Wednesday, September 30, 2009


You know when something's pointed out to you for the first time, you suddenly start seeing examples everywhere that used to go unnoticed? Or at least in your conscious mind. See, ever since I watched that damned documentary Helvetica, a cursed lucidity has been bestowed. (And another welcome opportunity for me to have a rant.)

So it was the same upon learning of the underhand techniques of major UK supermarkets. One aspect in particular: the fact they're all just big fucking refrigerators - essentially to maintain the fresh-looking appearance of the fruit and veg, which can be up to 12 months old and therefore about as non-nutritious as all the other overpriced multinational mass-produced convenience crap that fill their sorry shelves. Even in a state of ravenous hunger, I can now wander around Tesco's for hours with my will to stay alive through voluntary oral sustenance ebbing away at an alarming rate.

Anyway, back to the horrors of Helvetica Culture. It first became noticeable during the recent trip to the London museums, in particular the wretched Natural History Museum and much of the Science Museum. Things took a further turn for the worse once the full extent of the plague became apparent in eating and drinking establishments. You really do start seeing this typeface everywhere, especially on menus and pricelists. And, truth be told, it's not that I have an issue with the font's creators and its venerable origins; it's the subtext of its usage that's the problem: proprietors paying big bucks to bring in the design squad zealots. The triumph of style over substance. Looks over taste.

Except that,
as far as I'm concerned, and just as with people, without substance and taste you ain't got no style. So when a bistro, gastro-pub, or café, uses Helvetica as a menu or logo font, you just know that the food is going to have about as much flavour as your semi-reheated cardboard croissant on British Airways, and that's if you can even generate some kind of appetite for it in the first place. Ready for your yummy watery microwaved pasta penne freshly slit open from its plastic pouch, or did you go for the 'Mexican' chili? Didn't think so. Problem is, if you're like me, you've suddenly gone and excluded yourself from 90% of the UK's eateries.

To extend this convenient metaphor, the designer's job is to neatly and competently lay the cutlery and glassware on the table before the diners arrive. That's it. That's the extent of their importance.


Thomas Bey William Bailey said...

just out of curiosity, is it *all* variants of Helvetica which you're averse to, or one in particular?

I'm guessing that the oh-so-unassuming "light" Helvetica, in all lower case, is the one in question that gets slapped onto all of these bistro menus?

In a perfect world, we'd all be using the much more playful and dynamic Gill Sans Ultra Bold ;)

LJP said...

Hmmm... For awhile I think I remember they were using Helvetica for alot of record design back in the 90s. Hinted that the contents were going to be generic indie music...

David Cotner said...

If Helvetica is "Salo," then Comic Sans is "Men Behind the Sun."

Tom said...

To respond to your first paragraph, I've had a similar experience since I started listening to Front 242 last year. That number pops up so much its bugging the crap out of me.