Design Fetish (Part 2: Helvetica)

The final straw for me was the cover of this bio of Dave Grohl.

It instinctively felt wrong, and cynical, to put a quote about hearing of the death of his friend Kurt Cobain in such bold letters on the front cover.

It seemed crass and loud. Exploitative. So tabloid. It irked me every time I saw it.

But I didn’t blame the author or the publisher.

I blamed the typeface. The font.

Helvetica.

It’s everywhere, the definitive font of recent years. The ultimate brand. Black on white. White on black.

It’s balanced, bold, confident and clear.

Look around: Microsoft. Toyota. American Apparel. Jeep. BMW. American Airlines. Energizer. Greyhound. Nestle. Skype. Evian. The North Face – all Helvetica.

Then there’s the Signs. The Posters. The Websites. The Album Covers. The Gallery Booklets. Those Block White Letters in Kitchens. Once you see it, it’s hard not to.

Designers know that fonts communicate beyond words, otherwise we wouldn’t have more than one. Helvetica has had a huge renaissance in the past decade. Why? What does it imply?

Order. Clarity. Absolute. Confidence.

It’s very hard to argue with.

And that turns me off. I’ve had enough.

Helvetica demands too much for itself, and gives too little.

It needs more and more selfish blank white space, and hates intimacy. It insinuates that complexity is wrong.

That important things are plain and obvious. So get over it. Or with it.

It pretends to be authentic, but has no subtlety. It pretends to be welcoming, but is faking it.

It’s just a headline, and there’s no story to follow. Sure, it’s cool – but cool is aloof.

Helvetica is over-confident, and I don’t trust it.

True life is complex and messy and insecure and honest and, most of all, reciprocal. There’s nothing reciprocal about Helvetica.

It’s not even listening. It’s a monologue, not a dialogue.

To use helvetica is to say something I don’t want to say. No matter what I’m saying.

It’s the font of factory and functionality, not flow.

It was made for brands, not books.

Television promos, not poetry.

I declare war on Helvetica.

Bring back the serif.