Is the ubiquitous Helvetica typeface a modernist masterpiece or the McDonald's of graphic design? As designers take sides, the philosophy, politics and recent history of design is laid bare.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2007
Is the ubiquitous Helvetica typeface a modernist masterpiece, or the monolithic McDonald’s of graphic design? This sleek and efficient documentary finds plenty of designers willing to argue either way, and their flights of rhetoric supply the film’s colourful punctuation. Helvetica treats its typeface like any other documentary subject: we visit its birthplace, look at its baby photos, discover how it came to acquire that elegant stage name (the font’s birth name was the unprepossessing “Die Neue Haas Grotesk”), and talk to the folk who have worked with it for years. They offer glowing tributes and back-stabbing gossip: designers either love Helvetica or hate it. Some use it with dripping irony; some with deadly seriousness. Some would never use it in a million years. The contrasting views add up to a picture of the philosophy, politics and recent history of design. And as controversy swirls around it, Helvetica continues its march towards world domination – impassive, impeccable, implacable. — Andrew Langridge