Well, I finally received my copy of the documentary “Helvetica” and after three nights of trying to watch it I finished it Saturday evening. It was great to see and hear how the original type foundries operated since, until this weekend, I have only read about them in books. The documentary opened up with a machine operator setting up the word “Helvetica” with lead type, inking the plate and sending it through the press. Out came a perfectly set word on a clean white sheet of paper. Gorgeous. The movie’s interviewees both praised and bashed the font set between the camera honing in on the use of Helvetica on cars, shops, signs, etc. I believe all designers interviewed appreciated Helvetica and wouldn’t attempt to improve on it because of it’s great legibility and clean letters. But most found it overused, a default font since it comes with most Mac operating systems from the get-go. Arial would be the comparable default font on the PC … about which Erik Spiekerman had some colorful words to say concerning Microsoft and it’s copycat ways. Erik Spiekerman is a graphic designer, typographer, and type designer who has designed such fonts as Officina, Meta, and Berliner Grotesk BQ, and founded the multidisciplinary design consultancy, MetaDesign, in Berlin.
When the documentary was over I wanted more … so hoping to find some more Extras on the DVD I purchased, I checked the main menu and behold, Extras! Top named type designers and graphic designers were listed with “outtakes” from their Helvetica interviews and they offered some great insight into how they worked, where they found inspiration and thoughts on advancements in technology and, yes, more thoughts on Helvetica! I have not yet watched all the Extra interviews, but so far my favorite was from Paula Scher, record cover art director at both Atlantic and CBS Records in the 1970s and one of the most well-known female graphic designers of our time. Her thoughts on technology and its advancements were laid back. She noted that she has worked with every technology advancement that has come her way and if she liked it and it worked, she used it. If it didn’t work, she didn’t use it. When programs like Photoshop and QuarkXPress came to the scene, and she couldn’t rotate a font or couldn’t use a font because of it’s unavailability, she defaulted back to her previous technology.
The technology didn’t drive her designs, her desire to design did and that’s exactly the attitude I believe you will find at DDA. We are skilled designers, educated and experienced with the knowledge of our tools. But behind all of that, we understand the rules, know when to break them and when there are limits we learn how to work around them. Our designs are not solely technology-driven, they are talent-driven with our focus on their purpose and audience.