Feb 15, 2009

I just finished watching Helvetica, which is the only movie I've ever heard of about a font.

I'm a web developer but have no design background, so while I've dealt with typefaces quite a bit, I can't speak intelligently about them beyond "that looks clean" or "that looks sophisticated" or "I will not build this in MS Comic Sans."

It's strange to think about something that's omnipresent, like Helvetica is, and to think that someone invented it just fifty years ago. It's like looking up the word "wall" in the encyclopedia and discovering that walls didn't exist before 1970 and that they were invented by a guy named Irving Wall.

The clean, legible quality of the typeface really appeals to me. In the last couple of years in particular, I've found myself very interested in simplification, just as a broad principle. Much of my life I've lived surrounded by clutter and complication and crap--lots of stuff that doesn't help me in any way but requires maintenance--because I never really realized that there was such benefit to making the difficult decision to get rid of stuff. I never really grokked it.

Some of that probably has to do with the fact that physical life was just more cluttered and complicated when I was younger. Notebook computers were underpowered and expensive, so anyone serious about computers built their own, big beige boxes stuffed with cards and hard drives and cables and wires spilling all out of the back like black spaghetti. You assembled it all yourself, and nothing ever worked flawlessly, and you constantly tweaked and replaced and reshuffled, opening the case over and over again, plugging and replugging cables.

Physical media was the reality, so even in the "digital" age of CD's, you had to have ugly specialized furniture just to keep all your music organized. You honestly needed a TV and a DVD player or a VCR, because watching movies on your computer was impossible. Stacks of old letters were spread throughout boxes of memorabilia in the basement, effectively lost to time.

There are times when I wish I was graduating from college now, with the technology that now exists. I wish I could have started out with a blank slate and not filled it up with so much crap; just a comfortable place to sit, a comfortable place to sleep, my MacBook and phone, a single plate, cup, glass and fork.

That's what Helvetica is to me. Everything I need, nothing I don't, nothing that's in the way, no need for other options.

The time to create the text, rather than fiddle around with what the text looks like.


If you liked this, you're welcome to read more of my blatherings.