Download Hellvetica, a Font that Makes the Elegant Spacing of Helvetica Look as Ugly as Possible

Among typography enthusiasts, all non-contrarians love Helvetica. Some, like filmmaker Gary Hustwit and New York subway map creator Massimo Vignelli, even made a documentary about it. Created by Swiss graphic designer Max Miedinger with Haas Type Foundry president Eduard Hoffmann and first introduced in 1957, Helvetica still stands as a visual definition of not just modernism but modernity itself. That owes in part to its clean, unambiguous lines, and also to its use of space: as all the aforementioned typography enthusiasts will have noticed, Helvetica leaves little room between its letters, which imbues text written in the font with a certain solidity. No wonder it so often appears, more than half a century after its debut, on the signage of public institutions as well as on the promotion of products that live or die by the ostensible timelessness of their designs.

But as times change, so must even near-perfect fonts: hence Helvetica Now. "Four years ago, our German office [was] kicking around the idea of creating a new version of Helvetica," Charles Nix, type director at Helvetica-rights-holder Monotype tells The Verge. "They had identified a short laundry list of things that would be better." What shortcomings they found arose from the fact that the font had been designed for an analog age of optical printing, and "when we went digital, a lot of that nuance of optical sizing sort of washed away." Ultimately, the project was less about updating Helvetica than restoring characters lost in its adaptation to digital, including "the straight-legged capital 'R,' single-story lowercase 'a,' lowercase 'u' without a trailing serif, a lowercase 't' without a tailing stroke on the bottom right, a beardless 'g,' some rounded punctuation."

The development of Helvetica Now also necessitated a close look at all the versions of Helvetica so far developed (the most notable major revision being Neue Helvetica, released in 1983) and adapting their best characteristics for an age of screens. Few of those characteristics demanded more attention than the spacing — or to use the typographical term, the kerning. But however astonishing a showcase it may be, Helvetica Now doesn't drive home the importance of the art of kerning in as visceral a manner as another new typeface: Hellvetica, designed by New York creative directors Zack Roif and Matthew Woodward. Much painstaking labor has also gone into Hellvetica's kerning, but not to make it as beautiful as possible: on the contrary, Roif and Woodard have taken Helvetica and kerned it for maximum ugliness.

The Verge's Jon Porter describes Hellvetica as "a self-aware Comic Sans with kerning that’s somehow much much worse." If that most hated Windows font hasn't been enough to inflict psychological disturbance on the designers in your life, you can head to Hellvetica's official site and "experience it in all its uneven, gappy glory." Roif and Woodard have made Hellvetica free to use, something that certainly can't be said of any genuine version of Helvetica. In fact, the sheer cost of licensing that most modern of all fonts has, in recent years, pushed even the formerly Helvetica-using likes of Apple, Google, and IBM to come up with their own typefaces instead — all of which, tellingly, resemble Helvetica. We can consider them all weapons in the life of a designer, which, as Vignelli put it, "is a life of fight. Fight against the ugliness." Happy downloading...

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Comic Sans Turns 25: Graphic Designer Vincent Connare Explains Why He Created the Most Hated Font in the World

What we write reveals who we are, but so, and often more clearly, does how we write. And in an age when handwriting has given way to typing, how we write has much to do with which font we use. Many of us play it safe, rarely straying from the realm of twelve-point Times New Roman hypernormality, but even there "type is a voice; its very qualities and characteristics communicate to readers a meaning beyond mere syntax." That observation comes from the Ban Comic Sans Manifesto, drawn up two decades ago by graphic designers Holly and David Combs as a strike against the font that, 25 years after its creation, remains a hate object of choice for the visually literate everywhere.

"You don’t like that your coworker used me on that note about stealing her yogurt from the break room fridge?" asks Comic Sans itself, ventriloquized in McSweeney's by Mike Lacher. "You don’t like that I’m all over your sister-in-law’s blog? You don’t like that I’m on the sign for that new Thai place? You think I’m pedestrian and tacky?" Well, tough: "People love me. Why? Because I’m fun. I’m the life of the party. I bring levity to any situation. Need to soften the blow of a harsh message about restroom etiquette? SLAM. There I am. Need to spice up the directions to your graduation party? WHAM. There again. Need to convey your fun-loving, approachable nature on your business’ website? SMACK."

