Thursday, January 24, 2008

Can we talk type?

My name is Kelly and I am a typographoholic.

I have always been a type junky. Ever since I was a kid, I have obsessed over the perfect lettering for the task in front of me. From creating posters for junior high dances to programs for my wedding, I love any task involving type. I have been known to become embarassed (yes, literally)when I spy a particularly cheesy font in placed conspicuously in some elaborate and expensive project. Similarly, I can look at something over and over again when the type *sings* (I know I'm not the only person who swoons over Wes Anderson's use of Futura). Thus, you can imagine how overjoyed I was when I found out we were spending one half of one graphic design class (that is about 8-1/3 % of our entire lecture time this term, thankyouverymuch for noticing my math skills).

However, my teacher began this lecture by handing out a 13-year old piece of paper with various "rules" about type that begins with "NEVER use helvetica." Now, for those of you reading who are not as singularly obsessed with type as I happen to be, Helvetica is fifty year-old typeface that pretty much revolutionized type, taking it out of the 19th century and into the 20th. Now, here's the rub: Helvetica has enjoyed widespread popularity. That is an understatement: it's everywhere. From iPhones to IRS forms, helvetica pervades the sans serif landscape. Understandably, the ubiquity of this typeface has brought with it over-use and mis-use, meaning it has been utilized unconsciously, without regard for its effect on the viewer. Nonetheless, helvetica is cool in an understated, "my work speaks for itself and I don't need some fancy, gimicky type to make you notice me" way. It also has a wonderfully mid-century modern appeal that can be used either to play up graphics (or interiors or whatever) of the same style or as high contrast to an earthier or more prairie look. (Are you starting to understand how absolutely enamored I am with type?)

Bottom line: because, like fashion, interiors, cars and everything else, trends in type are cyclical, rules like "don't use helvetica" do not stand the test of time. I suggest (and take this with the grain of salt that comes with the rant of someone with just enough knowledge to rant and rave) the following alternative: choose your type consciously.
Can I get a witness?

oh, and P.S. there is even a movie about helvetica. Check it.
and P.P.S. here is a thought.
Image by Kate Andrews. View her work here and learn about her here.


  1. Ha Ha! That is such crap about Helvetica - I use that font all the time for design!! I have a great book I am going to send you it's called Thinking In Type - by Alex White.

  2. ooh. sounds loverly. have you read *handjob* by Mike Perry-- it's about typography, not anything kinky--it looks gorgeous!

  3. I recently saw a documentary all about Helvetica. You can get it on Netflix. It's a good, classic font. It's the "little black dress" of the design world.

    "Never use Helevetica" is like saying never draw a straight line! It's an important tool, and is sometimes the perfect tool for the right job.

    Amen. You preach it!

  4. i ALWAYS used Futura at work, but i got a new laptop, and now i don't have it anymore :(

    and btw, lovely blog :)

  5. thanks for stopping by Digital Scott & Grateful Girl!

    Here-here to the futura love!

    I am a total avant garde junkie myself!


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