An 80 minute film about a font may not at first sound like everyone’s up of tea, but Gary Hustwit’s documentary Helvetica is a great watch.
As well as being a history of the font, it is also a gentle amble through the history of design in the twentieth-century, largely free of jargon but still giving a good flavour of the conflicting thoughts and schools.
In particular, the question of whether a font should be neutral, allowing the words and other design features to impart meaning, or whether the design of the font itself should impart meaning, gets a decent discussion without ever descending into obscurantist jargon.
The largely chronological structure of the film keeps the pace nicely ticking along, despite the absence of any real plot, and is interspersed with a huge range of shots of different real life scenes which illustrate just how widely used Helvetica now is.
The extras feature on the DVD comprises extended versions of interviews used in the main documentary, which is worth a watch if for no other reason than the one with Massimo Vignelli with its description of how a subway map for New York was designed – and why it then had to be abandoned.
For Liberal Democrats, there is an extra bonus to watch out for – one of the people interviewed in the main documentary is the creator of the Meta font that used to be one of the party’s standard fonts.