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A few questions about the Myth of Helvetica...

Discussion in 'Font Forum:' started by coozo, Nov 6, 2013.

  1. coozo

    coozo New Member

    Hi designers!

    I'm currently gathering opinions on Helvetica to formulate a balanced response to my dissertation title. I'm exploring the popularity of an old typeface to understand the reason to its extensive use.

    I believe that we have a built a myth around a typeface which was born out of the Swiss Design movement. I don't believe it is as neutral as it boasts, personally I don't believe a typeface can be 100% neutral. I think Univers is closer to this title however; I tend to use Univers more than I do Helvetica.

    I wish to get more opinions however, so my questions are:

    1. Do you think Helvetica is neutral?

    2. How does this effect its versatility?

    3. What 3 words would you use to describe Helvetica?

    4. What personal emotional response does the typeface evoke when seen?

    Any input would be greatly appreciated.
  2. @GCarlD

    @GCarlD Well-Known Member

    I studied Helvetica years ago at uni and grew to love it, as I do many other fonts. I don't believe Helvetica is completely neutral, there are fonts I would consider more neutral than Helvetica like Univers as you said. But is a neutral font a negative thing? Not in my option, I believe every font has its uses or its purposes, even dare I say, Arial! Arial and Helvertica have been compared time and time again, and most non-designers probably would not see the difference between the two fonts but they are very different. The subtleties, between the two is what makes one more favourable than the other and there's also the factor of web fonts. All fonts have their uses.

    Helvetica is versatile in the sense that, it is overused, because it can be used for various different media. It became or has become almost a lazy choice of font by many designers because of its versatility. But again, if it works for your brief/project, it works. But my no means is any one font suitable for everything, not even Helvetica. When a font such as this becomes overused and too popular, designers such as myself tend to try not to use it as often as we may have done. It is kind of a double edged blade. To continue to 'oversaturate' the use of the same font time and time again, for everything, goes against what a graphic designer is meant to be about.

    3 Words I would use to describe Helvetia: Classy, Friendly and Honest.

    Personal emotional response does it evoke when seen? I have kind of answered this in my answer to question 3. I just think it is nice and easy on the eye, very readable and popular. It's a 'happy' font.
    Stationery Direct likes this.
  3. coozo

    coozo New Member

    Thanks very much for your response. I think when Helvetica is used in the right context and the right environment, it looks incredible. So I agree with your statement about how every font has its purpose. "Lazy" or inexperienced designers see Helvetica as a quick solution to a design problem which suggests versatility, but it simply doesn't work everywhere. It's not neutral and is often used wrongly (for example GAP's rebrand failure!)

    I find this point interesting. By this measure how long do you think Helvetica will last?
  4. @GCarlD

    @GCarlD Well-Known Member

    Helvetica has been around for a very long time and will be around even longer. If you mean how long will it continue to be used? Well everything has a life cycle, at some point the font may start to become less popular but it will come around again and start being used by the masses once more. Same with design, you may notice the kind of 'Flat' design style has become very popular again amongst most media; web, digital, tv, print etc. Windows 8/Hotmail being perfect examples. At some point that will change & be out of fashion again and we will go back to seeing the use of effects like gradients, shine, 3D 'bulgeyness' and what not. It's the same kind of life cycle the most current popular fonts go through.
  5. Dave L

    Dave L Well-Known Member

    I think I'm right in saying that Helvetica used to ship as the default sans serif typeface with early DTP software on the Mac (Palatino being the serif option). I don't know how much this will have contributed to its ubiquity (I'd guess quite a lot) but it's just the fact that it appears everywhere that creates the illusion of neutrality (and it plainly is an illusion).

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