Last night I went to see Helvetica, the feature-length documentary about typography and the most famous typeface of them all, Helvetica. I had been looking forward to the film for quite some time, and was really excited to hear it was coming to Edmonton. The event was put on by the Alberta chapter of The Society of Graphic Designers of Canada.
Every review I had read about the film had been glowing, so my expectations were pretty high. The film wasn’t disappointing, but I have to admit, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting either.
I think I was anticipating something like Freakonomics but for typography, a fun and interesting look at the impact of Helvetica on our daily lives. Instead, the film focused more on the history of the typeface, and really only discussed the impact of Helvetica on the design industry. Designer Paula Scher made the bold claim that Helvetica caused the Vietnam and Iraq wars, but that was a close as we got to the impact outside the design world. There were one or two segments with company logos, but the discussion of corporate adoption of Helvetica was fairly limited.
All of the people interviewed in the film were in some way involved in the design industry. I think it would have been much more interesting (and entertaining) to have balanced the interviews with some “outsiders” who could comment without really having a position. The designers seemed to either love or hate Helvetica.
That said, as a documentary about a typeface, Helvetica was quite good. A little long for those of us who are not enamored with design, but still quite good. I particularly liked graphic designer Michael Bierut, who always had the funniest comments and anecdotes. Without his segments, the movie would have been seriously lacking in the chuckle department.
Bottom line: if you’re interested in design, you’ll probably enjoy Helvetica. Otherwise, you might want to think twice.
I’ve been having problems with my tablet the last couple days – something is wrong with the power supply (not the cord, but where the cord plugs in). As a result, I setup the spare tablet (the one that was in the Podbot) to use. There’s lots of little things that get setup over time, and you don’t realize they are there until you no longer have them! There was one thing I noticed was missing right away on the new tablet though – ClearType.
If you don’t currently have ClearType enabled in your computer, stop reading this and go enable it! I couldn’t believe the difference when I first logged into a new profile on the new tablet. All of my other computers have had ClearType enabled for a long time, so I have become used to it. Looking at the screen without ClearType made me think that something was wrong. Fortunately it only took me a minute of confusion before I realized that ClearType isn’t enabled by default. Wondering what ClearType is? From the Microsoft site:
ClearType is a software technology developed by Microsoft that improves the readability of text on existing LCDs (Liquid Crystal Displays), such as laptop screens, Pocket PC screens and flat panel monitors. With ClearType font technology, the words on your computer screen look almost as sharp and clear as those printed on a piece of paper.
ClearType works by accessing the individual vertical color stripe elements in every pixel of an LCD screen. Before ClearType, the smallest level of detail that a computer could display was a single pixel, but with ClearType running on an LCD monitor, we can now display features of text as small as a fraction of a pixel in width. The extra resolution increases the sharpness of the tiny details in text display, making it much easier to read over long durations.
I find it makes a difference even on CRT monitors, but it definitely is superior on an LCD.
I wonder what the ClearType story is for Windows Vista? With vectorized graphics, I don’t know how necessary it will be. If it makes a difference though, let’s hope it’s enabled by default!