It is rare for design of any kind to make it on to the entertainments circuit, let alone a specialist area such as typography. But the documentary Helvetica, directed by Gary Hustwit, had showings in several major cities across the world, not least at Oxford’s BritDoc festival and London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, and even made it on to national TV in the UK.
The Swiss typeface beloved by Modernist graphic designers celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. The idea for Hustwit’s biopic came from wandering the streets of New York and noticing how urban design and typography come together. He wanted to do a film about graphic design and chose Helvetica as the subject because it is a part of everyone’s life – there are even Cyrillic, Greek and Chinese versions.
Created as Neue Haas Grotesk by Max Mieddinger and Eduard Hoffman in 1957, Helvetica, as the font became known, was promoted globally as a symbol of Swiss technological advances. It has since found its way to underpinning the typographic identity of companies as diverse as mobile phone network Orange, Japanese ‘no brand’ retailer Muji and The Guardian – until 2005 when the Berliner format was introduced and, with it, The Guardian Egyptian font.
Helvetica the movie marks Hustwit’s debut as a film director. He previously produced five feature documentaries, ran a book publishing company and started Indie DVD label Plexifilm.