An excerpt from the documentary, Helvetica by Gary Hustwit. This quote is better heard than read; I enjoyed this segment so much though that I had to keep a permanent record for myself. Michael’s monologue begins 25 mins in:
“I imagine there was a time when it just felt so good to take something that was old and dusty and homemade and crappy looking and replace it with Helvetica. It just must have felt like you were scraping the crud off of filthy old things and kind of restoring them to shining beauty. And in fact, corporate identity in the 60s, that’s what it sort of consisted of. Ya know. Clients would come in and they’d have piles of goofy old brochures from the 50s that have shapes on them, and goofy bad photographs. They’d have some letterhead that would say ‘Amalgamated Widget’ on the top in some goofy, maybe a script typeface. Above ‘Amalgamated Widget’ it would have an engraving showing their headquarters in Paducah, Iowa with smoke stacks belching smoke. And then you’d go to a corporate identity consultant, circa 1965/1966, and they would take that and lay it here and say, ‘Here’s your current stationary and all it implies, and this is what we’re proposing’. And next to that, next to the belching smoke stack and the nuptial script and the ivory paper, they’d have a crisp bright white piece of paper, and instead of ‘Amalgamated Widget: Founded [in] 1857’, it just would say ‘Widgco’ in Helvetica Medium. Can you imagine how gracing and thrilling that was. That must have felt like you just crawled through a desert with your mouth just caked with filthy dust and then someone’s offering you a clear refreshing distilled icy glass of water to kind of clear away all of this horrible burden of history. It must have been just fantastic! And you know it must have been fantastic because it was done over and over and over again.
So, this is what I’m talking about. This is Life Magazine 1953. One ad after another in here just kind of shows every single visual bad habit that was endemic in those days. You’ve got zany hand lettering everywhere. Swatch typography to signify elegance. Exclamation points, exclamation points, exclamation points! Cursive wedding invitation typography down here reading, ‘Almost everyone appreciates the best…’ This was everywhere in the 50s. This is how everything looked in the 50s. You cut to… this is after Helvetica was in full swing, same product. No people. No smiling fakery. Just a beautiful, big glass of ice-cold coke. The slogan underneath: ‘It’s the real thing. (Period). Coke. (Period).’ In Helvetica. Period. Any questions? Of course not. Drink Coke. Period. Simple.” (Michael Bierut, Graphic Designer)