Remembering The Man Who Brought Helvetica To The Masses

Police-Helvetica

In this week’s Economist, a remembrance of “font-god” Mike Parker, the typographer who developed more than 1000 fonts in his 50+ year career. Parker, who died last month at age 84, was a champion of great type: never drawing fonts himself, but rather coaxing others into perfection. His faculty for shape, space, and fine gauge of cultural currents changed the industry, and much more, when Parker brought Helvetica to the masses:

…In contrast to the delicate exuberance of 16th-century types, Helvetica was plain, rigidly horizontal – and eminently readable. It became, in Mr. Parker’s hands, the public typeface of the modern world: of the New York Subway, of federal income-tax forms, of the logos of McDonald’s, Microsoft, Apple, Lufthansa and countless others. It was also, for its clarity, the default type of Macs, and so leapt smoothly into the desktop age.

Not everyone liked it. He did not always like it himself; as he roared around Brooklyn or Boston, opera pumping out at full volume from his car, he would constantly spot Helvetica being abused in some way, with rounded terminals or bad spacing, on shopfronts or the sides of trucks. But far from seeing Helvetica as neutral, vanilla, or nondescript, he loved it for the relationship between figure and ground, its firmness, its existence in “a powerful matrix of surrounding space.” Type gave flavour to words: and this was a typeface that gave people confidence in swiftly changing times.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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