In the Great Big Story video above, Comic Sans creator Vincent Connare tells his side of the story. While employed at Microsoft in the early 1990s, he saw a prototype version of Microsoft Bob, a kind of add-on to the Windows interface designed for maximum user friendliness. It featured onscreen animal characters that spoke in speech bubbles, but the words in those speech bubbles appeared in what was everyone's default font. When it hit him that "dogs don’t talk in Times New Roman," Connare, a graphic-novel fan, got to work on a typeface for the speech bubbles modeled on the lettering by John Costanza in The Dark Knight Returns and by Dave Gibbons in Watchmen.

Comic Sans didn't make it into Microsoft Bob, it did make it into a somewhat more successful Microsoft product: Windows 95, which David Kadavy at Design for Hackers calls "the first operating system to really hit it big. Just as computers were starting to pop up in nearly every home in America, Windows 95 was finding itself installed on all of those computers, and with it, the font Comic Sans. So now, nearly every man, woman, child, and bake sale organizer find themselves armed with publishing power unlike civilization had ever seen; and few of them really had any design sense." Then came the internet boom, which meant that "instead of flyers posted in break rooms, Comic Sans was showing up on websites, and even as the default font for many people’s emails. Now, any one person could write a message that could potentially be read by millions, in Comic Sans."

What makes Comic Sans so reviled? Kadavy points to several reasons having to do with typographical aesthetics, including awkward weight distribution ("weight" being the thickness of its lines) and poor letterfit (meaning that its letters don't, or can't, sit well next to each other). But the problem most of us notice is that "Comic Sans isn’t used as intended": A typeface meant only for speech bubbles in Microsoft Bob has somehow become one of the most popular in the world, appearing unsuitably in everything from Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert's open letter on the departure of LeBron James to CERN's announcement of evidence of the Higgs boson particle to, just last month, a letter from Donald Trump's lawyer's to the House Intelligence Committee.

Through it all, Connare himself — who has designed such relatively respectable typefaces as Trebuchet, and has famously only used Comic Sans once, in a complaint letter to his cable company — has kept his sense of humor, as evidenced by his talk entitled "Comic Sans Is the Best Font in the World." Even the Combs' movement has changed its name, if not without irony, into "Use Comic Sans." Pieces marking the font's 25th anniversary include "Hating Comic Sans Is Not a Personality" by The New York Times' Emma Goldberg and "In Bad Taste or Not, I’ll Keep My Comic Sans" by The Washington Post's Joseph Epstein (published, entirely and courageously, in Comic Sans). If you love the font, Connare often says, you don't know much about typography, but if you hate it, "you should get another hobby." Besides, the story of Comic Sans also contains an important life lesson: "You have to do things that aren't beautiful sometimes."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

A Collection of Vintage Fruit Crate Labels Offers a Voluptuous Vision of the Sunshine State

Ah, Florida… The Sunshine State.

Tourists began flocking to it in earnest once the railroads expanded in the late 19th century, drawn by visions of sunset beaches, graceful palms, and plump citrus fruit in a warm weather setting.

The fantasy gathered steam in the 1920s when citrus growers began affixing colorful labels to the fruit crates that shipped out over those same railroad lines, seeking to distinguish themselves from the competition with memorable visuals.

These labels offered lovers of grapefruit and oranges who were stuck in colder climes tantalizing glimpses of a dreamy land filled with Spanish Moss and graceful long-legged birds. Words like “golden” and “sunshine” sealed the deal.

(The reality of citrus picking, then and now, is one of hard labor, usually performed by underpaid, unskilled migrants.)

The State Library of Florida’s Florida Crate Label Collection has amassed more than 600 examples from the 1920s through the 1950s, many of which have been digitized and added to a searchable database.

While the majority of the labels peddle the sunshine state mythos, others pay homage to growers’ family members and pets.

Others like Killarney Luck, UmpireSherlock’s Delight, and Watson’s Dream built brand identity by playing on the grove’s name or location, though one does wonder about the models for the deliciously dour Kiss-Me label. Siblings, perhaps? Maybe the Kissimmee Citrus Growers Association disapproved of the PDA their name seems so ripe for.

