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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Helvetica at 50: The Man's Personal Typeface

It is sans serif. There are no wiggly bits at the end of the letters. It has smooth, clean lines, and an unobtrusive geometry that almost suggests it was designed not to stand out...

..."When people choose Helvetica they want to fit in and look normal. They use Helvetica because they want to be a member of the efficiency club. They want to be a member of modernism. They want to be a member of no personality. It also says bland, unadventurous, unambitious.

"Typefaces control the message. Choice of font dictates what you think about something before you even read the first word. Imagine Shakespeare in large capital drop shadow. Our response would be quite different towards the content."

It's perhaps understandable that corporations don't want to take any typographic risks, bound as they are by the bottom line. Choose a wacky typeface in your logos or advertising, and turnover may suffer. Helvetica, on the other hand, offers clarity and neutrality. When used in adverts, it is a platform for other parts of the message.

Nadine Chahine, who works in sales and marketing for Linotype, advises companies on what font to use.

"If you take a script typeface [with a handwriting-like appearance] and use it as the logo for a bank, there's a problem. You need something reliable - it's where you keep your money. It is not about a fun, personal message.

"It uses subliminal messages so that you get a feeling. All of these different meanings are implied within typefaces."

Hence the font Frutiger is used for airports and European motorway signs, New Johnston is the choice of London Underground, Cooper Black for Easyjet, and Dunkin Donuts bears the unmistakable Frankfurter font.

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