Ubiquitous Helvetica

August 25, 2006

Helvetica the Film

In 2007, look for this new documentary by director Gary Hustwit. The films release is expected to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the existence of Helvetica – the font we all know and love (and all too often take for granted). Personally, I am thrilled that the conversation about the effects, uses, and emotional resonance of a (agan, taken for granted) tool for communication, will be out in the public forum, at least a little. How do we relate to information, and how much significance does a font carry with it?

This subject is unendingly interesting to me. And while it may not be much more than touched upon by Hustwit, it begs many questions. What is it that helps something communicate effectively? Shape? Color? Context? Mood? And what are the constraints of this kind of thinking? Do different shapes and colors evoke different ‘instinctive’ responses, depending upon evolutionary contexts? I remember somewhere reading that certain ethnic groups have built a tolerance for cows milk after generations of milk being a part of their culture, while people descended from cultures without this sort of relationship with cattle, are more predisposed to being lactose intolerant. Does visual salience relate in some way to chemical and evolutionary contexts? Or is it a matter of individual context? It is likely a combination of variables, and surely, there are certain statistics that can point to ‘what works’ & ‘what excels’ etc.. But which variables do we point to as the sources of our intuitive feelings?
Obviously, no new questions from me, but I have faith that Hustwit will have something unique and thought provoking to say about Helvetica.
Hustwit, has directed many feature length documentaries, including I am Trying to Break Your Heart (the Moog (Robert Moog), and Drive Well, Sleep Carefully (Death Cab for Cutie). I am very much looking forward to seeing his skills focused on expanding this conversation.

{the film}


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