Oh Helvetica My Sweet!

Mia Fineman wrote a slideshow essay on the classic font Helvetica for Slate on Friday, which then led to a companion piece in which authors tell Slate what their favorite fonts are (overwhelmingly Courier or Courier New, by the way).

From the textbooks on typography that I was able to read while working late hours in a creative arts library, I know that many graphic designers from the 1980s and 1990s discouraged people from using Helvetica because it looked to them “old fashioned.” I don’t know about that. I’m more inclined to side with Fineman, who writes:

Ultimately, Helvetica is a cipher—and this is the key to its success. It can be authoritative or ironic, sober or idealistic, corporate or cozy. It’s the tofu of typefaces: bland in itself but ready to absorb whatever flavors you add to it.

Are there better fonts than Helvetica? Certainly, but fonts are entirely purpose driven. I like Minion Pro for printing text and often type in Courier or Minion Pro, depending on the software. Yet when I make signs or anything that needs to be read clearly, I find my mouse hovering over Helvetica.


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