This guy hates helvetica!

I got a chance to interview VinneyT on his hatred for Helvetica. Yes…thats right. This guy hates helvetica!!! Click read more to find out why!!!

First of all….what is wrong with you? All designers are genetically predisposed to liking helvetica… J/K :)

I never claimed sanity! I was not aware that I had to pass that test before the interview! We may as well scrap it right now …

Explain your beef with helvetica in 5 words or less

It is overused, mainly ineffectively.

Ok that’s not fair – further explain why helvetica rubs you the wrong way…in as many words as you like.

I think the overuse is really my most major, but by no means my only, problem with the face. As much as it pains me to say, Helvetica is actually a well-designed typeface. The problem comes when people use the face with no idea of what it was designed for and treat it as a face with no historical or visual connotations. Helvetica is a completely inappropriate face to use to design a poster about the Italian Renaissance, for example, 99% of the time. Yet, I have seen just this done … and not well! I have also seen posters designed that respect Helvetica’s intended design that are totally fantastic. As, I think, Massimo Vignelli has said, it is a face that truly tells you how to set it if you will listen.
Aside from that I just really can’t stand the letterforms. The face was well designed to embody an aesthetic that does not resonate with me and that I find very little visual interest in. The idea of trying to remove historical associations creates a historical association … of faces that tried to remove historical associations! It immediately dates the face. It is removed from the continuity of the human writing tradition that serif, Egyptian, modern, humanist, geometric and many other schools grow from – albeit in very different and sometimes more theoretical ways.

Is there anything specific that you don’t like about helvetica?

I find the wavy character of the descending stroke on the capital “R” and the entire shape of the lowercase “e” to be infuriating in a completely irrational way. :)

What feelings or thoughts does helvetica evoke for you?

Blandness. And that is my major problem with Helvetica. It doesn’t actually evoke ANYTHING inside me except a feeling of complete and utter: “Ugh. Really?”. That is not to say that it has not been used well by many designers and will continue to be, but my personal reaction to the face is apathy mixed with disdain.

If you hate helvetica so much – switzerland would be your personal hell wouldn’t it?

I don’t want to speak too largely of Switzerland as a whole, but I have been to Zurich and I absolutely adored it! And to make things even funnier for you: SwissAir is my favorite international carrier!
The Swiss – and I think Europe in general – are much less hung up on Helvetica than we are in the States. I see Helvetica on doors at the bank, in the subway in New York [isn't it just EVERY subway system?], on leaflets around the East Village, at the bodega on the corner, on “Beware of Dog” signs. It is just EVERYWHERE. When I was in Zurich – and other places in Europe – I have noticed a much more appealing typographic spread … especially the use of san-serif italics, for some reason.

What font do you suggest we use instead of defaulting to helvetica?

AH, therein lies the controversy! I think the notion of a default font is completely and utterly ridiculous. I realize that for systems and everyday email communication – the kind of throwaway communication that you would not say is “designed” – any of your system standards will do, because that is what they were meant to do. But if you are going to sit down and actually design something, why would you start immediately with the answer when you haven’t even taken the time to really find the question? Most typefaces only answer a fairly narrow and specific set of questions, so find the right ones that work. That is part of the reason we are hired as designers.
Personally, I happen to be overly font of slab-serif faces, but I recognize that will not work for many of my clients, so that is not what I use to solve their design needs and business problems.

Aren’t you afraid of hurting Max Miedinger’s feelings? (the creator of helvetica) he is probably rolling over in his grave right now!

I have nothing but respect for Mr. Miedinger, his legacy, and his work. He created a piece of art that is wholly of the time it was conceived and designed in and that is no small achievement! It is not his fault that his typeface has graffiti’d the western world for nearly 50 years!

Have you seen the helvetica documentary? Thoughts? Or have you refused to watch it?

I did see the Helvetica documentary and I was a huge fan! I really appreciated the balanced approach to the documentary, addressing the love/hate relationship designers have with the face.
It did bring out some negative feelings in me, however. Such as when Massimo Vignelli – it always comes back to him when I talk about Helvetica, he may as well have designed the face for all he publicizes it! – said that it was one of only three or four good faces ever drawn. It made me want to throw pencil erasers at him. I am not a type designer and it still felt like a slap in the face to all the designers who do such amazing work and continue to refine their faces. Imagine he says there are three or four good faces and yet you have amazing artists like Zuzana Licko, Matthew Carter, Robert Slimbach, Carol Twombly, and Alejandro Paul – to name but a few – who are putting out incredible work all the time. Collectively they have drawn many times the three or four faces Mr. Vignelli throws around and yet he says something like that! To me, with all due respect to Mr. Vignelli, it seems the height of arrogance and maybe a little laziness.

Ok…I get it…so you don’t like helvetica. What is your favorite serif font? Sans serif?

I knew you would ask this and I really had to think about it and I don’t know if I necessarily have one favorite of each, so I will say two that really are just so brilliant to me:

For the sans, I have to say Frutiger’s Avenir. Brilliant face, especially the cap forms. Balanced, pure, elegant, strong, and nearly perfect. For the serif, you already know that I am fan of the Egyptians, so I would have to say Chapparal by Carol Twombly. It is just brilliant. Set it in all caps and it can be serious and maybe even jarring in some weights. Mixed or lower-case only italics are playful and fun, especially the “y” and the “w”. I have used both faces extensively in my personal branding and here and there for clients, where they made sense.

Thanks Vinney for letting me interview you! Check out his website and follow him on twitter!

What are your thoughts on helvetica?

Leave a comment and let me know!