Design Curator: Timelessness

Design is all around us. Influencing us by telling us which way to go, selling us things we don’t want, and shouting at us from a breaking news headline. Whether it’s through words or images, design is a part of our daily lives. So, we can probably learn a thing or two from our surroundings.

One such design element millions of people see and use every day is the font Helvetica. Typography is an art, whether the art is portrayed as practical and functional or elegant and pristine. For those who are graphic artists and use typefaces on a daily basis or for those who make handmade cards or screen print tees, knowing about Helvetica is important. Even for those artists who don’t incorporate typefaces into their work, Helvetica can bring conceptual inspiration to your designs.

The basis for this post is from filmmaker Gary Hustwit’s documentary, Helvetica.  The film examines the world we live in through the lens of typography, graphic design, and global visual structure. Plus, the film explores urban spaces in major cities and the type that inhabits them. It is a fluid discussion with renowned designers about their work, the creative process, and the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type.

Graphic designer, Massimo Vignelli, who designed the New York City signage in 1966, comments in the documentary about the importance of legibility and clarity in a typeface. According to Vignelli, Helvetica was and is clear, legible, and simultaneously modern.

The New York Times says this about the film:

“Overlong but fascinating, Mr. Hustwit’s documentary posits Helvetica, a sans-serif typeface developed in 1957 at the Haas Foundry in Munchenstein, Switzerland as an emblem of the machine age, a harbinger of globalization and an ally of modern art’s impulse toward innovation, simplicity and abstraction.”

One sure thing the typeface has going for it is timelessness. Helvetica has been influencing our lives for the last 50 years. And it’s still going.  What is it about Helvetica that has made its life span so long? What design inspiration can we walk away with?

Last month I talked about simplicity in design; this month concerns another important element of any design – timelessness. It’s great to design according to fads and what is now, but designing something that will still be usable and valuable 50 years later is an accomplishment and a legacy. What legacy are you leaving behind?

Design writer, Rick Poyner, says this in Hustwit’s documentary, “The designer has an enormous responsibility…these [designers] are the people putting the wires into our heads.”

~ Elizabeth Wann {Writer & Designer}

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