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Comments Posted 12.11.09 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Alexandra Lange

Where Have All the Type Geeks Gone?


Something has been bothering me about the Up In the Air ads. Not the cute teaser ads with little airplane, jaunty and retro, like the branding campaign JetBlue wishes it had, Alexander Girard’s Braniff extravaganza. The ones with George Clooney — nothing wrong with that, haircut looks good, better cast as a soulless man — and yet, they seemed to be lacking something.

It finally hit me when I saw one on top of a cab. In Queens, no less. The title, it’s in Helvetica. And it just looks wrong.

First I had to check with some of my lovely second-year SVA students just to make sure it was actually Helvetica, not one of the imitators. A false call would have been embarrassing and I am never sure of my descenders. One of them suggested it was type for another sort of transport, the dream signage of Massimo Vignelli for the New York City subways. But then again, Vignelli used it for American Airlines, still in use, still using (some) Helvetica. It is printed on a signboard in the ad, and it might have been cleverer to split the type down the middle as homage to those now-obsolesced flip-boards — or to digitize it like their replacements. It might also have been cleverer to make typographic reference to whichever airline it is that George has a million miles on. Or to real airport signage, which suggests but rarely uses real Helvetica.

To me, the type in the ad looks undercooked. I couldn’t believe one of the design blogs I read had not called this misuse to my attention before my cab epiphany. Has the film made piling on Helvetica passe? Has it been out so long it is in again (and it is always in the hearts of architects)?

I rely on you to tell me.

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Alexandra Lange is an architecture and design critic, and author of Writing about Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities. (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in The Architect's Newspaper, Architectural Record, Dwell, Metropolis, Print, New York Magazine and The New York Times.
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BOOKS BY Alexandra Lange

Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities
Princeton Architectural Press, 2012

Design Research
Chronicle Books, 2010

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