Last Saturday I watched Helvetica, a documentary about the ubiquitous typeface, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Good film. But now I can’t view anything printed in sans-serif – websites, road signs, billboards, newspaper headlines, logos, etc. – without analyzing whether it is Helvetica or some knockoff of it (i.e. Arial). This is driving me crazy! And it cost me $24.00! (Because I was so obsessed that I just had to purchase the font from MyFonts.com). And I’m worried that I’m going to have a car accident because I’m looking at signs too much. Is the leg on the capital R curvy or straight? Does the “a” have a tail? Does the capital G have a spur? Are the strokes cut at an angle or are they vertical or horizontal? Argh! Knowing me, this will not stop anytime soon. Crap!
Relax. English typesetters were using a sans serif typeface known (variously) as Antique or Egyptian by 1817 – 140 years before Helvetica came around.
If you want to obsess about typefaces, try and figure out the differences among Times, Roman and Times Roman.
I’ve been working in type since the late '60s, and can only sympathize with you. But whatever you do, ***do not learn about kerning! ***If you don’t even know what kerning is, fine. You are better off. Once you learn about kerning, you will never be able to look at any type without cringing.
Yanno, this warning would be more insidious with a link that would allow someone to learn about kerning without having to do a search of their own. Temptation and warning all in one.
(So that’s what the word for that is. I’d noticed it, before, but never thought about it enough to see what it might be called.)
Heh, I did the same thing after watching that movie. And I never liked Helvetica in the first place, and it’s everywhere! I dislike the lowercase e’s, the aperture is too small and the crossbar too low for my taste–they make the e look like it has a headache. Well, Helvetica light can be nice. But everything’s Helvetica semibold! Why you want your logo done in the same type that illustrates the signs for public toilets around the world… Give me Myriad any day for a friendly, open sanserif.
Kerning is better than fixed-width, IMHO.
Let me tell you a tale that might bring you small comfort.
An unknown coworker decided to put up a website for employees to “discuss their problems” anonymously. I’m known as a bit of a computer geek. I get hauled into the bosses office to be asked if I had put up the site. I had not heard of it at all at that point. I asked to see it. I burst out laughing.
It was the default font on a white background using cheesy clip art. My defense? “Dude, I have over 3k fonts on my computer, I haven’t used the default font for a website in my life.”
I also pointed out that I could put up a better website in 5 minutes and wouldn’t use a WYSIWYG editor to save my life.
I think my font geek got me off.
Helvetica is a fantastic font if used correctly. It may be ubiquitous, but it’s now a classic. In lesser hands, it looks like shit. It will only look as good as your strongest design element. So if you’re using mainly clipart, it will cheapen its look. Use some amazing photography, and balance it with some helvetica (and kern, man! KERN!) and it’ll look wonderful.
97% of those 30,000 display fonts you have in your library are crap.
So, in essence Helvetica is good. In the wrong hands, well… Be afraid. Be Very Afraid.
Yeah, and apples are better than inches?
Kerning has nothing to do with whether a font is fixed-width.
Isn’t kerning about how letters overlap? Fixed width fonts never overlap at their sides, which makes them look unbalanced.
Of course, but your implication was that the alternatives are kerning vs. fixed width, and those are totally separate issues:
Kerned variable-width vs. unkerned variable-width
Fixed width vs. variable width
And yes, under some circumstances, fixed-width type should be kerned; but the main issue here is variable-width type that hasn’t been kerned, or kerned improperly.
Fine. I don’t think it was completely irrelevant, except to perhaps the obsessively particular.
Of course it drives you crazy! That’s why it’s called Hell With Ya.
This is why I like the Dope. Whole worlds open up to me. Now I will be looking for kerning (and I need to open Word to see what Helvetica looks like!) Or am I using it now?..
The same thing happened to me when I watched that movie. The lowercase e is a dead giveaway. I’ve mostly stopped, though.
I agree. I think Helvetica goes back and forth from being either just plain and informative to classic and great.
These days though, it’s like all public information that are printed from computers are written in MS Comic Sans, which is the demon child of modern fonts. It’s simply ugly.
I dunno, I have fond nostalgic memories attached to Helvetical, Arial, and Verdana.
I saw that documentary in a class on the History of Graphic Design, and now I can’t look at a corporate logos without analyzing it to death.
(One wonder, for example, what font Nintendo uses.)
A few years ago I made a friend who was into graphic design. Then I started reading a blog he recommended. Between those two bastards I’ve learned enough about typography to severely annoy myself every single time I go out of the house. There are major companies around that have absolute shit signs and logos. I used to mentally redesign things I used, stuff like tools and appliances. Now, I find myself thinking about how to fix the print I see around me. Arrgh, someone make it stop!
Orphans and widows are the bane of my existance. Well, that, and finding the just the right dingbat…
At my last job, I had to convert Mac-formatted stuff to PC. I was trying to figure out how to make Postscript fonts into True Type and didn’t realize there was such a huge difference until I researched fonts and font wars. Issues galore!
Here’s the Dick & Jane version:
See Adobe invent Postscript. See Adobe invent Helvetica. See Adobe smoke expensive cigars and consider themselves industry standard. Smoke, Adobe, smoke.
See Microsoft. See Microsoft invent MS Office and MS Word. See Microsoft recoil in dismay when they realize they have to pay royalties to Adobe for Postscript and Helvetica. See Microsoft invent True Type and Arial instead.
See a lot of companies thinking they can save money if they publish their stuff in-house. See them buy cheap Microsoft products and software. See them scream when True Type fonts default to Courier when printed out. See them struggle to understand that Postscript is actually a programming language that sends instructions to the printer, unlike True Type, which is just meant for display on monitors. See them curse Bill Gates and wish him much death. Die, Bill Gates, die.
See font creators. See them read all about Proprietary rights. Read, read, read. See them encode copyright blockers into their fonts because they don’t anybody to use them for free. See desktop publishing departments tear their hair out and pound their fists on the floor after they thought they had overcome all the font management problems only to see Courier print out AGAIN.