This week in Typography Life Drawing we’re looking at sans serif letterforms. These apparently simple and minimal shapes, in fact have complex backstories and they reflect huge changes both in society and cultural attitudes. Here are some extras about Helvetica that didn’t make it into the episode.
Helvetica has become ubiquitous, look around and it won’t be long before you read something set in Helvetica; it appears on the New York Subway, on tax forms and has been embraced by technology companies. Graphic designers love it, so the typeface has been a design industry default for many years. Much of its enduring appeal is not just in the perceived neutrality of its form, or in its extensive font family, but with the history and the associations that it has absorbed along the way that have made it one of the most famous typefaces of all time.
Helvetica was designed to appear neutral — to have no intrinsic associations of its own so that words could speak for themselves without any added meaning from the style of the typeface.
1. Is Helvetica is still seen as the serious and instructional typeface it was designed to be?
Helvetica was designed for practical scenarios like signage, according to Helvetica the documentary by Gary Hustwit. In Sarah’s online survey over 70% of participants said they would take a danger sign set in Helvetica more seriously than in a selection of other typefaces.
Helvetica water biscuits recipe Edible typography Using food to describe the experience of typography
The typeface Helvetica was created to be neutral and to have great clarity, but to have no intrinsic meaning of its own. It was intended that it could communicate any message, but without it being influenced by the style of the font in any way. i.e. clear enough to be used across a wide range of applications, but plain and neutral enough that that its sole purpose is to support the message.
My interpretation of Helvetica is to create it from savoury water biscuits which are plain enough that they can be included in a wide range of meals but take on the flavour and style of the food that they accompany. They have a sprinkling of salt to make them tasty enough to eat, and a dash of rosemary for a Swiss Alpine touch. Serve them with cheese, ham or a tasty dip.
Here at Type Tasting I’ve been having conversations about how we respond to different typefaces. Whether we’re type designers, graphic designers or nothing to do with the design industry, all of us are type consumers. We interact with typefaces constantly in our everyday lives and, although it happens on an instinctive level, when we read a word the choice of font also has an effect on us.
At Type Tasting I’ve been posing the question “what would type taste like?” I’ve put together a tasting pack to kickstart the discussion featuring Impact as dark chocolate laced with chilli, Helvetica as plain biscuits and Comic Sans as candy melts with popping candy.
The tasting pack comes complete with a chocolate box style description sheet introducing each typeface along with the suggested flavours. What do you think? What would your favourite typefaces taste like? Details of my suggestions with recipes are below…