What the Helvetica?!

By Beacon Staff

We’re so immersed in our daily routines that we very rarely realize how much time and forethought is dedicated to our visual surroundings and the design and functionality of our everyday items. If I pay attention to my immediate surroundings – my desk – certain items I use every day come alive with the complexity of their design. My keyboard is probably the most complicated considering it contains all the letters in the alphabet, numbers zero through 9 and about sixty alternate buttons with different functions. If you’ve ever read any history on why the keyboard is designed the way it is, it’s quite fascinating (read about it here).

The silver letters on my black coffee mug seem to hover over the negative space – not an accident. The Flathead Beacon koozie I keep my pens and markers in is bright yellow, a design decision made by our publisher. (I won’t bore you with the history behind the Flathead Beacon flag itself. Let me just say I know how much thought went into its design.) Each of the pens in the koozie have mulled over in the minds of who ever designs pens: what size, shape, grip and color should we use? Will the shape be sleek or bulky? What do we want people to feel when they use this pen?

Apple employees are marketing geniuses and I could go forever about the MacBook Pro I stare at day in and day out. If you’ve ever purchased an apple product, you know what kind of passion goes into their packaging.

All these things I have noticed, even if subconsciously or peripherally. But one detail that has escaped me until now is the font which I use to enter these words into the back end of our Web site (where after pushing the publishing button magically – to me – appear on the Internet).

The font I stare at more than any other is… drum roll please… Helvetica.

I was reminded of the massive and intricate world of marketing design after watching the 2007 independent film Helvetica this past weekend. Not only was it fun (as fun as typography can be ) to watch modernist and post modern designers argue the merits of their own particular view of “proper” design, it was jaw dropping how much Helvetica is used around me. And to think I never really noticed.

Helvetica movie trailer.

Allow me to name a few (and I mean a very few) places you’ve seen Helvetica and not noticed: AT&T, Jeep, Microsoft, Panasonic, NASA (on the side of the space shuttle), the USA television rating system, every subway map you’ve ever looked at and every subway sign in New York city subways. It’s even the font used on the IRS tax forms. (But if you don’t get a tax return, don’t blame Helvetica.)

An interview with Helvetica director Gary Hustwit

Visit the Helvetica Web Site (here).