…Max Miedinger [Helvetica’s designer] didn’t have a clue about type design. He was the salesman at [foundry] Haas’sche Schriftgießerei for Christ’s sake.
Douglas Coupland in the New York Times with a particularly apt summary of a little typeface from Switzerland:
Helvetica essentially takes any word or phrase and pressure-washes it into sterility. I love it.
How can it be that a brilliant author loves a face that enforces such sterility? Granted, Helvetica fits better with the postmodern ennui of Coupland’s novels than with most other authors. But words are supposed to have personality and life; who wants to read a sterile novel?
Although I doubt I’ll ever agree with Helvetica’s many fans, I am beginning to see why they are fans. To many it is a face that evokes the comfortable modernity and consensus society of the second half of the twentieth century in the Western world. If you were brought up expecting the future to be the same, the grunge typography revolution initiated by digital typography would just be another reminder that your pressure-washed sterile future is lost forever.
I’ve always expected the future to be some dystopian hybrid of Zardoz, Six-String Samaurai, and Dark City. In that context, hanging on to Helvetica seems just nostalgia for an injected-plastic mold of the future, long past irrelevant.
I think I’ll go work some more on my deconstructivist typefaces now.