8.16.2010

Futura I/Design/Typefaces/Function

What can I say? I love Futura.


If I were a graphic designer, I'd probably be regarded as a crappy one since Futura would be my first choice for most title text (you'd want to use something with serifs for printed body copy).

It's kind of a bummer that things don't really have a 'look' anymore. I was thinking about what products or machinery as an engineer I might have a shot at designing if I wanted--maybe something like kitchen refrigerators. The style I like is basically art deco but art deco refrigerators have already been done and I'm a few generations too late. Everything's made of plastic nowadays and it's incredibly shapeable and unconstraining and yet things don't look one way or another in particular.

With modern technology we've been able to completely focus on function. In regards to buildings, like city buildings for example which seem to have traditionally been proud landmarks, I couldn't imagine people being willing to spend or justifying more money than the minimum they have to spend just to make a nice unique building. Or perhaps it's that only things that cost a lot are worth putting aesthetic design into. Since functional devices and objects have become very cheap to make, from buildings to consumer goods, they're inexpensive and not worth putting design into--that is if a city hall or police station building or cell phone cost a ton of money and only came along once in a while we'd be sure to make it whatever it is look really nice.

I have a love-hate relationship with Helvetica (and its knockoff ugly step-child Arial which definitely falls in the hate side). Helvetica is definitely a typeface that's pure function; the characters convey absolutely no meaning or character other than "generic corporation font."

Helvetica to me is the slightly musty 80's smell in the Sears at the mall from my childhood memories that as far as I know still lingers there--I think it was the old commercial carpeting and the JCPenny had a similar chemical staleness. When used appropriately, it does look good but it's really been beaten to a pulp.

If Helvetica has no character, then maybe that makes it a perfect typeface from the designer's POV--as a vehicle for conveying language it's 100% efficient. When you see a company's logo, you don't see the letters or what the shapes of the letters make you think of, whether it's old timey dependability like a lawyer's office or modern like Futura or the familiar comfort of a book you learned to read with, you only see the word or whatever meaning they've tried to associate with the company.

What is the endgame of design? If I design a kitchen refrigerator well, does that mean it does literally nothing other than refrigerate efficiently? If I design a city well, does that mean it is not anything more than a background grid for people to get from one place to another? (Whoa, did sprawl just become reasonable all of a sudden?) If we're not careful we'll build ourselves functionfull but formless lives full of vanilla objects amongst generic buildings and placeless cities covered in unmemorable looking words. How would people who live in that feel about each other and living? Function is but the means to reach the end.