Armin Vit is the founder of Under Consideration, a design-based media group that runs a series of blogs and publishes books on the subject. Unhappy with the new Helvetica-happy logo for the University of Arts, London, Vit took to the pages of his blog, Brand New, to explain his disdain for the typeface.
As it concerns identity design, we all recognise Helvetica as a bastion of the rise of the practice of corporate identity in the 1960s, deployed with unrelenting passion by the likes of Massimo Vignelli and Unimark in the US and Total Design in Europe. It helped shed decorative logos and present a unified front for corporations of all sizes in the most serious of manners. It was, in a way, a unifying technology of the era, establishing a specific standard for how logos should look. And that’s my biggest issue with Helvetica: it’s 1960s technology, 1960s aesthetics, 1960s principles.
You know what else is technology from the 1960s? Rotary-dial telephones. The BASIC computer language. Things we’ve built on for the past 50 years and stopped using as the new, more functional, more era-appropriate products took hold. Today there are dozens of contemporary sans serif typefaces that improve the performance and aesthetics of Helvetica, yet some designers still hold on to it as if it were the ultimate typeface. It’s not. Just because it’s been glorified in a similar way as the suits and clothing in Mad Men doesn’t mean it’s still the right choice. You don’t see people today dressed like Don Draper or Lane Pryce — the business-person equivalents of a business typeface — because fashion has changed, attitudes have changed, the world has changed. But, like cockroaches, Helvetica seems to be poised to survive time and space, no matter what. When you see someone walking down the street today, dressed like a 1960s business person, you (or at least I) think “what a douche”. That’s the same thought I have when I see something/someone using Helvetica.
The main argument of using Helvetica is that it’s “neutral”. That is absolute bullshit. There is nothing neutral about Helvetica. Choosing Helvetica has as much meaning and carries as many connotations as choosing any other typeface. It has as many visual quirks as any other typeface it was meant to shun for needless decoration. Helvetica is the fixed-gear bike of typefaces: it’s as basic as it gets, but the statement it makes is as complex as anything else. Standing for independence and going against the grain, supposedly not caring about what others think or of being duped for the upgrades and improvements that “the man” forces upon us. Helvetica is old. Helvetica is clunky. No business, service or product deserves Helvetica in the 21st century more than anyone deserves to sit in a dentist chair in the 1960s.
Am I wrong? Probably. Do you disagree? Probably. Do I care? No, as long as you don’t use Helvetica.
Republished with permission from Brand New.