- by Barney Davey
Recently, there has been a lot of well-deserved hoopla about Helvetica. The ubiquitous typeface turns 50 this year and there have been numerous articles, blog posts,and even a movie to celebrate this most serviceable font. New York’s Museum of Modern art has mounted an exhibition in honor of Helvetica. Take note, this level of attention will likely never be seen for another font in our lifetimes.
Here’s an excerpt from Frank Jordans’ Associated Press piece on Helvetica’s half-century run titled, Oh Yeah, You Know the Type:
Open a newspaper, look at a street sign, type an e-mail and chances are a Swiss design icon is staring you in the face, though you’d be hard-pressed to identify it.
But peer closely at the shape of the letters: If they’re easy to read and without unnecessary flourishes, then you might well be looking at an example of the Helvetica typeface, which turns 50 this year.
Helvetica lettering adorns images most people can conjure instantly, from New York subway signs to the logos of Harley-Davidson, American Airlines and BMW. But much of the time it remains invisible in a sea of print, unobtrusively conveying the message the designer intended it to.
Reading about Helvetica caused me to reflect on the importance of typography in design. You might ask, what has this to do with art prints? Many art prints have graphic elements in them, knowing about how to use them can greatly enhance a piece. Further, through decades of experience of seeing the graphic design of artists who self-designed their advertising and promotional pieces, etc. I can emphatically say there was an ocean of difference in the quality of those designs. And, quite often, the best pieces were simple, yet elegant. Exactly the purpose for the use of a font such as Helvetica. (If you are nosing around your Windows computer to find an example, the best most will find is Arial, a very close cousin that MS didn’t have to license to use.)
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the influence of working closely with graphic artists on innumerable projects and how their vision and training greatly and positively informed me to the importance of clean well executed design. I tip my hat to them.
If you visit the Best Art Business books link of my BarneyDavey.com website, you’ll see this quote: I find that a great part of the information I have was acquired by looking up something and finding something else on the way. — Franklin P. Adams. (Of course, I had to find out who Adams was. Turns out he was a high profile journalist and radio commentator, and a member of The Algonquin Round Table.) His quote is on that link because it couldn’t be more apropos to the breadth of the knowledge I possess. I relate to it completely and wholeheartedly.
Back on point, having at least a rudimentary knowledge of typography and graphic design can do nothing but make any artist better. In researching for this post, I did come across another great resource for my readers. It is AIGA, the American Institute of Graphic Arts. AIGA’s mission is to advance designing as a professional craft, strategic tool and vital cultural force.
The AIGA Web site is another treasure trove of information and resources. One could easily spend much useful time on any number of top level links including: Inspiration, Professional Resources, Education, Design & Business, Society & Environment and Writing. That such a vital organization exists to support the field of graphic design with such scope and verve is inspiring on a multitude of levels. I encourage you to visit the site. When you go there, bookmark it as I know you’ll not have a chance to absorb all it offers on one visit.