Shootout at the Helvetica Corral; or PBS font special Independent Lens

Who Knew?

I could imagine them up the road here at the OK Corral: The Helvetica status quo conservatives, in awe of the precision of their perfect font, versus everyone else who has a differing opinion of Helvetica’s Iron grasp on the favorite tongue type face of the modern/post industrial modern world.

OK. That last sentence deserves a train. {notice the fonts}


When I saw the PBS Independent Lens program was going to be on one font, my first thought was; Really?

Then, with it being PBS and all, I imagined it would be a tale worth telling, especially since I was in the dark about our modern worlds most favorite communication platforms design.

Enter the world of experts on both sides of the font. Helvetica, which originally had another name, was going to be called Switzerland. Another expert told the person; ‘You can’t name it after a country.’ Suggesting then Helvetica, which meant something like; The Swiss font.

Now I must digress to my experience. I am a kind of writing novice, which might be evident in my grammar use and such. I never had particular training in writing, such as taking courses not mandated in school. Anyway. Fancying myself as someone with something to say to the world, I have engaged in much more writing than the average schmo.

Especially while editing and reading as I go over my stuff, I noticed how trapped I felt about the font automatically on the computer. Most all other fonts would have their own issues, but I tried my darnedest to not have my stuff in Helvetica. I’d try Geneva, Arial and Chicago. Liked Palatino for some of its smoothness, but it had to be limited. Things like that. So I had an opinion about all I did not know on the Helvetica paradox.

The real fans of Helvetica made great points about its use of negative space, or background space. They said the background was more important to the Swiss. Translated, I think it is almost like being one who sees some element of a glass either half empty or half full. The ink in the print relates to the space around it as a form. Helvetica is said to nail down this relationship cleanly and efficiently. Some feel this is, or has become its own kind of dictatorship, where freedom of experiment and expression is called barbaric.

Others say storm the Bastille! Free the people from type tyranny and monotony. While one says Hevetica forces corporate; ‘Buy me! I’m telling you to!’, authority thinking upon us all, others say it is artistic perfection incarnate, so don’t mess with it. Whichever side of the Helvetica line one was on, the show pointed out these antagonisms over fonts. To some extent, it seemed to be constructed of the now familiar conservative versus liberal points of view. One says life is finished, perfected, just leave everything as it is. The other side says; Why are we trapped into being frozen in our expressive viewpoints? Can we try something new, fresh, exciting, different for heaven’s sake or are we all robots?

I agreed with both in some ways. Hevetica did address much of the lacks in fonts at the time, and unified a somewhat communal platform. Some called it Fascist, while others Socialist (Yes, fascism can be something like corporate socialism as well). But life does go on. We are not finished, and I for one, want people to experiment still, and come up with new ideas. The Eiffel Tower is a good example of how some new things are seen as abomination to the conservative view, then later conserved as a classic representation. Spacetime itself has these same relationships as font.

TV Preview: PBS Independent Lens “HELVETICA”


It was something to hear people express how they can look at type like others look at TV, and never get bored. The real radicals went all over the place with experimental type, making it more a kind of obvious art piece requiring deciphering, or an overall impact feel for the piece. But much font innovation seems what may be quite mundane to us; small changes in the shape of parts of letters, yet they have emotional effects. Generally you seem to need a continuity to be present; the rounded and curved aspects of letters need consistency across the alphabet to still be read easily. The formula requires coherence.

Here is my first and only experiment at trying to apply consistent changes to an alphabet. I started with ABC, deciding to “break” connecting parts. (I imagine most anything I come u with would likely have been attempted before. I’m not starting a new courier. I mean career.)

Here is my example opposed to Hevetica. The deconstruction of letters by breaking conveys a broken feeling; perhaps something sinister or wrong. I tried to continue the same ideas to the lower case and actually liked what happened. A kind of flowing quality emerged, almost as if the ends of letters were taking flight.


See. Anyone can destroy the modern world.

Now just imagine how much else we take for common background reality, that have so many ideas and thoughts put into them. We may strive to imitate the magnificence of nature, and possibly math itself, believing we are some small measure comprehending God or the Universe in some meaningful way. We may well be, but then, we too, are natural.

Welcome to Creation.



They say you can make your own fonts below; from Creative Commons