In December 2010, I made a foolish and public declaration that I would devote myself for a whole year to one typeface and one typeface only—Helvetica.
I hastily added a caveat that if I was working for a client, I would work within their existing branding and would be exempt from using Helvetica in these cases, but boldly declared that every other piece of written communication designed for my own purposes would be set only in the dreaded, boring and ubiquitous Helvetica.
This declaration was met with cries of disbelief from my friends and co-workers, all fellow graphic designers. “How could I be creative if I had to use that awful typeface?” “How could I possibly express myself with something so … so … common?” “A whole year? It’s impossible”.
I found their responses fascinating, and entirely predictable. I would be responding in much the same way, were I in their shoes, but the reasons I made this declaration were twofold: firstly, I had just seen Gary Hustwit‘s excellent documentary ‘Helvetica’ and was convinced by ‘Build’ designer Michael C. Place’s self-initiated challenge to “make something beautiful out of something ordinary”, (which he was apparently doing very well) and secondly, I had become tired of the typographic elitism that was settling in amongst my peers over which font you should use, what was cool and what was not, and I thought it would be such a relief not to have to engage in such discussions for a while.
I am pleased to say, the year has gone remarkably well. I think it was one of the best ‘foolish’ decisions I have ever made and the tactile typography pieces that emerged from the project have given me enormous enjoyment and satisfaction.
Looking back over the year, I will admit that the relationship wasn’t perfect—there were times throughout when I wasn’t entirely faithful. I strayed once or twice, usually to the subtle curves of Museo, or Bebas when I needed something sleek and skinny, but for the most part, Helvetica served my needs admirably, and we made some beautiful visual music together.
And so, the year is up and the time has come to say goodbye to Helvetica.
This installation marks the cathartic end of a wonderful yearlong relationship that has been rewarding and productive. The relief of not facing an arduous decision-making process every time I turn on a computer has been delightful and I am sure has saved me many hours of my life. I have also really enjoyed proving to myself, and everyone else, how beautiful this cold and emotionless typeface can be if it is treated with some love, care and attention.
Goodbye Helvetica. It’s been fun.
The show will open on Valentine’s Day, 2012