Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Helvetica, Happy Birthday to you!

Yep, Helvetica is 52 years old. I thought I'd take a minute and salute this wonderful font. In the mid to late 60s it was the "establishment" font. It seemed that every annual report was designed in Helvetica and a lot of designers that would consider themselves as "counter culture" stayed clear of Helvetica like the plague.

But what does Helvetica have to do with being a successful freelancer?

Well, a little typography lesson is in order. We have basically 4 types of fonts.

1- Sans Serif. You know, fonts WITHOUT the little points coming out at all ends.
2- Serif. Serif fonts have those points coming out at the ends.
3- Hand draw fonts. These are fonts that look like your grandma or a cartoonist drew them.
4- Display fonts. Display fonts can be serif or sans serif or look hand drawn. But what makes them "display fonts" is that they have a special look to them and are usually used in just the headline. You've seen them, like during Halloween, the font might look scary with teeth.

So, getting back to fonts and being a successful freelancer.

The font you choose is important in communicating your idea. It's one of your weapons.

Some times you need to choose a font that is clean and to the point. HELVETICA!

Yea, it's strong. So strong we see it everywhere. Now you might say that because of that, it's lost it's power. Nope. It's timeless. Take AmericanAirlines... their logo is in Helvetica and when all the other airlines have changed their logo to keep up with the times, AmericanAirlines hasn't. Their logo is as fresh and timeless now as when it was designed in the 60s!

But when it comes to readability, have you noticed that newspapers and many books DO NOT use Helvetica. They use a SERIF font like Garamond or Times. The reason for this is that for large stretches of text, it's easier to read a serif font.

Bottom line: to be a successful freelancer, use the right tool for the right job. Typography is like cooking. You add a little of this a little of that and you create something delicious. Give me 3 fonts and I can communicate anything! Helvetica is the first font I would choose. Garamond is the second. The third might be Optima. It's what a font would look like if Helvetica and Garamond had a baby!

One more thing folks... watch your kerning! If you don't know what kerning is, learn it. You can't be a great designer without a knowledge of kerning.

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