Helvetica. The End-All Font?

The Graphic Designer’s Search for the Perfect Font

In my first week of graphic design for print and web, my second assignment of the semester was to watch a 2007 film called Helvetica by Gary Hustwit. (You can watch it by clicking the link; but be prepared for extensive corporate sign B roll footage and people passionately arguing their beliefs over typeface lol).

Helvetica portrayed both sides of the Helvetica lovers and haters. Either side had an idea of what the type face represents to them. For example; in the movie it was explained that to some typographers the font gave a human, trustworthy and clean perception to company names and logos. It’s easy to read and it generally stuck out to be the default font that corporations would generally use to represent their companies. But company doesn’t want to be represented as trustworthy, accessible, and organized?


“‘It’s the real thing.’ Period. ‘Coke.’ Period. In helvetica.  Any questions? Of course not- drink coke. Period, simple.”

Michael Bierut a graphic designer interviewed in the movie explains the drastic switch from the classic disarrange of the 1950s to the drastic switch to pure simplicity of helvetica as the font boomed in design popularity.

But for others interviewed in the movie like Paula Scher; believed that using helvetica font would mean that you were in favor of the Vietnam War. This was due to heavy corporate use and their own sponsorship to the Vietnam War. There were also others interviewed who had their own reasonings of rebellion against the font due to their own status quo.

But however ridiculous it may sound, having a personal taboo against the way words look due to heavy influence made a significant impact on my sense of design today. Back in high school I attended a graphic design class as a credential for both grade 11 and 12. On my first day of graphic design class, our teacher made it clear that there were three major design no-no’s to steer clear of if we wanted a passing grade. The list was as follows:

  1. Have a hard contrast from text to the background
  2. Don’t overcrowd
  3. And absolutely NO comic sans

Using the comic sans font was probably the biggest taboo of them all. My teacher always described the font as unprofessional, and overall the ugliest font you could possibly choose. And if you were to use it he’d fail you for spiting him.

Graphic designers don’t mess around with ugly presentation.

life of a designer

Massimo Vignelli defines his duty as a designer

To be honest, I never thought about what kind of font I used until I watched Helvetica. I’d always fall back onto what was default on my word document. Unless it was something utterly atrocious then I did’t see the need to change it (unless requested of me to do so).

But if I were to really think about it guess I’d use Aria by Robin Nicholas and Patricia Saunders the most when typing something up. It was usually requested by teachers that had nightmarish pasts with unreadable font or ugly hand writing scrawl.

It’s safe to say that Helvetica overall changed my perception on font and how I decide to choose them. There can be a deeper  history behind each type face that might be held accountable to the product I’m trying to represent. But by the end of the day it’s really up to what the client wants. If the client wants something clean and presentable give them helvetica. I don’t believe there should be a vendetta staple on font that’s been ‘tainted by capitalism’. It’s how you perceive your own design.

Who knows, maybe one day there’ll be a newer, better, grander Helvetica. But for now lets keep designing what we visualize and thank Mr. Max Miedinger for giving us the opportunity to love or hate his revitalizing font Helvetica.


Thank you Max Miedinger.





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