Monday, February 22, 2010

Space: Sans-Serif

Tons of work to do today---this is a quick round-up of images and ideas sparked by my illustrator/design professor friend Tom mentioning that Star Trek design is like the typeface Helvetica, designed in 1957.
Its clean lines are sans-serif (without the serifs--the little tails on letters).

Here--I've changed my blog's font to Arial, a Microsoft clone of Helvetica.
(I'll change it back later, as I think it's hard to read lots of text without serifs.)

LEFT: Poster from the Helvetica NOW Poster Contest for the fiftieth anniversary of Helvetica type font, via Crust Station

In the documentary film Helvetica (2007, dir. Gary Hustwit), graphic designer Wim Crouwel said:
"Helvetica was a real step from the 19th century typeface...
We were impressed by that because it was more neutral, and neutralism was a word that we loved. It shouldn't have a meaning in itself. The meaning is in the content of the text and not in the typeface." [italics mine]
Uh-huh. Nothing humans do is neutral. Design has meaning.
Even moral meaning.

I love modern design!
But I am always wary of philosophies--whether political, religious, or aesthetic--that want to tidy up humans. Take a preference for stripped-down design to extremes, and you can even arrive at a kind of cultural eugenics.

An Austrian named Adolf said:
"The evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects.
--Austrian modern architect Adolf Loos, that is, from his 1908 booklet Ornament and Crime

"Loos [linked] the optimistic sense of the linear and upward progress of cultures with the contemporary vogue for applying evolution to cultural contexts."

Gotta add a little Shatner to muss up the tidy minded...
See the range of ST fonts here. "Horizon" is a typeface designed by Bitstream based on the original Star Trek font.

The Memory Alpha (ST wiki) entry on Star Trek Fonts notes that Helvetica Ultra Condensed is used for library computer displays in ST: TNG (The Next Generation).
But here, left, Gary Mitchell's ESP profile from the TOS pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before" is mostly in old typewriter font... (with underlinings in pen---how quaint!).

From the very cool entry with screencaps of Images Seen on the Original USS Enterprise Library Computer.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm...are all Austrians named Adolph obsessed with marching? i thought the designer was gonna be Adolph H. What font is a swastika in? That was not a well-constructed sentence, was it? Oy, gevalt!
I am attracted to using Helvetica or Arial whenever I do design political action info posters. And, y'know, I was born in 1957...Always thought certain Minnesotan and other more "universal" pervasive western cultural influences might've drawn me to these. Doesn't Helvetica sound as if it's derived from the name of a Scandinavian goddess or heroine.. or at least from a Wagnerian work? And, Arial sounds Shakespearean or Greek... or transistor technology-generation-ish. (Just how "universal" is space age design!?!) Thanks, Fresca, for one of your comments in a previous post about how we Pisceans are in our element existing on/in miultiple planes. Helped me get in touch with my fluid spiritual roots and laugh and celebrate my essential nonlinear-reality. And, today, ya got me thinkin' about meaning again, about stuff I wouldn't necessarily be particularly focused on, but,am aware of being pretty picky about--FONTS! will have to meet up with you again for a longer query and discussion session on this topic.

Happy working and Swimming!


ArtSparker said...

I "go" more for Gill Sans (always omitting its designers extremely unpleasant personality).

Anonymous said...

As long as it's "Gill Sans" and not "sans gills", it sounded as if it would appeal to my Piscean sensibilities. Just googled it and lo and behold it did. Now, I'm just curious about who this Eric Gill was and how ArtSparker seems to have inside info as to some objectionable facet of his personality. Wikipedia stuff, of course was pretty bland. Hope it's okay etiquette to riff on ArtSparker's remark here. I have GOT to have some lunch; this blog puts me in altered state!


Fresca said...

Did you read the Wikipedia entry on Eric Gill?

From the entry:
"His personal diaries describe his sexual activity in great detail including the fact that Gill sexually abused his own children, had an incestuous relationship with his sister and performed sexual acts on his dog. "

The sister, one hopes, was consensual, and who knows about the dog, but I do think sexual abuse of his own children (or anyone else's) counts as beyond bland, as I'm sure you agree.

Cool designer, though.
There's that old weird discomfort of admiring the art of someone one does not admire personally.

Thank goodness William Shatner only hit on grown ladies, who, one assumes, were perfectly willing... : )

femminismo said...

I got a new "free" font from Adobe, Hypatia sans, for registering my updated Adobe Reader. I can't wait to try it out. It's a little different, so might be some fun. I do love fonts with serifs, however, with all their squiggles, leaps and swirls.

Rick said...

I'm not really fussy about fonts as long as I can read them. For a long time (before I realized I needed reading glasses) I preferred big, blocky fonts. These days Century is my default for writing documents (I don't/can't do design). Now that I think of it, I don't know what font my blog is in...

I recognized just about every one of the Trek fonts, but am not nearly geeky enough to know them by name! In fact, if you gave me flash cards with various famous fonts I doubt I could name any of them, including Century! Well, OK, Comic Sans is pretty easy to spot...

