Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica subtly did more than examine the ubiquitous font. Most of us would like to be designers in the same way we’d like to be athletes or musicians and we’re interested in those who do it well. Hustwit tapped into that need and let several prominent figures from that world have free rein to discuss what they see and how they see it. Elegant Paula Scher and twitchy Erik Spiekermann come off well, others sound like prats best avoided.
Scher has looked at information design and presentation with the artist’s eye, quite different from, say, an Edward Tufte. Her perspective, driven by artistic and marketing concerns, are at once intriguing and disturbing. She stretches and distorts to make larger points such as claiming that Helvetica was the font of the Vietnam and Iraq wars. It’s not a literal accusation, only that it is the kind of calming gloss that corporations and governments use to disguise their little murders. But, she also cops to fabricating the data she’s (re)presenting to make her point. I admire a lot of her work; it is bold, brash, and political. I don’t know whether I would enjoy living, working, or studying in something so shouty. Nevertheless, I’ve got my autosearches configured to let me know if she’s ever speaking within a couple of hours of LA.
Several of her other lectures are on the web and worth a look. Scher sounds like the canonical good seatmate on a long flight. I doubt she travels coach, though.
Hustwit’s films Helvetica, Objectified, and Urbanized. are available for affordable digital download from his website, $5.99/ea.