- Well in the 60s I became very much interested in grid systems and digital systems. And it was the early time of computers and I was heavily interested in this. And when I saw in a large print exhibition in Germany in 1965 I saw the first digital typesetters from Hell in Kiel. It was the first company who came with such a machine. And the results were horrible, absolutely horrible. I thought, if this is the future of the digital typesetting it's a horror. Then I came to the idea to make another system of alphabets. I called it the New Alphabet. This is a six-point Garamond from the digitized period. You see the dots here. And especially the roundings are changing all the time. If you have it twice as big, you have twice as much dots available and the whole shape changes. The basic idea is still there, but it changes all the time. And this is what I couldn't stand for. I said, well let me do a typeface with only 90 degree angles and 45 degree roundings so that whenever it's big or small it's always the same, even direction of dots. So I published it and said, this is a theory. This is the way of thinking. And typeface designers shoot, design along these lines of thinking. It had a large response, this New Alphabet. In that period, it made me travel all around the world to give lectures on it. It was a nice time for a few years and I made posters and all sort of things that were more or less in the direction of that thinking. And I made the various variations: the defined one, the regular one, the bold one, the stretched one. And I said, well, you can't use this alphabet because it's unreadable. It was a theoretical exercise. I never expected that anyone would use it. And then suddenly in the 90s I discovered that they used this typeface in pop magazines, on music. But it always made it a little more readable, you know? They changed the type until it became readable. I said, oh, how is it possible that after 30 years, you suddenly reach, especially in England, was all in England. And then it was, I think 1997, 98, I was invited in England to give, again, lectures on this typeface. I said, Christ, this is old stuff for me but there was a new interest. And then The Foundry, in London, asked me to digitize it really, so that people could use it. I said, well, you are allowed to do it, no problem, but nobody's going to use it, because you can't read it (laughs). What I do not understand, but the young designers will understand, that they design with the mouse and not with the pencil. I can't, I always do my sketching by pencil first and bring it to a certain level that I think this is the idea, this is what I want and then I go to the computer and try to realize it. I see that young designers start on the computer with the mouse, without sketching. Maybe they form their idea in their heads, like I do too, together with a pencil. So that's what I don't understand. I hardly understand how people can think without a pencil, without their fingers. And now it's straight from the eyes, through the hands to the machine. And maybe the mouse is a replacement of the pencil. Not that much changes in the world, I think. The percentage of good work, good design, from my point of view, good design, the percentage against the whole production of (muffled speaking) doesn't change at all. They produce much and much more. There are much more designers now. Maybe 100 times more designers than there were in the 50s but the output is 100 times more. So the percentage of good design stays always the same to my opinion. You see a lot of rubbish around you but in the 50s we saw a lot of rubbish around us. And the perception of the people doesn't change to my opinion that much. There is always a group of people that love good design, that have a reception for good design, but there is a larger group that doesn't understand anything, they are not interested at all. So my idea that I had in the 50s and the 60s and the 70s and the 80s, still is that you work for a rather small group of people. People who are culturally interested and these are the only people that interest me. And I'm not interested in all the other people like the other people are not interested in me. And we should accept it, I think.
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.