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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Helvetica movie poster

If you have even the slightest interest in typography and graphic design, then there is no way that you can miss “Helvetica“.

I came to know about this documentary movie somewhere in the end of last year, when I was surfing through the web, looking for information about the typeface Helvetica. A few years ago, I would have easily mistaken Helvetica for Arial (a typeface “based” on Helvetica, and found on every Windows box that exists) and vice versa. I remember that back in 2006, when I was looking for inspiration for designing the theme of this ulta seedha corner by browsing different websites in different CSS galleries, I had come across a website which considered you lucky if you had Helvetica installed on your computer, and offered its sympathies if instead you had to be contented with Arial. That was the first time when I became consciously “aware” of Helvetica and started frowning on Arial. Now some of you quick-witted readers might object that if I frown on Arial, why have I chosen it for the current theme of my blog? And my answer is, that the first typeface tried by this theme is Lucida Grande (if you are lucky), and Arial is only used (with my sympathies attached) when Lucida Grande is not found on your computer.

(By the way, for the curious, here and here are good comparisons between Helvetica and Arial.)

Anyway, back to the documentary movie. Surprisingly, I enjoyed watching it, and there are several reasons for it. One, it has a wealth of history and knowledge, which was pretty interesting for a noob like me. Two, it is full of candid shots that show Helvetica’s ubiquitous use for almost everything. (There’s one shot of an old PIA logo as well, in which the letters P, I, and A were set in Helvetica). Three, it contains interviews with some distinguished graphic and type designers, and these interviews are simply amazing (sometimes hilarious). And four, its soundtrack is pretty darn good!

Another very interesting thing that I found in “Helvetica” was that it presented the views and opinions from periods of both modernism and post-modernism. Helvetica came into being in the modernist period, where everything was neat and clean and defined by a set of rules. The post-modernist period was the exact opposite, which emerged as a rebellion against the ubiquitous (and consequently, dull) uniformity of modernism (and Helvetica). For example, Wim Crouwel, who declared himself as a lover of modernism, says,

We were impressed by that because it [Helvetica] was more neutral, and neutralism was a word that we loved. It should be neutral. It shouldn’t have a meaning in itself. The meaning is in the content of the text and not in the typeface.

On the other hand, Stefan Sagmeister quips,

If I see a brochure now with lots of white space that has, you know, like six lines of Helvetica up on the top, and a little, you know, sort of an abstract logo on the bottom, and a picture of a businessman walking somewhere, the overall communication that that says to me is, “Do not read me, because I will bore the shit out of you!”

Then there are others who express their opinions in very peculiar ways; one saying that Helvetica is a timeless thing which shouldn’t be messed with, and the other accusing the same Helvetica for starting the Vietnam war.

After watching the movie, I couldn’t help but compare the graphic design and typograhy of the West with that of the East. Being a noob, I have no idea about the evolution of graphic design in Pakistan (specially when it comes to Urdu). Though there is one thing that suddenly struck me after watching “Helvetica”: the ubiquity of Noori Nastaliq* (made popular by InPage). In a way, Noori Nastaliq is Urdu’s Helvetica, used for almost everything and almost everywhere. Though I also believe that this overuse of Noori Nastaliq is not because of its brilliance, but rather due to the lack of options for digital typesetting in Urdu. (Now this might become the topic of another post. Hmm.) I am no expert, by the way, so don’t take my opinions too seriously.

Anyway, the bottom line is same as the opening line: if you like typography and graphic design, then go watch “Helvetica”. You’ll enjoy it.

* scroll down a bit on that page to see a sample of Noori Nastaliq

(Poster image above is taken from the website of “Helvetica”.)


arial, graphic design, helvetica, noori nastaliq, typography

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Sep 5, 2008 at 1:52 am

I have NO idea what I just read.


Sep 5, 2008 at 9:19 am


And I’ll be having an idea whether to post more on this topic.


Sep 5, 2008 at 11:29 pm

man, fo shizzle my nizzle, is this like a documentary on fonts?! cause its either that or a …. :D


Sep 6, 2008 at 1:53 am

This is so uncanny. I have watched this film sometime earlier this year, and slept through bits of it. I watched in school, since graphic and type are my majors. Have you studied type or is it a fleeting interest?
P.s. I couldn’t miss PIA logo myself:)


Sep 6, 2008 at 1:54 am

watched *it* in school..


Sep 6, 2008 at 3:20 am

You wrote a post about a FONT, I’m guessing.

Which tells me you need to watch more movies.


Sep 6, 2008 at 9:36 am

People, let me clarify one thing first (at the risk of making you all drowsy): there’s a difference between a typeface and a font! Check the links if you are still awake.

See the note above! And the film touches topics of graphic design as well.

I am sure I would have slept through “Helvetica” as well if graphics and type were my majors. Anything with a prospect of examination makes me go to sleep! So, yeah, it’s just an interest; you can call me an amateur hobbyist.

Welcome aboard, by the way. :)

See the note above! And yes, I DO need to watch more movies. I hear that Gary Hustwit (director of “Helvetica”) is making another documentary on industrial design. :D


Sep 6, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Ok..thats the first time I’ve come accross a post on fonts and I actually read the whole thing! I was never a fond of Arial font but it’s better than New Times Roman which I absolutely detest…waesai I had no idea that ‘fonts’ are the form of hobby too and can trigger sympathies :P


Sep 6, 2008 at 1:44 pm

You detest Times New Roman? Funny, because in your blog posts, you often override the default font of your theme with Times New Roman. And typefaces don’t just trigger sympathies; they can start flame wars as well. :P


Sep 6, 2008 at 10:42 pm

Oh..thats easy to see, I’m one of the most lazyest person in the world :P often I write my posts on Word Doc which is set on Times New Roman by default and I seldom change it while pasting it on wordpress post :)


Sep 7, 2008 at 3:00 am

Great commentary, Saadat. I absolutely adore Lucida Grande. Though windows has Lucida Sans Unicode and Lucida Sans as alternatives to Lucide Grande but they are not without faults. Helvetica definitely is better than Arial. Why talk about PIA when mircrosoft too is set in Helvetica? I still have not been able to get my hands on that movie.


Sep 7, 2008 at 6:12 am

Ah. That is why I advocate the use of a simple text editor. Even for the laziest person in the world. :P

Good to see another Lucida Grande fan! I have never really liked the Lucida Sans family of fonts. They seem rather inferior to Lucida Grande, and there’s a sort of cleanliness that is there in Lucida Grande, but not in Lucida Sans. As for Microsoft, “Helvetica” didn’t have any shot of its logo (probably because most type and graphic designers use Macs!), but Microsoft does pop up in the interviews (and in interesting ways).

And do get your hands on “Helvetica”. I had downloaded it through a torrent; it might still have active seeds. (I know, piracy sucks.)


Sep 30, 2008 at 4:06 pm

غلطی ماف پر منوں تے ککھ سمج نی لگی

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