For years I had given scant thought to Fonts and their uses. That changed when I moved into the teaching arena and the development of text books. Fonts are a complex subject, and one could easily write a book about them. Some are warm, reassuring and friendly, others are cold and intimidating. Don’t believe me?  Well broadly speaking they break down into two cams serif and sans serif, serif indicates the existence of little tails at the end of the characters. The legal profession almost exclusively uses the font Times New Roman, an intimidating and serious font. The advertising industry almost always opts for friendly warm fonts such as Ariel or Helvetica. The font is more that the shape of the letters, the font is part of the message.

This weeks Independent Lens series takes us into the amazing world of the font, specifically the darling of the advertising and signage world, Helvetica. Helvetica is a fairly recent entrant as fonts go, it was first created in 1957 by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffman for the small Haas Type Foundry in Munchenstein, Switzerland. The late 50’s and early 60’s were a time where Swiss design was much sought after, and Helvetica was quickly adopted by the business world, the press release accompanying this documentary sums it up better than I ever could “Sleek, streamlined and simple, it became the font that launched a thousand corporate logos.”

HELVETICA premiers on Tuesday, January 6, times vary so check your local listing. PBS has also created a web site that contains some background information and clips. I can honestly say that I enjoyed this incredibly well researched documentary, There is a lot more to a font than meets the eye.

Simon Barrett

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