- When I was 16 years old, I was lucky enough to go to work as a freelance draftsman in the office of the Castiglioni brothers. Now, the Castiglioni were designing everything, really. Radios, and furniture, and exhibitions, and buildings, and houses, and, you know, all kind of things. And I was mesmerized by the fact that an architect can do everything, and then, eventually, I had discovered that an architect's supposed to really design everything from a spoon to a city, as they say. Then I was put to some posters by Max Huber. Max Huber is a fantastic graphic designer from Switzerland that came to Milano. And eventually I met him, and I learn a lot from him. Learn about grays, I learn about colors, I learn about type, I learn about approach. And that's how I got exposed to graphic design. Such a cultivational thing, you know. It's funny, but I realized the other day the mistake I made. So, this is really the most clear kind of map I have ever seen, you know, in terms of information for the subway. It's very simple. Every line has a color. Every subway line has a color. In reality, they already have it. And every station has a dot, you know. Every stop is a dot. No stop, no dot, no stop. You know, so it couldn't be easier than that. There is nothing to fragment the legibility of this, while instead if you look at today's map, there's a total disaster with fragmentation all over the place. I can show it to you. I have one there. And, you know, and this is what we tried to work. Now, back 75 years ago, in London they did the first map with the 90 and 45-degrees green, you know, like this one here. And it's been working fine in London for all this time. But New York is a different kind of a city. And now I just realized I maybe, maybe I, possible that I made a mistake by indicating somehow even in a deformed way the areas, you know, Manhattan, Queens, and, you know, the Bronx. I probably should have done what they've done in London not to have an indication of the geography. So they're a complete blank, like a beige background or a white background, so that there is no suggestion of geography whatsoever. One of the problem they had in New York is that the people, they couldn't relate the geography with the station, with the lines. And they were confused by that. But it's just because they shouldn't. There were a geographical map, there a neighborhood map in the subway, you know. So really there is no reason why this geography has to be literal, you know. It could be completely abstract. But I think it would have been even better if I pushed the envelope even further and not to have anything and just give the lines. Lines and stops. Maybe that point it would have been better. Otherwise, this is perfect. I think it's the most beautiful spaghetti work ever done. (Massimo laughs) It's a terrific one. I mean, it's so clear, it's unbelievable. Now, the fact, the reality is that 50% of the humanity's visual-oriented and 50% of humanity's verbally-oriented. So the visual-oriented people have no problem reading any kind of map, including, you know, road maps. And the verbal people, they can never read a map, you know. And so it's just because of their dichotomy between one and the other. But the verbal people have one great advantage over the visual people. They can be heard. And that's why they changed this map. They start to complain, these people, opening their mouths, you know, in vain, until the beautiful map was substituted by the junky one that you can see now by going in every subway station. It is a map that has, it's loaded with information, which is so difficult to retrieve that it makes the whole point of the map equally useless. So if I made a mistake here, it was not making the geography abstract, making the water beige, and the park gray instead of green. But it was just the fact of indicating those things when I shouldn't have done it. I should have done just blank. Even that one better. I've always been of the opinion that all post-modernist was just a fad, and it just get, leave it, let it alone, give the time to fade out, and they will. And as a matter of fact, they did. While instead modernism, which was never a fad, you know, it was a philosophy, it was an attitude, it was really based on logic rather than emotions, kept going on. And what you see today after the table and things that have been built during post-modernist time, those funky buildings that have been doing, you know, now you see terrific modern building. Buildings which really go back to the great tradition of modern architecture, you know, and develop, and modern, modernize, even from Getty. I mean, you cannot call him post-modernist. I mean, to a certain extent. But the, there is plenty of great architects today that keep working along the modernist structure, modernist photography. And now what is interesting to see is that a lot of the young generation is coming out, that is coming out in graphic design and design in general are again modernists and they like Helvetica. They use it with great sense of space and little type. Sometime they exaggerate, but that's okay. I rather see that than those horrible concoction put together by the flower children. I'm glad you're doing it, taking advantage. (woman laughs) I think that this should really come out, loud and clear, that if there is a carrier of logic, it's been really that type, you know, in a sense. If there's been a carrier of clarity, a carrier of reason, and it's been really that typeface, you know. Not certainly the funny typeface that we have seen in the '70s, you know. So, I'm really, I'm really glad it exist. Oh, my God, you don't want to hear that. (laughs) - [Man] All right (muffled speech). - God, there certainly was a, a bad moment, gone, you know. West generation, yeah, western. Completely western, you know. Unbelievable. I'm glad that you were born after that, you know. (laughs) Yeah, indeed, indeed. You know, it's amazing, there was no nothing. They were becoming bums. The whole idea was that if you are with it, you're not cool, you were a bum. You know, so you just, say, lay on the sidewalk, you know. Sit there, and in the, you know, all that kind of thing. All the kinds of things that were against anything that makes sense. So, if it makes sense, you got to do the opposite (laughs) you know. That was basically. You know, I was talking the other night with a guy that was doing a magazine called "Punk," and he said a thing that was absolutely correct. He said, "We were not for anything. "We were against anything." You know. And I said, "Exactly. "That sums up the entire generation of, oh, you know, "of that time." And, I mean, I understand it was troubled times, you know, with the war, and so it was just like today, to a certain extent, yeah. That time was the first time that America was doing something completely wrong. Now we're getting used to it. (laughs) There's a big difference. (laughs) I guess that that's the thing. So, that's why the, the protest is much more mild today than it used to be in the '69, '70, you know. - [Man] Yeah (muffled speech). - With the Vietnam War. And it's amazing. You know, you really wonder how long it's going to take before people will really go down in the square, in the streets, and say, "Enough is enough, go home," you know. - [Man] Yeah, yeah, yeah. - I mean, go back to Texas, where you belong. You know, (muffled speech). How long are they going to wait? I don't know. I'm ready, you know. (laughs) So tell me to go and I go, you know, in the square and the plazas. You know, anyplace, in Central Park, anyplace, you know, where millions can congregate and say, "Enough is enough."
The documentary explores urban spaces in major cities and the type that inhabits them, and offers a fluid discussion with renowned designers about their work, the creative process, and the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type. Helvetica encompasses the worlds of design, advertising, psychology, and communication, and invites us to take a second look at the thousands of words we see every day. Interviewees in Helvetica include some of the most illustrious and innovative names in the design world, including Erik Spiekermann, Matthew Carter, Massimo Vignelli, Wim Crouwel, Hermann Zapf, Neville Brody, Stefan Sagmeister, Michael Bierut, David Carson, Paula Scher, Jonathan Hoefler, Tobias Frere-Jones, Experimental Jetset, Michael C. Place, Norm, Alfred Hoffmann, Mike Parker, Bruno Steinert, Otmar Hoefer, Leslie Savan, Rick Poynor, Lars Müller, and many more.
Make sure to watch the bonus features included in the Extras chapter for more insights from these designers.