In a way, Helvetica is the font of liberal fascism; it’s certainly the font of corporatism. To this day, it’s on the side of every one of the airplanes owned by American Airlines, a private corporation. But it’s also the font of the New York Subway system, both the work of Italian designer Massimo Vignelli, now in his late ‘70s, and interviewed in the Helvetica film. And since Amtrak’s inception via Congress and President Nixon in 1971, the typeface on sides of its cars and locomotives is Helvetica as well. Helvetica symbolizes order and authority, but to borrow from one of the concluding memes of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, it’s the softer authoritarian nanny state of Brave New World, not the oppressiveness militarism of 1984. And it’s the font of IRS’s tax forms:
But one of the dangers of Starting from Zero is staying there permanently. In addition to the aforementioned institutions, public and private, the Helvetica film also documents designers who are still using (albeit often ironically) a 50 year old font, in much the same way that architects, interior designers and commercial photographers are still using Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Chair 80 years after Mies designed it. The Bauhaus banished the past, but in a sense, they freeze-dried the future as well.
Like Helvetica, it’s a good thing their best efforts still hold up pretty well. “Timeless” Modernism would look pretty antiquated, otherwise.
Read the rest, and watch arguably the definitive clip from the movie Helvetica, at Ed Driscoll.com.