Intro to Typography – Helvetica

Today we will watch Gary Hustwit’s movie Helvetica, an independent film that explores not only the history and development of the Helvetica typeface, typography and graphic design in general, but also explores the dichotomy between the adherence to established principles of design and the desire to express one’s stylistic individuality and vision.


  • I can watch the movie Helvetica to learn about the history of typography and design, and express my thoughts on design in a brief reflection piece.

Vocabulary Words:

  • Typeface
  • Modernism
  • Post-Modernism
  • Rational
  • Humanistic


Helvetica Film Website:

Topics Discussed:

  • Modernism
  • Grid Design
  • Rational
  • Post-Modernism
  • Humanist


  1. Today and tomorrow, we will watch Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica, an outstanding independent film that documents the development of the typeface Helvetica as well as the history of graphic design as we know it today. We will watch the first half today, and the second half on Friday.
  2. Despite its original intent, Helvetica is a typeface that inspires strong opinions in graphic designers, both positive and negative. As you watch, notice how incredibly common the use of the typeface really is, and ask yourself how the sheer ubiquity of its presence makes you feel about Helvetica. Do you love it, do you hate it, or are you somewhere in between?
  3. Helvetica also explores the historical (and ongoing) struggle between the Rationalists who invented the principles of design that we studied earlier this year (and continue to use today) and championed the development and use of Helvetica, and the Post-Modernists who completely rebelled against these rules and sought to create type using anything except Helvetica. Which side do you prefer? Are you a structured rule-follower or a dynamic rule-breaker?
  4. Keep these ideas in mind as you watch, and we will write a brief reflection on Monday to explore these ideas further. Enjoy the show!

Posted: September 26th, 2019