This post over at Smashing Mag makes the oft-heard argument that, well, Helvetica should go away…that it’s boring, tired, vapid and, in a new twist, not that legible.
I wrote this response, which pretty much sums up my feelings about Helvetica (spoiler: I kind of like it. No, I like it a lot.):
I don’t really understand the hyperbole and hand-wringing hysteria of your post.
Frutiger and Syntax make noise for themselves. They say, “Look at me!” They are visible and therefore easily dated. Their anachronistic characteristics, however much they may add to legibility, scream, “I’ve been designed. Woo hoo!” They are beautiful fonts, no doubt.
But Helvetica is sort of invisible. To say it’s illegible is silly; maybe it’s not as legible as the other typefaces you cite, but it’s a damn legible font compared to most of the typefaces out there. Helvetica’s lack of style, if you will, makes it timeless, much more so than most other typefaces.
You’re looking for a typeface to make its case, to have a voice, to look beautiful and get noticed. But for many of us, the content is what matters, and Helvetica lets those other design elements shine. If I want the viewer to notice the content, I don’t use a font that will distract them. If I want them to notice the type, then I might make one of your choices.
But let’s look at the graphic above. Can one seriously argue that Helvetica is that much less legible than Frutiger or Syntax? Is Helvetica really boring, or is it just letting the words do their thing?
I don’t disagree that Helvetica is everywhere, but that hardly makes it the McDonalds of typefaces. It just means it works. It’s useful. It communicates.
Is that really such a bad thing?
Let me know what you think on Twitter: @mmcwatters