Ryan and I both love words, but Ryan especially loves letters. As a graphic arts student he developed what is now his company logo:
I’d like to show you what Helvetica looks like by writing this blog post using that particular font, but it’s not available here. This is strange, because it seems to be available almost everywhere. Look closely at the next Stop Sign you see and you’ll be looking at Helvetica. Look at the back of an ambulance, streets signs all across the United States and Europe, cross walks, storefronts, and many, many corporate logos – all Helvetica.
Helvetica first became popular in the late 50s when it was developed by two Swiss typeface designers. The design was clean and easily legible. Very, very Swiss.
Those who love Helvetica believe that it allows for the meaning of the text to be expressed, and only the meaning of the text.
“That is why we love Helvetica very much,” said Wim Crouwell, a Dutch graphic designer.
It was Helveticas rise to popularity that led to a rebellion against this clean cut, no-nonsense typeface, and the backlash was visceral. One of the only female graphic designers interviewed in the documentary, Paula Scher, said she refused to use this type in the 70s because it represented everything she was against at the time including corporations, governments, conformity and even the Vietnam War.
The most memorable quote in this documentary, to me, was made by David Carson, considered a “grunge typographer.”
He said: “Don’t confuse legibility with communication. Just because something is legible doesn’t mean it communicates, and more importantly, doesn’t mean it communicates the right thing.”
While artist like Scher and Carson refused to use the straight lines of Helvetica the typeface never went away and is experiencing a bit of a renaissance today among young graphic designers.
Words are ultimately one important way we communicate, and when we need to know something vital like to stop our car at a busy intersection, I think the use of a font style such as Helvetica makes a lot of sense.
However, letters themselves can be expressive, and personally, I find Helvetica to be a downright snooze. While I agree that the meaning is in the words themselves and how they are arranged together in a particular sentence, the design of the letters used in the words can also add expression to the overall sentiment.
And, quite frankly, I think that makes life much more interesting.
Also, letters can most certainly be art.
Ryan’s piece, SIMPLICITY, is the perfect example.
Also, after watching this documentary were were both inspired to make art, and that’s always a good thing.
Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer is co-owner of Ryan Schlaefer Fine Furniture, Inc. She is also a full-time freelance writer and founder of HeidiTown.com.