Helvetica (2008) — Personal Narrative

Helvetica, Gary Hustwit’s 2008 documentary film on the development and legacy of the typeface. It resonated with me, looking back on all the time I spent browsing daFont, and showed me that you can have a career as a type designer. Already unhappy in my coursework, I dropped out of university, took a year off to rethink, and get my portfolio together.

In 2018, three years into design school, I rewatched Helvetica. With a better understanding of myself and my beliefs, I understood Vignelli’s “fight against ugliness” and Modernism’s utopia of order and neutrality not “the typeface of socialism” as the film described, but rather one of fascism, as Helvetica has been tied with Swiss national identity and capitalism from its beginning. I realized Erik Spiekermann was the figure who truly inspired me to study design and love type: “The whole Swiss ideology, the guy who designed it, tried to make all the letters look the same. Hello! That’s called an army, that’s not people...The aim with type design is always to make it individual enough so that it’s interesting.”