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Helvetica review (2007)

Overall rating
More Information
  • Storyline
  • Engagement
  • Impressions
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The most widely used font used in signage, corporate identity and print work in the world is not Arial, as you would expect with the number of PC’s that dominate the computer market. Helvetica is a documentary exploring the most used or abused, depending on how you choose to see it, font face of our time. Some of you know the font and for those of you that think they don’t know it, we are sure you have seen it before and just didn’t know it was Helvetica.

Helvetica movie: cast poster

Helvetica movie: cast poster

Storyline

The Helvetica font is everywhere in our world and this documentary sets out to see why that is so, by interviewing a wide range of typesetters or font creators. Anyone in the print and digital space will appreciate this understanding, however granted the way the font Helvetica has affected our world, everyone else will appreciate this documentary as well. I liked how they talk to typesetters that understood the origin of the font and they gave us a full account of how it came to be. After understanding the times it was introduced and seeing what kind of fonts were prevalent at that time, you begin to grasp why it took off so well and is still widely adopted today.

The number of companies that used it, both large and small (as can be seen in the trailer below), still astounds me even right up to social services & municipal signage. The documentary then takes a moment to explain the philosophy and hidden message Helvetica conveys that makes it so attractive for so many designers to use and companies to sign off in their corporate identity. The documentary ends by looking at Helvetica’s future and the possibility of other fonts removing it from the top spot.

Engagement

From the American Airlines, to magazines and billboard advertisements, the implementation of this font is second to none. The documentary does a great job of keeping you glued to what is being said with context relevant visuals. The way it switches between designers across the world, manages to keep your attention and interest in short slots, as it moves through what seems to be a consistent topic flow. This means font makers reappear over and over again, each time building onto an already established point either for or against it. While the film did show more of the logos and signage that use the font, in the film compared to the trailer, I did get so engrossed in that part so much that I wished there was more even if it had been a dedicated page on the documentary’s website just listing all companies.

Impressions: Helvetica movie

It’s an impressive movie or documentary, and I imagine that holds true on any time of any day. Anyone in design, digital or media will appreciate it a whole lot and I recommend this documentary to them the most. Anyone else that uses fonts in any capacity will also grow to enjoy it, if they are willing to go past the explanation of the font’s history which might be cumbersome. This can be attested to by the friends I chose to watch it with the second time, whom I had to encourage that it gets good after the explanations. Surely enough after that point in the documentary, they managed to keep their eyes off their mobile phones and on to the TV set as they passionately exclaimed after the jaw dropping realisation of how widely installed in our lives this font is.

This documentary definitely strikes a good balance on edutainment. If only there were more exhaustive examples to refer to, is the feeling it left me with.

About the author

tyokie

A digital enthusiast at heart with a particular vice for the web. Tawanda graduated with an I.T. degree specialising in Multimedia technologies at Deakin University where he rebuilt the foundations of his digital passions. Tawanda has since worked 3 years in the retail industry on different levels of hierarchy in a nationwide, home & hardware organisation, where he picked up the love to explain and promote products. Currently he works full time as a Digital Coordinator in the education sector with more than 3 years experience. Visit Tawanda's website.

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