Wednesday, 8 August 2007

A different 'type' of film

My family gave me my first introduction to the mysterious world of book creation. One of my mother's sisters was a freelance typographer, and she would carefully mark up galley proofs and layout sheets with instructions for compositors and editors. When I was a child - long before the personal computer arrived on the scene - the most amazing new tool at my aunt's desk was a box of Letraset lettering sheets. Using these new "dry-transfer" or "rub-down" letters (invented in 1959) she could easily show, as well as tell, the printers which font and type size she wanted. This was a technological leap forward for her, and made her life a lot easier.

I remember watching her at work in her attic studio, where she had sheets of all kinds of typeface samples, as well as more conventional printed books of type designs. In my mind's eye there is one, and only one, typeface that evokes that time. Then it was new and modern and exciting, but today it is so ubiquitous and commonplace that it is almost invisible.

That typeface is Helvetica, and to mark its 50th birthday, director Gary Hustwit has made a film about it. I'm planning to go and see it when it comes to the ICA in London in September.

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