Native Americans' prominent representation likely owed as much to the public’s fascination with Westerns as to the state’s tribal heritage, evident in the names of so many locations, like Umatilla and Immokalee, where citrus crops took root.

Meanwhile, MammyAunty, and Dixieland brands relied on a stereotypical representation of African-Americans that had a proven track record with consumers of pancakes and Cream of Wheat.

The vibrantly illustrated crate labels were put on hold during World War II, when the bulk of the citrus crop was earmarked for the military.

By the mid-50s, cardboard boxes on which company names and logos could be printed directly had become the industry standard, relegating crate labels to antique stores, swap meets, and flea markets.

Begin your exploration of the Florida Crate Label Collection here, browsing by imageplacecompany, or brand name.

Via Kottke

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 4 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Louise Jordan Miln’s “Wooings and Weddings in Many Climes (1900). Follow her @AyunHalliday.


The Politics & Philosophy of the Bauhaus Design Movement: A Short Introduction

This year marks the centennial of the Bauhaus, the German art-and-design school and movement whose influence now makes itself felt all over the world. The clean lines and clarity of function exhibited by Bauhaus buildings, imagery, and objects — the very definition of what we still describe as "modern" — appeal in a way that transcends not just time and space but culture and tradition, and that's just as the school's founder Walter Gropius intended. A forward-looking utopian internationalist, Gropius seized the moment in the Germany left ruined by the First World War to make his ideals clear in the Bauhaus Manifesto: "Together let us call for, devise, and create the construction of the future, comprising everything in one form," he writes: "architecture, sculpture and painting."

In about a dozen years, however, a group with very little time for the Bauhaus project would suddenly rise to prominence in Germany: the Nazi party. "Their right-wing ideology called for a return to traditional German values," says reporter Michael Tapp in the Quartz video above, "and their messaging carried a typeface: Fraktur." Put forth by the nazis as the "true" German font, Fraktur was "based on Gothic script that had been synonymous with the German national identity for 800 years." On the other end of the ideological spectrum, the Bauhaus created "a radical new kind of typography," which Museum of Modern Art curator Barry Bergdoll describes as "politically charged": "The Germans are probably the only users of the Roman alphabet who had given typescript a nationalist sense. To refuse it and redesign the alphabet completely in the opposite direction is to free it of these national associations."

The culture of the Bauhaus also provoked public discomfort: "Locals railed against the strange, androgynous students, their foreign masters, their surreal parties, and the house band that played jazz and Slavic folk music," writes Darran Anderson at Citylab. "Newspapers and right-wing political parties cynically tapped into the opposition and fueled it, intensifying its anti-Semitism and emphasizing that the school was a cosmopolitan threat to supposed national purity." Gropius, for his part, "worked tirelessly to keep the school alive," preventing students from attending protests and gathering up leaflets printed by fellow Bauhaus instructor Oskar Schlemmer calling the school a "rallying point for all those who, with faith in the future and willingness to storm the heavens, wish to build the cathedral of socialism." In their zeal to purge "degenerate art," the Nazis closed the Bauhaus' Dessau school in 1932 and its Berlin branch the following year.

Though some of his followers may have been firebrands, Gropius himself "was typically a moderating influence," writes Anderson, "preferring to achieve his socially conscious progressivism through design rather than politics; creating housing for workers and safe, clean workplaces filled with light and air (like the Fagus Factory) rather than agitating for them." He also openly declared the apolitical nature of the Bauhaus early on, but historians of the movement can still debate how apolitical it remained, during its lifetime as well as in its lasting effects. A 2009 MoMA exhibition even drew attention to the Bauhaus figures who worked with the Nazis, most notably the painter and architect Franz Ehrlich. But as Anderson puts it, "there are many Bauhaus tales," and together "they show not a simple Bauhaus-versus-the-Nazis dichotomy but rather how, to varying degrees of bravery and caprice, individuals try to survive in the face of tyranny."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How Magazine Pages Were Created Before Computers: A Veteran of the London Review of Books Demonstrates the Meticulous, Manual Process

The London Review of Books is celebrating its 40th anniversary, but somehow the magazine has always felt older than that: not like the product of a stuffier age, but of a more textually and intellectually lavish one than the late 1970s. Pick up an early issue and you'll see that, as much as it has evolved in the details, the basic project of the LRB remains the same: publishing essays of the highest quality on a variety of subjects literary, political, and otherwise, allowing their writers a length sufficient for proper engagement of both subject and reader, and — perhaps most admirably of all — refusing, in this age of internet media, to burden them with semi-relevant pictures and clickbait headlines.

