Aging Vinyl Helvectica or Aging, Vinyl, Helvetica

My university is in the process of changing signage throughout the campus.  The previous signage has been predominantly in Helvetica, which has, despite its acclaim and virtues among typography geeks, has actually aged over time.  It is hard to clarify how a font ages.  Part of it is overuse.  Part of it may be the vague art of attributing a character or personality to the characters.  Its versatility, clarity, and modernity have set it apart from stodgier serifed fonts that may not suit signage or advertising.  There is an iconic aspect to Helvetica when it is viewed on the signage of New York's transit system and there several other settings where it looks like it will be retained indefinitely or it simply looks right according to the tastes of those who design and carefully select typographies for various uses. 

I'm not an expert on typography, I have after all spent much of my keyboard time over the last umpteen years in blithe tolerance of Times New Roman or the defaults of my workplace computers.  I am, however, sensitive to changes that occur and wonder about the subtle assertions of character (no pun intended) that a rebrand attempts by simply changing from one font to another.  Design controversies easily appear over a font that is inappropriate or uninspired for a company.  Imagine a law firm's letterhead or wordmark deploying Helvetica rather than something more venerable or even austere.

Context is clearly part of a font's appeal in one setting over another and there may be a desire for a more refined or calibrated expression of personality with a font as the number of options have increased.  There are also technological forces which have pushed fonts into service in new situations and mediums. The modern, not matter how carefully developed, designed or deployed, ages or gets left behind in the wake of progress.  Adaptation can occur, but there is still a reminder of that the modern assertions in favour of utility, efficiency, simplicity, and clarity, even if these occur at the expense of a dis-integration.  Quirky and personally only earn disdain in the pursuit of progress.

Perhaps it has been the bright, optimistic look of Helvetica that has rendered it dated in favour the new font that has replaced it throughout, in this one instance, the campus I work at.

In many ways typographies, particularly Helvetica, embody 
many of the characteristics of the modern or the tech slick as they are codified by Leonard Koren and Richard Powell in their books on wabi sabi.  

Despite the place and the significance of fonts as well designed as Helvetica and others, there is an insistent fondness for the look and comfort of the brush stroke or the sidewalk chalkboard.  Digital fonts have emerged that resemble handwriting and though they lack clarity and require a longer look before they can be deciphered, they appeal to viewer and designer.  In the wordscapes that we surround ourselves with there remains a fondness for the handmade -- whether handwritten scripts, a chalkboard in the street or the vintage painted facade of an old building, there is an appreciation for these individually created items.  It is not simply a matter of something being old enough to come back into fashion but rather an appreciation of, or a hunger for things that bear the authenticity of the handcrafted.  As much as the manufactured and modern affords a degree of convenience, we still need to be be surrounded by and conscious of handmade things imbued with the realities of "flaws" that come from the individuality of an engaged creative investing their time into something they are pursuing out of passion. When we are exposed to it, we are less likely to find it growing dated, even as it fades, weathers or desiccates with the passage of time.

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