I imagine the movie pitch sounding something like this:

I know… let’s make a movie about one of the most popular fonts in the world.  That’s right – typography.  No, no, no… hear me out – we’ll lay out the premise that the choice of font is a form of expression.  That it influences the way that we speak to and “read” the world.  We’ll tie it in with socio-economics and show people the subtle power a simple font can have in their lives.

Umm… ok.  And yet… it works.  I’m talking about the movie “Helvetica”, which has been one of the movies that I’ve watched while trying to rid myself of this cruddy cold.

I really enjoyed this film – it was informative and engaging, filled with interviews with prominent typographers (I didn’t even know there was such a discipline) who clearly love what they do.  In the film, they tell the story of Helvetica – the very well known font that came about in the move to modernism in the 60s. It has become so ubiquitous as to be one of the “default” types that we probably don’t even realize how many times we see it daily.  The filmmakers deftly draw us in and get us to think about the use of things like fonts and other aspects of graphic design in our own lives.

Honestly, I’d never really thought about fonts that much.  About why we choose one over the other.   In my life there have been two periods of choice – one was the typewriter (yes, I’m old enough to have used one…) which you could say came in one font, and the computer, which of course has dozens to hundreds of different fonts to choose from.  In fact, now that I think about it… Helvetica shares a special spot in my heart because I chose to write my PhD dissertation in it.  Why?  I thought it looked “new and clean and professional” – there you go, self-expression through choice of font.

If you’re interested in printing, communication or graphic design, I highly recommend it.

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18 thoughts on “Fontasy

  1. i want to watch this. not because i have an interest in printing, communication or graphic design but because i have an unhealthy fascination with documentaries. hehe. it's on my netflix queue :)

  2. I've been wanting to see this ever since Cori mentioned it awhile back. Actually, I noticed that it's on the "Watch Instantly" list on Netflix. Hmmmm, I think I have found something more interesting to do than wash laundry tomorrow! Thanks Steve!

  3. Nope, not my work, Zak, though a lot of my friends appeared in it. I probably didn’t qualify as Gary didn’t venture Down Under—though of course we have our own in-house Swiss typeface that was inspired by the work of Hoffman and Miedinger. Pretty much every type designer and typographer in Wellington turned out the same night for the screening in this town: self, Sowersby, Philpott, Cheeseman and I think Geard was there, too. This was an excellent film—I agree with Steve wholeheartedly. It was more a story on how one trend prevailed in a modernist era globally and, therefore, appealing to non-typophiles. Although I still think Toyota’s script is Folio, not Helvetica, but I assume Gary Hustwit et al disagree with me …

  4. Looks pretty interesting. I find myself searching for the perfect font all the time and Helvetica usually makes the short list although I don't think I've used it in a while. Verdana has been my go to guy recently but I' trying to resist it. :)

  5. I snickered when I read the first part of your post, but as I read on, I found myself fascinated by this. I'd really like to see it. Whenever I write something that doesn't have to be in a specific font (our officials are Times New Roman, 12-point or Arial, 14-point depending on which project I'm working on), I obsess over which font I want to use. I feel that pain of finding that font that's just right, which I usually don't.
    So I wonder if there will be sequels……one about Arial and its darker cousin, Arial Black, perhaps? A tale of two members of the same family and their nemesis Arial Narrow, who thinks he's better because he can fit more words into less space?

  6. I just watched this movie last week and it was really inspiring. I loved it. and fonts are so important to me….but to know the history of the "modern" font inspired me to use it more than I have in the past.

  7. I need to Netflix this. I've been wanting to watch this myself for awhile just never been able to find the time. Thanks Steve for reminding me this was out.

  8. Is it wrong that as a professional designer (who thinks about fonts all the time), I can't stand Helvetica? Not that it's a bad font — it's one of the best, to be sure — but I'll go out of my way to find a different font that (hopefully) works as well. I suck, I know.Can't wait to check this film out.

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