OpenFiction [Blog]

Font fanaticism

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on January 25, 2008

The Atlantic is carrying an interview with a filmmaker who has done a documentary on the typeface Helvetica. The article is well worth the read both for it’s comments on fonts and filmmaking (and producer culture, for that matter). Don’t miss the embedded video.

Some tasty bits:

…what type designers do is amazingly complicated. The level of detail that goes into all the decisions while you’re making a typeface is just incredible. How close together two different letters should be when they appear next to each other, like an upper-case T and a lower-case o, for instance. How far does that o slide underneath the top of that T? It’s called a kerning pair. You’ve got to make these decisions for every pair of letters that could possibly come together.

The democratization of technology, whether it’s graphic design technology or filmmaking technology, is a double-edged sword. It lowers the barriers of entry so a lot of new designers or filmmakers can express themselves. It also completely clutters up the landscape with a lot of crap. There are some interesting things that YouTube has brought to a larger audience, but if you look at the percentage of stuff on YouTube that’s in any way worthwhile in a cultural sense, it’s a very tiny percentage.

Typefaces do pick up baggage from how they’re used. When I look at Helvetica, I think of American Apparel. I think of American Airlines. One of the things that’s amazing about Helvetica is it has been used or overused for decades, yet we still see it everywhere. And very forward-thinking young graphic designers still use it the same way it was used in the sixties. I can’t explain why, with the thousands of fonts that people have to choose from now, a large percentage of them still choose to use Helvetica.

For the record, I’m not a fan. I’ve already documented my preference for Tahoma when it comes to san-serif fonts.


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