Helvektur – A hybrid made font, investigated through subtle guerrilla art
Throughout history and in today’s society, typography has been and still is without doubt a great part of communication. Behrens, an important designer from the modernist movement, believed that after architecture, typography provided “…the most characteristic picture of a period” and “…development of people”. Typography carries meaning and associations, built on the contexts and the design it is used in, that finally creates a typographic image.
The Blackletter style Fraktur, and Helvetica were born to serve a purpose connected to power. Important for this research is to understand in detail, the origin of that power and its position: Blackletter portrays features of the Gothic architecture, expressing religious emotions and civic pride, intended for effective writing, and was predominant in religious and educational contexts. This improvement of writing was a necessity for the development of the society during the medieval times; for both educational and financial reasons.
As Fraktur became a symbol of Germany, the today’s connotations towards oppression and Nazism were inevitable as the Third Reich continued to use it until it was banned in 1941. Meanwhile, the post war modernism in the 20th Century, sought objectivity, simplicity and readability in their design, to erase any carried meaning or associations that could have a misleading effect on the information. This period of time paved way for a corporate culture, with approaches towards rationalist and functionalist methods, that expresses authority and reliability. Achieving brand recognition for a wide range of products and contexts was required by the graphic designers.
The sheer use of typography in a public environment exercise one’s position of power, by influencing the viewers’ interpretation of information.
Through workshops that document people’s associations and comments on the shapes and typographic images that both Helvetica and Fraktur create, and visual research made in forms of sketching and adding Fraktur features to signs of institutions and public sectors, I have investigated Fraktur’s tainted image of oppression and political sentiments with the help of Helvetica as the contemporary norm.
From studying Fraktur and Helvetica, I can establish that their relation to power is relevant in their use in a contemporary context in typographic communication. Fraktur’s power is louder than Helvetica, though the subtle features and disguise of any carried meaning of the grotesque sans-serif should not mislead you. The most discrete fonts could be the tip of an ice berg. Fraktur’s expressive characteristic makes it a challenge to break free from its tainted image, but with the help of Helvetica it seems possible for them to coexist in a contemporary context.