A Typeface for All Time
Hardworking helvetica gets the message across
Whether Helvetica will remain the typeface of choice is up for debate. Arial, which Minnesota designer Mark Simonson derides as "a knockoff riding on Helvetica's coattails," may already enjoy the greatest mass appeal, even if designers, marketers, and American companies still hold tightly to its competitor. And Helvetica's omnipresence could be its undoing.
While it was designed to be "neutral" and "unbiased," Gary Hustwit, creator of the film Helvetica, noted in an E-mailtyped in Helveticathat over 50 years, Helvetica has "picked up baggage." Because it's used by big business and government, "when we look at a word set in Helvetica, we pick up the subtle feelings of authority, efficiency, [and] permanence." In some ways, its overuse may have left it powerless to steer people correctly, making not just the typeface but also the message invisible to some eyes.
Warning messages on cigarette packs are set in Helvetica, notes Hustwit, but "although it clearly says, 'Smoking kills,' apparently people aren't understanding the message. Maybe if it was set in a scary, ugly typeface, people would get the point."