An Ode to Helvetica – The Movie

Few movies truly inspire me. Let’s see there was Air Bud when I was in Elementary school (seriously. I would watch it the night before every basketball game) and…yeah, short list, BUT I have to say something about the documentary Helvetica.

Coming from a background of very little formal arts training, I soak up every little bit of knowledge I can about the people and the history of graphic design. Helvetica is a goldmine for any designer simply because it documents graphic design over the past sixty/seventy years. In Helvetica you begin to learn that design trends are extremely reactionary. The font Helvetica was an avenue for designers to clean culture of the zany fifties–or to put it simply–to make order in a world of chaos. Helvetica did that. It was bold. It was modern. It let the words speak for themselves. When the design trends of the seventies erupted the movement was much more towards letting the type speak for itself (aka back to crazy land). The eighties and nineties were popularized by grunge, perhaps the most extreme counter to Helvetica’s smooth contours.

Can you guess what I did once I finished? I pulled out my MacBookPro, opened PhotoShop and started playing around with Helvetica. One of the designers in the movie notes that Helvetica leads the designer into a particular place–flush left, simple and concise. I would have to agree.

When a great movie is released like Helvetica there are always beneficiaries (of the monetary variety):

  • Linotype – Yes I did have to buy all of Helvetica Neue. I felt it was like paying homage to the design Buddha
  • Freitag – The cool messenger bags featured in the movie. Yes I just had to have one. And guess what. It has Helvetica on it.
  • Apple – I had to buy a digital copy of the movie. I just had to.
  • Apple again – watching Helvetica lead me to the director’s next visionary tale: Objectified (it’s on industrial design)