"Much in those early numbers still looks fresh," writes Susannah Clapp, who worked at the LRB during its first thirteen years. "But the apparatus and surroundings that produced them seem antique. Typewriters. Letters covered in blotches of Tipp-Ex, for which the office name was 'eczema.' No screens; hand-drawn maps for layout; tins of Cow Gum." The cow gum was an essential tool of the trade for Bryony Dalefield, who since 1982 has worked "pretty near continuously" for the LRB as what's called a "paste-up artist." In the video above, she describes how her job — whose title remains "pleasingly still in the vocabulary in the digital age" — once involved "literally cutting up copy and pasting it onto a board so it could be sent to the printers and photographed for printing."

Dalefield doesn't just recount the process but performs it, summoning a presumably long-dormant but well-honed suite of skills to paste up a current page of the LRB just as she did it in the 80s. First she takes the text of an article, fresh from the print shop, and cuts it into columns with scissors. Then she spreads the Cow Gum, with its "strong petrol smell," to fix the columns to the board, fearing all the while that she'll stick them on out of order. Even in order, they usually require the addition or removal of words to fit just right on the page, and at the LRB, a publication to whose meticulous editing process each and every contributor can attest, another round of edits follows the first pasting. We then see why X-ACTO knives are called that, since using one to replace individual words and phrases on paper demands no small degree of exactitude.

With the wrong bits cut out and the right ones pasted in and held down with Magic Tape, the completed page is ready to be sent back to the printer. Pasting-up, which Dalefield frames as a marrying of the work of editors and typographers, will seem astonishingly labor-intensive to most anyone under the age of 50, few of whom even know how magazines and newspapers put together their pages before the advent of desktop publishing. But the very word "desktop," in the computer-interface sense, speaks to the metaphorical persistence of the old ways through what Dalefield calls the "falling out of trades" in the digital age. I myself have done a fair bit of "cutting," "copying," and "pasting" writing this very post — but I suppose I never did say, "Oh, that's very sticky" while doing so.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Talking Heads Songs Become Midcentury Pulp Novels, Magazines & Advertisements: “Burning Down the House,” “Once in a Lifetime,” and More

Do you like Talking Heads? Writer and visual artist Douglas Coupland once proposed that question as the truest test of whether you belong to the cohort named by his novel Generation X. Coupland's contemporary colleague in letters Jonathan Lethem summed up his own early Talking Heads mania thus: "At the peak, in 1980 or 1981, my identification was so complete that I might have wished to wear the album Fear of Music in place of my head so as to be more clearly seen by those around me." What makes the band that recorded "Psycho Killer," "This Must Be the Place," "Once In a Lifetime," and "Burning Down the House" so appealing to the bookish, and especially the both bookish and visual, born after the Baby Boom or otherwise?

Whatever the essence at work, screenwriter and "graphic-arts prankster" Todd Alcott taps into it with his latest round of popular songs-turned-midcentury book covers, posters, magazine covers, and other pieces of non-musical graphic design. You may remember Alcott's previous adaptations of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, and Radiohead appearing here on Open Culture.

The culturally literate and obliquely referential catalogue of Talking Heads, however, may have provided his most suitable material yet: "Burning Down the House" becomes a "a 1950s pulp novel," "Life During Wartime" a "1950s men's adventure magazine," "This Must Be the Place" an "advertisement for a 1950s suburban housing development," and "Take Me to the River" the "cover of a 1950s-era issue of Field & Stream, with the four members of the band enjoying a day on the lake."