Fresca said...

FMSMO: I used to do some calligraphy (pen and ink), but I haven't even tried to play with online type--maybe now I will!

RICK: I was surprised that I recognized many of the ST fonts too, since I'd never paid conscious attention to them.
Funny what our subconsciouses are getting up to without telling us. : )

bink said...

The idea of design being neutral reminds me of the (Italian?) architect who was so instrumental in creating the shape of (western world) public housing in the 60's. You know--the big bland public housing units that are so dreadfully devoid of personality--and only used to warehouse the poor, because no one else would live in such drab, concrete environments willingly.

What always killed me was that this guy (sorry I can't remember his name) wanted to build for the mythic "every man"--and then proceeded to use himself for a measure of all dimensions like door heights, counter tops, etc.

He gave new meaning to the phrase "man is the measure of all things"!

Fresca said...

BINK: Heh, yeah--design may be "neutral," but humans aren't!

I want to look more into the livability of design--I gather F. L. Wright's houses weren't always human-friendly either?
Save us from people who want to "perfect" us--that's very different from imagining we can create a better world, perfection being an end,
imagining being an ongoing act.

bink said...

Wright's houses are very unlivable mostly because of what he did with the furnishings he designed to go in them. Like hard straight-backed chair bolted in place! God-forbid you'd like to move your chair closer to the table, or into a sunbeam, or just across the room for a change! He truly wanted to play little god with his buildings as temples and the dwellers in them mere subjects to bow to his designs and his whims.

Anonymous said...

Ouch! Fresca, I did read-- (Okay, I admit, hurriedly skimmed)-- the Wikipedia stuff on Gill. I must've just been focused on finding out about the font, cuz I certainly would've been distressed by his personality issues, had I read about them. I must've been still too traumatized by thoughts on marching fonts and swastikas to assimilate this painful information. I thought maybe ArtSparker had meant the guy was extremely grouchy, but I see it was other or more than that. I'll take this experience as a warning to take more time and read more carefully. Thanks for the reminder.

Eyes wide open,


Fresca said...

BINK: Thanks for that info, which rings a bell. I don't know that I want to know more about Wright, as what i do know makes me thing I won't like him, and I think loving his art should be sufficient.

STEF: Good question about the swastika---someone else suggested looking at fascist design--the design of power...
But off the top of my head, anyway, it seems the antithesis of Star Trek.
Clean-lined, yeah, but I think of fascist art as very heavy, full of gravitas (weighted down with self importance), with none of the whimsical "we might take off into space" charms of the Guggenheim.

I must think more on these things...

Fresca said...

STEF: Re Nazi typefaces, I found this, from typophile,


A style of blackletter type popularized in the 20th century that split the distance between the heavy industrial grotesques popular in the West (such as Akzidenz Grotesk) and the blackletter types predominant in the Teutonic world.

"Hitler, who had a preference for classic Roman imperial inscriptional letters, was one of the chief exponents of this style of type, which became explicitly identified with Nazi ideas of German nationalism.

"The names of the typefaces -- Deutschland, National, Tannenberg -- reveal this connection. Schaftstiefelgrotesks bear the same relationship to traditional German blackletters that grotesque sans serif types do to traditional serifed Latin type:
they are simplified, weighted versions of the forms, sturdier and less refined.

"The name, given to the style by typesetters, is ironic. Of all the types sullied by association with the Nazis, they are the most problematic."

Kellie said...

I'm late to the party here, but Typophile pointed me at the Helvetica documentary:

Couldn't resist!

Fresca said...

Hi, Kellie!

Thanks---it's on my Netflix queue.

Jennifer said...

The Helvetica documentary is amazing stuff, Fresca! I found there to be moments where I just had to goggle at how seriously people take these things, but most of the time I was enchanted with seeing people so passionate about design and the way it shapes our perceptions. I ended up very ambivalent about Helvetica--they found very articulate and wonderful people to speak passionately both for and against it. And I think a lot of what they said works well with Star Trek too! It's clean and bright and, it's sterile and corporate...

Oddly enough, I just watched (for the first time! I had read the novelized versions but never seen it) "The Way to Eden" last night, and was struck by Spock's statement of people not liking the "programmed, automated, sterile life" of the Federation. He seems to empathize (more than the bemused Kirk does) with the dream of the "space hippies" for a less mechanized life; I don't think I've ever seen a character so clearly express dissatisfaction with the clean future of Star Trek. In general I think it's presented as a great thing (in general I agree with that!) so it struck me particularly...

Fresca said...

JEN: "clean and bright and, it's sterile and corporate..."

That's perfect--it really catches the dichotomy, doesn't it?

I'm really looking forward to watching the doc on Helvetica,
and one of these days I will screw up my courage and watch "The Way to Eden" again too.
(I dread the feeling of being embarrassed for my friends on the Enterprise, as they are exposed as hopeless squares, except, interestingly as you remind me, for Spock. But the faux hippies are embarrassing too--oh, just all round squeamishness-making...)