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Tuesday, January 6 at 11 p.m. Independent Lens: Helvetica

(Rochester, NY) The typeface Helvetica is ubiquitous, spelling out everything from IRS tax forms to the corporate logos of Target, Crate & Barrel and Fendi. In Helvetica, first-time director Gary Hustwit explores urban spaces and the typefaces that inhabit them, and speaks with historians and designers about the choices and aesthetics behind the use of fonts. Independent Lens: Helvetica airs Tuesday, January 6 at 11 p.m. on WXXI-TV 21 (cable 11) and WXXI-HD (cable 1011 and DT 21.1).

Born in 1957 of Swiss origin, Helvetica was a typeface for the modern age. Sleek, streamlined and simple, it became the font that launched a thousand corporate logos—from Minneapolis to Melbourne to Munich. As neutral as the country of its birth, Helvetica was capable of being invested with the aspirations of millions of consumer products, a typeface whose meaning was created in the eye of the beholder.

From the New York City subways to the vacation getaway ads in your morning newspaper to the Push and Pull signs on your office door, the Helvetica typeface has made a sans-serif assault on the world since its creation in 1957. How did a typeface drawn by a little-known Swiss designer become one of the most popular ways for us to communicate our words more than 50 years later? And what are the repercussions of that popularity? Has it resulted in the globalization of our visual culture? How do we interact with type on a daily basis? And what about the effects of technology on type and graphic design and the ways we consume it? Most of us use computers and digital fonts every day, so are we all graphic designers now, in a sense?

Hustwit set out to answer these questions and to look at the past 50 years of graphic design in order to make people who aren’t in the design trade think about the words that surround them and the effect that typefaces have on the way we process those words. At the same time, he created a fluid discussion with renowned designers about their work, the creative process, and the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type.

Helvetica encompasses the worlds of design, advertising, psychology and communication and invites us to take a second look at the thousands of words we see every day. The film was shot in high-definition on location in the United States, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, France and Belgium.

For more information, visit http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/helvetica.

Pictured: A scene shot at Manfred Schulz’ letterpress in Frankfurt.
Photo Credit: Swiss Dots/ITVS

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