food for selfish thought

food for selfish thought:

biased observations that you may not agree with

hel and back


Helvetica is a beautiful thing. 

Lots of people (in the design world, a least) have strong thoughts on this statement, but let me explain why it is such a valuable typeface. My publications design professor taught my about valence, namely as it relates to a masthead and other large text on a magazine cover. If the type is in Braggadocio, for example, you will probably assume the content inside to be about something retro or a look back at a specific time period. 


Helvetica, however, doesn't have this problem. Designed as a completely neutral typeface, its ability to bring zero presuppositions to the theme of whatever design it's being employed in is magnificent. It allows the actual craft of the work to speak volumes and not be muddled down by distractions in type.

Plenty of opponents say this is the exact problem. They will argue that it's a lazy typeface for lazy designers who don't want to sort through other typefaces. This argument may be perfectly valid for some designers—I don't know every designer in the world, there are probably some lazy ones. But the assumption that Helvetica cannot be used powerfully is a boldly incorrect one.


My argument for the power of this typeface lies predominantly in branding. I probably don't have to tell you this if you're already here reading, but think of American Airlines or Knoll or Target. These brands all employ Helvetica in their wordmarks and hold instantly recognizable, top-of-mind status for consumers. People see the word TARGET in all caps or AmericanAirlines with no space between the two words, both brands in Helvetica, and they are instantly recognizable. The facts that Helvetica can have both zero valence and possess so much recognizably are not mutually exclusive like opponents of the typeface argue. 

So, I implore you, especially if you are on the fence or one of the naysayers, please think about what you're looking at next time you want to call Helvetica boring. It may just become the next big brand in consumers' minds, whether you hate Helvetica or not.      

Wade Burton