Join Gary Hustwit for an in-depth discussion in this video Stefan Sagmeister, part of Helvetica.
I myself got fairly disappointed with modernism in general. It simply became boring. If I see a brochure now with lots of white space that has you know like six lines of Helvetica up on the top and a little, you know, sort of like abstract logo on the bottom and a picture of a businessman walking somewhere. The overall communication that, that says to me is do not read me.
Because I will bore the shit out of you. Not just visually but also in content, because the content will likely say the same as it says to me visually. I was in terrible rock bands when I was 15, 16, 17. And, I think through that experience got close to the album cover, and essentially I went to art school because of album covers. I probably was the last generation that got taught doing everything by hand.
So you know, I mean we drew, you know, ten point type with a brush. In general, I was always fairly bored in, you know, looking at type books and deciding over and over again which type to pick for a certain project. It just didn't seem a very interesting task to do. So here and there. I think with the records, with the CD covers, we started to do our own type. And I think there was one instance it was for a Lou Reed cover where the hands drawn typography resonated.
And numerous projects came out in that vein. In all sorts of directions. You know in a more funny direction and in a more serious direction. One time our intern carved a hands type into my skin for a lecture poster. The type in an instant, in a single image, tells the story of it's making. Tells you about it's process in a very elegant way, in a very fast way. That's typography strangely became so well known just within the design community of course that some people thought that's all we do.
Which thankful is not the case. Well I always thought that, that approach of people using only beautiful typefaces, very suspect. I think this could be interesting to do for a single project as a exercise to put up additional limitations in order to focus yourself. But as a strategy over a lifetime, I think it's akin to a writer saying, I'm only going to write in three or four words. Yes, you probably could do it, but for one, why would you? And for the second, would it really yield an interesting body of work over a lifetime? Designers want you to express their subjectivity, their owns feelings about the world.
Their sense that they had something to say through design, through the design choices they make. And of course this caused controversy. If you take a figure like Massimo Vignelli, who'd been on of the 60s high priests with his company Unimark. It's right there in the name Unimark. The idea of a uniform kind of expression. When he looked at this new work this expressive, subjective, wayward to his way of thinking, irrational new way of designing it seemed like the barbarians were not only at the gate, but they'd stormed through and they'd taken over.
In the 70s, the young generation was after psychedelic type, you know, and all the junk that you could find, and also in the 80s, you know, with their mind completely confused by the, by that disease that was called post-modernism. You know? The people were just going around like chicken without their heads by using all kinds of type faces that can come around that could says not modern. In a sense. They didn't, they didn't know what they were caring for, they only knew about what they were against, you know, and what they were against was a Helvetica.
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.