Amusing even at first glance, these cultural mash-ups also repay knowledge of the band's work and history. "Psycho Killer," with its French lyrics, becomes an issue of Cahiers du Cinéma featuring David Byrne on a cover dated March 1974, "the earliest date the song 'Psycho Killer' is known to have been performed by David Byrne's band The Artistics." "Once in a Lifetime," quite possibly the band's most impressive piece of songcraft, becomes an equally layered Alcott image: a "a magazine advertisement for the 1962 classic The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, based on the best-seller by Sloan Wilson" — in other words, an ad designed for a magazine meant to sell a movie based on a book, and a book as tied up with the themes of alienation in postwar America as "Once in a Lifetime" itself.

Talking Heads fans will recognize in Alcott's graphics the very same kind of genius for resounding literal-mindedness coupled with subtle, sometimes obscure wit that characterizes the work of Byrne and his collaborators. You can buy prints of these images at his Etsy shop, which also offers many other works of interest to those for whom music, books, magazines, media, and history constitute not separate subjects but one vast, densely interconnected cultural field. To those who see the world that way, Alcott's designing the cover for an album by Byrne or another of the ex-Heads — or indeed a Jonathan Lethem novel — is only a matter of time. Enter Todd Alcott's store here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch 15 Films by Designers Charles & Ray Eames

If you’re reading this, chances are good that you live in the modern world, or at least visit it from time to time. But what do I mean by “modern”? It’s a too-broad term that always requires a definition. Sometimes, for brevity’s sake, we settle for listing the names of artists who brought modernity into being. When it comes to the truly modern in industrial design, we get two names in one—the husband and wife team of Charles and Ray Eames.

The design world, at least in the U.S., may have been slower to catch up to other modernist trends in the arts. That changed dramatically when several European artists like Walter Gropius immigrated to the country before, during and after World War II. But the American Eames left perhaps the most lasting impact of them all.

The first home they designed and built together in 1949 as part of the Case Study House Program became “a mecca for architects and designers from both near and far,” notes the Eames Office site. “Today it is considered one of the most important post-war residences anywhere in the world.” “Famous for their iconic chairs,” writes William Cook at the BBC, the streamlined objets that “transformed our idea of modern furniture,” they were also “graphic and textile designers, architects and filmmakers.”

The Eames’ film legacy may be less well-known than their revolutions in interior design. We’ve all seen or interacted with innumerable versions of Eames-inspired designs, whether we knew it or not. The pair stated their desire to make universally useful creations in their succinct mission statement: “We want to make the best for the most for the least.” They meant it. “What works good,” said Ray, “is better than what looks good because what works good lasts.”

When design “works good,” the Eames understood, it might be attractive, or purely functional, but it will always be accessible, unobtrusive, comfortable, and practical. We might notice its contours and wonder about its principles, but it works equally well, and maybe better, if we do not. The Eames films explain how one accomplishes such design. “Between 1950 and 1982,” the Eames “made over 125 short films ranging from 1-30 minutes in length,” notes the Eames Office site, declaring: “The Eames Films are the Eames Essays.”

If this statement has prepared you for dry, didactic short films filled with jargon, prepare to be surprised by the breadth and depth of the Eames' curiosity and vision. Here, we have compiled some of the Eames films, and you can see many, many more (15 in total) with the playlist embedded at the bottom of the post. At the top, see a brief introduction the designers’ films. Then, further down, we have the “brilliant tour of the universe” that is 1977’s Powers of Ten; 1957’s Day of the Dead, their exploration of the Mexican holiday; and 1961’s “Symmetry,” one of five shorts in a collection made for IBM called Mathematica Peep Shows.

Just above, see the Eames short House, made after five years of living in their famed Case Study House #8. The design on display here shows how the Eames “brought into the world a new kind of Californian indoor-outdoor Modernism,” as Colin Marshall wrote in a recent post here on famous architects’ homes. Their house is “a kind of Mondrian painting made into a livable box filled with an idiosyncratic arrangement of artifacts from all over the world.” Unlike most of the Eames designs, the Case Study house was never put into production, but in its elegant simplicity, we can see all of the creative impulses the Eames brought to their redesign of the modern world.

See many more of the Eames filmic essays in this YouTube playlist. There are 15 in total.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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