightmare a total nightmare. Because all letters …it’s the whole Swiss ideology; the guy who designed tried to make all the letters look the same…that’s called an army.´

Erik Spiekermann certainly hates the modernism rules and has as a Postmodernist he is in disagreement that neutral is always good. He and many designers prefer to express their views not has a `club´ the Helvetica club. But with rhythm, movement, and especially character, vitality.

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Poster for knoll in Helvetica by Massimo Vignelli

I guess Helvetica works and will continue to work for many designers some will never use Helvetica because simply goes against their views Helvetica for me still relates to the same divisions that graphic design had when Postmodernism appeared and has divided the designers, I think that post modernist view Helvetica the same way that they viewed modernism boring neutral and almost has a dictatorship.


Massimo Vignelli Design New York Subway signage in


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