I’m a font snob. I am. I love type. As a designer in training in 1987 I gravitated to typography. As a little kid I obsessed over the lettering skills of the comic books and the large handwritten signs at the grocery store. In college I dissected type books and hunted for just the right ampersand or italic numeric shapes for various design projects. It became my professional obsession. And, Adobe fueled my sickness with their Font CDs. They had this beautifully produced CD with the history behind the faces… masterfully created. Wish I had one today (I swear I’d relapse immediately).
So, when my buddies Aaron Luck and Libby Bender told me the local Art Directors Club of Tulsa was airing “Helvetica” at the local indie Circle Theater… well, I ditched the fam and went to the movies. To see some of the designers I’ve really enjoyed following over the years (Scher, Carson, Spiekerman, Vignelli, etc.) wax on or bag Helvetica as a typeface… Well, it’s a designer thing. I don’t think my son’s teacher at school would appreciate it any more than I would appreciate one of her professional development reels. I’m certain there are lots of inside jokes I don’t laugh at on Barney, The Wiggles or Thomas the Tank Engine. So, let’s call it even. “Helvetica” is full of inside jokes that made the crowd of designers, art directors, student and printers laugh out loud. An elementary teacher would likely wonder what the hell was so funny about THAT!? Again, it’s a design thing.
Fonts are all around us. They set an invisible tone. They can agitate. They can motivate. The same font can do both equally effectively in the right hands. They can change the course of things. At one point David Carson went back to one of his stories and explained why they set an ENTIRE story in Zapf Dingbats (for those not in the know… there’s not a letterform in that font… just shapes). So, the whole story was… illegible in print. Digitally, you’d be able to select it, copy it, paste it into some other document and change the font to… Helvetica and read it. In print it was just different and something odd.
There are a lot of fonts out there. There are a lot of colors out there. There are a lot of kinds of paper out there. Graphic designers have a gob of tools and decisions to make in the course of creating the right look and feel for a thing. I hope, in your lifetime, you take the opportunity to solicit the help of a truly great designer on one of your projects. My dream was to have worked with Clement Mok or Roger Black on some project along the way. I simply love their approach to solving problems. Some day maybe.
I’m glad to have had the opportunity to understand Helvetica the font from so many different points of view tonight. I’m certain I would have eventually rented it via iTunes.