Sunday, September 28, 2014

Helvetica - a font, a symbol

flickr photo courtesy of _e.t
     Helvetica is perhaps the most prevalent type font in our society.  We see it everywhere, every day, and it seems to have been used in every situation.  The movie Helvetica focused on the origins and prevalence of this font...and also what it represents in society.  Helvetica is most certainly a symbol.
     The director, I felt, tried to analyze the Helvetica font from a socio-anthropological perspective.  The director urges the viewer to see Helvetica as something more than a font used in our society.  The font represents cleanliness in type, and the importance of the usage of space.  This was referenced in the film when one of the interviewees was talking about 1960's era marketing promising to cast off the old, dusty looking fonts - in favor of a cleaner, streamlined, and advanced style of font.  Helvetica also enabled the abandonment of stuffy long names in favor of shorter, more modern names for business and products.  
     The director has a background of filming other types of documentaries, so I feel as though he was able to create something interesting about a type font because he is used to dealing with nonfiction material.  If you look at Gary Hustwit's IMDB profile, you can see that he has a great deal of expertise in creating movies on objects and designs that surround us.  Because of that, the director is very professionally knowledgeable about type fonts, and perhaps he knew where best to look when researching the interesting stuff.  
     This movie added to my own visual literacy by making me think a lot about something as simple as a font.  The Helvetica font was referenced in the movie as a symbol of Socialism, a symbol of cleanliness, a symbol of font perfection and interest.  Symbols have different meanings to different people and different societies.  This film encouraged me to think about the symbolism not just in our letters, but in also how they are presented in public.  "There is a very fine line between simple, and clean, and powerful; and simple, and clean, and boring." (Helvetica, 2007).  Quite often, we think of font as being something very mundane.  However, the film made me realize that one can use the same font in different scenarios, and suddenly, it has very different meanings.  
flickr photo courtesy of Tommaso Sorchiotti
     I also enjoyed how the director displayed the very documents that served as the historic basis of the Helvetica font.  Not only did he see fit to address the font's impact in society, but he also went very deep into the origins and the development of the font.  This led me to appreciate the roots of all fonts, and how difficult they must be to make.  The director also highlighted the anti-Helvetica movement, and ultimately the return to usage of the font.  Maybe Helvetica is somewhat a representation of Globalization, but I know that I enjoy it for the simple fact that it is easy to read, and that it makes me feel somehow more comfortable after seeing the movie.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Visual symbols in my life...Signs, signs, everywhere there's signs!

     Greetings!  We haven't talked for a while, but I have been in China teaching.  With a new semester comes new musings, and I have been inspired by my Visual Literacy class to thing a lot about the visual symbols in my life and how they impact me.  It is truly difficult now to look much of anywhere and NOT see visual symbols in our daily lives.  There are signs on the outside of buildings telling us how to get in, there are signs that tell us what things are, and there are even signs that tell us what to do in the event of an emergency.  On top of that, there are plenty of other visual symbols that communicate much without even using words, like this one:
photo courtesy of Ian Hubrig, as this was taken by his own phone
What do these symbols mean to you?  To me, they represent my homeland and the country I served.  Someone not from a military background might interpret these flags in a very different way.  There are no words on our flag, but it has many aspects that have different meanings - all related to the United States.
     There are also visual symbols that do involve words, but have a less instructional meaning than others, like this one:
photo courtesy of Ian Hubrig, as this was taken by his own phone

This is a painting in the Schindler Education Center.  To me, this visual symbol represents a message to students and teachers alike that creativity and determination can go a long way in improving your surroundings.  Ultimately, both a teacher and a student can create a better place for everyone, but it is important to remember that teachers impact students immensely.  However, this visual can be interpreted in multiple ways, and it is important to understand that not all visual symbols are perceived in the same way by everyone.  
     These two examples are but a drop in the bucket of visual symbols, but they have impacted my life greatly.  Next time when you're walking around, take a look at all the signs and visual symbols that surround you.  I promise you, they are everywhere!