HELVETICA STARTED THE WAR!?

After stating that “if you used it, it meant you were in favour of the Vietnam War” designer Paula Scher then goes on to say that Helvetica also started the Iraqi war. The first thing that came to my mind after hearing those words was “it’s a font! Just a font! How can people get so worked up about a font?” This feeling came to me as I was sitting down in a lecture watching this film.

Helvetica started the war. Not my words, but the words of a woman with exaggerated views (well in my opinion) from a documentary made on Helvetica [2008]. I do understand the importance of different typefaces and how they portray or influence certain feelings or emotions to a reader, however I certainly do not think that something as meaningless (compared to other things that influence a war) as a simple typeface could possibly start a war.

It is very interesting to see throughout the documentary how different designers see Helvetica, some hate it, and some love it (like designer Wim Crouwel) and only use Helvetica.

Mike Parker describes the design of Helvetica of it all being about the negative spaces, “the shapes between characters and within characters”. So that in a way, the shapes outside, “hold the characters”. Which give it a very firm look. “Its brilliant what he’s done with it”. Originally Helvetica was meant to have a very clean, clear, readable look, which is why I suppose that big corporations used it a lot. This was the reason, (going back to my first point), that Paula Scher uses as her reason to believe that “if you used Helvetica that means you were in favour of the Vietnam War” as she saw the big corporation which used Helvetica as sponsors for that war.

I personally feel rather neutral about this typeface, (or typeface in general). However even now as I am sitting down finishing this article I am beginning to change my mind about my opinion about Paula Scher’s views. I still don’t agree with them but I do understand the power that a certain typeface can have in the right circumstances. I guess it depends on your own experience, the time era that someone lives in, for example Paula Scher was a designer when the Vietnam war was happening, so that’s why she sees Helvetica this way, however I am studying design many years after that, and Helvetica is “just there” I definitely hadn’t given it any notice until I had to watch this film in a lecture.

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