I think I just learned more about Postmodernism watching “Helvetica” than I have reading about it. More importantly, I learned a lot about reaction to art and process from a variety of viewpoints that all centered around a love of expression.
In this case the form of the expression is type design and how it seems to all center around Helvetica. The way some of the designers interviews in this documentary were talking about it, you’d think it was the Herald of the New Age upon us as Helvetica is born and an age of reason and order falls on the land (And Helvetica maybe says everything, and that’s perhaps part of its appeal. – Jonathan Hoefler).
Another opinion sees the ubiquitous type–for real, it is everywhere–more like the rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem (one designer blamed the Vietnam and Iraqi Wars on Helvetica and she meant it). Other designers challenged that accessibility is the best path to understanding, that maybe a text that challenges the reader will actually lead to a greater appreciation of the message (Don’t confuse legibility with communication. Just because something is legible doesn’t mean it communicates and, more importantly, doesn’t mean it communicates the right thing. – David Carson).
Closer to my own poetic aesthetic would be the self-taught type designer who came into the game without knowing there was a war to end all fonts over Helvetica. He just sees it as another tool in his tool box and plays off its versatility not for versatility sake but for the design’s sake.
The documentary ends on, of all things, the MySpace generation–talk about ubiquitous slouchers–and how the representation of user-generated content sites may be the next leap in visual design and communication.
If you likes to see artists who are passionate (maybe even obsessive) about the origins, trends, misconceptions, and future of their art, this is definitely a documentary you want to check out. If that art centers around the spacing of words, the weight of what isn’t said, and the gut reaction to text, then you really want to see “Helvetica.”
[ETA: Barb’s post on “Helvetica” and the Poetic Industrial Complex]