How often should one redesign one’s website? The cookie-cutter answer is around 24 months, and in my experience, it is about right. My web design clock has been ticking for a while, and I have started to ask myself the usual questions: what kind of impression should the website leave? Shall I use warm or cool colors? A triad of colors? A tetrad of colors? etc. Finally, the key question comes up: serif or sans-serif?
Of course, one could talk about the legibility of a serif or a sans serif font (or maybe the readability?). Studies have been carried out with no real result: there is no difference. So where lies the difference? Is it purely aesthetic?
Now, let me ask you: what do Microsoft, Crate and Barel and Tupperware have in common?
Yes. The same font (or technically the typeface). I won’t tell you the whole story since Gary Hustwit made a great feature documentary about it:
Awesome movie, great music by El Ten Eleven, lots of interviews and the strong impression that Helvetica, and its ubiquity, has the incredible power to transform our lame everyday lives into something… cool. Ouch. The C word.
This typeface has had, since its creation in 1957 by Swiss designer Max Miedinger (with Eduard Hoffmann), an incredible success (really incredible), but I can’t help to think that it is now just a gimmick that everybody uses to inspire “cool” (like one inspires awe) to their audience. The signal is immediate, and even if some do it better than others (Stéphane Massa-Bidal aka RetroFuturs—thanks @iconomaque), won’t Helvetica turn out to be cliché sooner than we expect? In this (irritating) video, Kirby Ferguson exposes the Trajan typeface, and its use in movie posters designs:
Notice the tone, and the typeface used for the credits of the video… yes, Helvetica. Q.E.D.
So how can one choose a set of signs to convey one’s values without falling into an unnecessary hype? Go serif? Script?
Do you really pay that much attention to the font you use to communicate? Feel free to comment on this, or find me at @tonalfreak.