A font. A mere twenty-six letters, a handful of numbers, a few fancy characters. There are thousands of typefaces in existence, but none have really made as large an impact as Helvetica.

The Nashville Chapter of AIGA had the pleasure of showing the documentary celebrating Helvetica's 50 year run. I must say, it was better than I expected. I liked that the whole film did not fully glorify Helvetica, but rather illustrated both positive AND negative viewpoints on this ever-popular (or unpopular) typeface.

This post is not a 'yay' or 'nay' post in regards to Helvetica. I just wanted to take a few paragraphs to give some due respect to an influential font. You have to admit, whether you like Helvetica or loathe its existence, it does commandeer a hefty level of respect.

Helvetica is quite the universal font. Granted, it is NOT the best choice for every situation, but it works. It just works. You can take practically any brand, any design situation be it web or print, and solve it with Helvetica. Now, I'm not saying ANY problem or EVERY situation can be solved or should be solved using Helvetica, but in a vast majority of cases, it CAN be solved and the solution will work. Very few typefaces can say that.

Take a moment to consider all the ways in which Helvetica is in use. You've got American Apparel, GAP, Target, JEEP, Sears, Staples, and hundreds more. SO many instantly recognizable brands use Helvetica. You can use a light version to convey elegance, rough-up a heavy version and you've got a grungy dirty feel, you can use a condensed version to make it feel more modern, or just use it how it is in its regular format. Sure, there are probably (and more than likely) other fonts out there that can do the job better, but Helvetica can do the job as well.. just not always AS well.

Why does Helvetica work so well? At least in branding, it's comfortable. It's clean, uniform, sterile. It lends itself well to that corporate, everyone-wants-to-fit-in feel. Is that a good thing? I'm not really sure. But you have to give it some props.. every character is like a minion in a little typeface army. It is there to do a job and it's there to perform. Each letter is uniform and square. It's well balanced and is easy on the eye. How many other sans-serif fonts can accomplish this? Futura can't. Avant Garde, Gill Sans, Frutiger, Univers.. none of them can perform to that level. Yes, all of these fonts can solve a design dilemma under various circumstances much better than Helvetica. They all lend their own flavor and personality to each situation which makes them superior in some ways. But when you get right down to it, in most situations, Helvetica can be interchanged with any of these fonts and the solution will work.

I respect you, Helvetica. You're famous and obtrusive but in a comfortable kind of way. The brands you represent are ones we all trust. As far as fonts go, I do believe you've achieved far more than ANY other font in the industry.

So I guess what I'm saying, is that whether you love Helvetica or hate it, it's earned a good bit of respect. It's had a strong run over the last 50 years and I can't see it going anywhere anytime soon. This font is here to say and I must add, that I can live with a world full of Helvetica far easier than a world full of Papyrus or Comic Sans.

If Helvetica had a back I'd give it a good pat.

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