Monday, February 6, 2012

AHA! Is Type Hype? Helvetica Movie Review


What do the many types and fonts we encounter actually show us or tell us? Of course they communicate the words, and therefore, the objects or ideas they are representing, but do the styles of types we see really affect our perception in their own right? After viewing the film "Helvetica" from our movie list, my eyes were opened to the reality of typography. Never before had I considered what an impact different typefaces had on the way we perceive. I remember Magda's presentation from Ed Tech and Design lecture (when I took it 2 years ago), about the differences between fonts. Like how Serif and Sans Serif are different, how some are better for physical text, some better for digital presentation. 

I think the director Gary Hustwit is trying to express the importance of typeface, and how we easily overlook something that has immense importance in terms of visual literacy and affect. Helvetica as a font itself was important to typography because it made a bold statement during the Modern movement, and allowed designers the versatility of a neutral typeface to use in a variety of settings. I think the director also wanted to bring viewers' attention to the global aspect of visual design, showing how using certain design elements in typefaces brings out collective meaning and reactions across cultures.

I did not find the film particularly focused or unfocused on minority groups. I think the film's main goal was to tell the story of Helvetica as a typeface and how it inspired many designers from different areas (especially during De Stijl movement) to branch out and create new typefaces, for whatever purposes they intended. Minorities weren't necessarily excluded or included, because the main body of designers working on Helvetica were in fact Caucasian (specifically Swiss, "Helvetica" itself means "Swiss").  I also don't think that the director's background effected the way the film was made or portrayed at all, because the film was focused on how representations in typeface affected a greater population of people through advertising and its use in corporations. Some might be offended that there are few references to people of color or minorities in the film, but I think it's just because so much of the film is focused on Helvetica and Swiss typographers. I don't think they were intentionally "left out" as a whole because the director wanted it that way. 

I do see how some might claim that Helvetica's heavy use in the corporate advertising world could translate to a deeper message of "corporate oppression." The idea of corporations using certain fonts to appear neutral and more human, more relatable to people, so they don’t seem so overbearing or oppressive to consumers. But the fa├žade aside, does the way the company is reflected actually change anything? “Now they don’t have to be accountable, accessible, or transparent, but they can look that way.” I personally thought that it just reflected about a font that did a great job getting meaning across, and one that looked good doing it.

The director used a lot of montages of images and video of the different fonts featured in the film (most notably, Helvetica). I had never realized how prominent this particular typeface was, and if I had, I didn't know what it was called. I loved seeing how one font could be manipulated in so many different ways, to serve each designer's purpose so simply, yet at the same time so complexly. As Wim Crouwel said in the film: "The meaning is in the content of the text, and not in the typeface and that is why we loved Helvetica very much." The font provides the medium within which meaning is born. The great thing about typeface is that when we want to communicate something through graphics like symbols (letters), we can choose some type of font that is neutral enough to not distract from the meaning of the content, while at the same time providing a pleasing, interesting aesthetic. 

After watching Helvetica, I felt like my visual literacy was effected because I started seeing the beauty of different fonts. I saw how certain texts did a great job getting meaning across by being at a certain level of neutrality, but how these texts also had a level of beauty and aestheticism to them, making them unique. I decided to check out The Non-Designer’s Design Book I looked at different types of type (haha, types of type!) around campus, and even though there weren’t too many to look at, I still found that there were a lot of fonts! What I noticed about the different ways in which the words were presented, was that no matter what the style of the text looked like, the main message to be displayed by the symbols was conveyed clearly. I basically became obsessed with looking at words as they were displayed publicly, looking for meaning but also looking for how they could be interpreted based on their appearances. I learned that you can look at typefaces to get the meaning they are meant to convey, but there is always a deeper element that can be seen. 

“Don’t confuse legibility with communication. Just because something’s legible doesn’t mean it communicates. And more importantly, doesn’t mean it communicates the right thing and vice versa.” -David Carson

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