Where Helvetica is king.
A font walks into a bar. The bartender says, "We don't serve your type in here," and he calls the serif.
For some people, Helvetica is more than just the default font on old Macs and PCs. It's a way of life.
"I'm always interested in clarity," says modernist designer Wim Crouwel in the documentary Helvetica, premiering this week on WHYY. "It should be clear. It should be readable. It should be straightforward."
Sound familiar? They're the same rules that govern all the best copyediting. Average readers underestimate how big an effect good type treatment can have on the reading experience, just as they underestimate good copyediting.
Helvetica, a surprisingly engrossing film about the font's ubiquity, goes a long way in showing Helvetica's reach across the world. Tax forms from the IRS are written in Helvetica. So are the words "United States" on the side of NASA shuttles. Same with New York subway signs. More logos than you can count: Target. Staples. American Apparel. Crate & Barrel. AmericanAirlines.
You'll notice this paragraph, written in Helvetica, is a shade different from the rest of the column, which you're reading in Interstate Light--a direct descendant of Helvetica (unless you're reading this online, in which case, God only knows what cockamamie default font you have). Helvetica is a little heavier, its lowercase "e" and "a" more closed.
Does one look more or less readable? Font stylists get heated about how much personality a type should have, and Helvetica gives voice to both those who adore the font's simplicity and those who--no kidding--think it was responsible for the Vietnam and Iraq wars.
"I don't think type should be expressive at all," says Massimo Vignelli, who chose Helvetica for New York's subway signage in 1966. "I can write the word 'dog' with any typeface and it doesn't have to look like a dog. But there are people that when they write 'dog,' it should bark."
We always say the best editors are the ones most invisible to the readers. I'm sure Vignelli would say the same of typesetters. So where's the copy editors' documentary?
Helvetica airs Thurs., Jan. 8, 9pm. WHYY TV-12