The Most Common Element

It’s the most widely used font and the go-to weapon of a designer’s typography arsenal. You see it literally everywhere; although non-designers are likely oblivious to this. It is venerated by the design community for it’s modern clean lines and high readability. After 50 years of design dominance, I think it is also completely lazy, overused, and boring. Helvetica is both one of the best and one of the worst fonts. It’s merits are undeniable but it’s negative effects on creative design nearly outweigh the pluses.

I won’t go into all the arguements for it’s use. They are many and valid up to a point, especially if you’re a lazy designer. Using Helvetica is like buying a Civic: safe, reliable, and good; but unimaginative, unexciting, and far too ubiquitous. The percentage of designs I’ve seen over my career with Helvetica as the main typographical element is probably close to 80%. Far too much in my opinion.

Where is the creativity? Where is the craft, the careful selection of that perfect font that often occurs with the serifs? There are many, many incredible sans fonts available that do as good or better job as Helvetica and are likely far more appropriate to the design. Helvetica has become the me-too design element which is surprising in an industry that values uniqueness and original thought. It’s almost comical how generational waves of designers are indoctrinated in the cult following of this font. Almost comical, but actually sad.

Like it or not, Helvetica is a victim of it’s own popularity. It’s become the average, mediocre, nondescript, and so very blah. Don’t get me wrong, it does have it’s uses. The beauty of the creative industry is that it does produce some truly brilliant people who find ways to invigorate tired clichés into masterpieces. With Helvetica though, it’s become a monumental task to achieve.

No doubt there are legions of designers quaking with rage like Christian apologists over my blasphemy of the sacred font. However, I’m not advocating avoiding Helvetica altogether. Just want you to try and find another sans font that amazing design before giving up and going with that comfortable, worn, and tired blanket that is the most perfect of fonts, Helvetica.

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