Computing Tips: Helvetica celebrates 50th Anniversary

GENEVA—Open a newspaper, look at a street sign, type an e-mail and chances are a Swiss design icon is staring you in the face, though you’d be hard-pressed to identify it.

But peer closely at the shape of the letters: If they’re easy to read and without unnecessary flourishes, then you might well be looking at an example of the Helvetica typeface, which turns 50 this year.

Helvetica lettering adorns images most people can conjure instantly, from New York subway signs to the logos of Harley-Davidson, American Airlines and BMW. But much of the time it remains invisible in a sea of print, unobtrusively conveying the message the designer intended it to.

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The scourge of ARIAL
“Arial is everywhere. If you don’t know what it is, you don’t use a modern personal computer. Arial is a font that is familiar to anyone who uses Microsoft products, whether on a PC or a Mac. It has spread like a virus through the typographic landscape and illustrates the pervasiveness of Microsoft’s influence in the world.

“Arial’s ubiquity is not due to its beauty. It’s actually rather homely. Not that homeliness is necessarily a bad thing for a typeface. With typefaces, character and history are just as important. Arial, however, has a rather dubious history and not much character. In fact, Arial is little more than a shameless impostor.

“Arial is now everywhere, a side effect of Windows’ success, born out of the desire to avoid paying license fees.”

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