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Film Review: Helvetica

There is perhaps a no more polarizing typeface than Helvetica. If you read the previous sentence and have no idea what I’m talking about it’s definitely worth a trip to see this documentary from (first time) director Gary Hustwit. Helvetica is the most widely seen typeface in the world. Designed in the mid 1950’s, it’s become a default font on every computer in the world and used accordingly.

People interested in graphic design or typography will love the film for the interviews with some of the titans of design, from Erik Spiekermann, Matthew Carter, Massimo Vignelli and Stefan Stagmeister. They provide good insight into their love/disdain for Helvetica and also commentary on the design field in general.

So what’s the problem with Helvetica? The main issue is that its ubiquity has stripped away most of its impact. Having been seen in such disparate places as run-down parking garages to the subways signs of major metropolises, Helvetica has reached a point where it’s basically coded into the brain of every person in the developed world. Everyone sees Helvetica, often several times a day.

I was interested in the film’s coverage of the so-called “Grunge type” era, emulated by David Carson (who is perhaps as polarizing as Helvetica). This period was a direct reaction to the standard of Helvetica and also was a time when hundreds and thousands of new typefaces were being created.

The film ended with an interview designer/writer/publisher Lars Muller, who noted that because of the new social media (he specifically refers to MySpace) everyone is able to customize the typefaces around them. This indicates that the Helveticas of the world will always be there and depended upon. But an individual’s need for self expression is also equally needed and will continued to be explored.

posted by Bryan Keplesky

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posted by Bryan Keplesky

Good Cards

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This little promotion from Good Magazine caught my eye: Mogul Trading cards. The magazine is a hip take on society, politics and culture and the cards feature different moguls with baseball-like stats on the back. What surprised me even more is that the rocker friends I was with put down their tall cans to start trading these. The cards are hip, ironic and fleeting. Obviously no one will keep them, but they did make me want to check out Good.

posted by Bryan Keplesky

Film Review: Confessions of a Superhero

Continuing my fascination with all things avatar, comes Confessions of a Superhero. I bring up the avatar because, even though this is a documentary about real people, the idea of choosing to live behind a mask is the theme of this movie. The film follows the lives of four different “superheros” (Superman, Batman, The Hulk, and Wonder Woman), who are actually out-of-work actors dressed in costumes who walk Hollywood Boulevard offering themselves for photographs.

Their reasons for taking up this occupation (the honorary mayor of Hollywood, Johnny Grant, calls them “panhandlers”) is rooted in wanting to become famous movie stars. But between the different superheros there are varying degrees of deep psychological connection to the characters they emulate.

The person most connected to his superhero character is Superman, Christopher Dennis. He lives and breaths Superman. The scenes in his apartment show tens of thousands of dollars in Superman merchandise. He also looks (and he knows this) eerily similar to Christopher Reeve. Throughout the film he comes across as obsessed, yet sympathetic. It is obvious that there have been very troubling times in his life, and his fascination with Superman is actually a more recent event, as opposed to being obsessed with Superman as a kid. He’s the main character and heart of the film.

The three other people are equally compelling. Maxwell Allen, who is Batman, is charming and genuine on the surface yet masks very deep anger and aggression. He likes to position himself as a vigilante (his stories of being hired muscle for the mob and other tales might be exaggerated) is perfectly in line with the qualities of Batman.

Jo McQueen, who is Hulk, was the audience favorite. Smaller in stature, quiet, and homeless for 4 years, in some ways McQueen inversely portrays the muscle and power of the Hulk.

Finally, there is Jennifer Gehrt as Wonder Woman. To me, she is somewhat of the antithesis to Wonder Woman. Jennifer is more reactive to situations than proactive, she married young and admits that she needs a lot of attention. She is a deeply feeling, emotional person. I don’t know if I’d characterize her as strong though. To her, Wonder Woman is just a way to get by during hard times.

I loved this film, not only because of the compelling characters and beautiful cinematography, but I think there are universal truths to be found in the film. Everyone, in some fashion, believes themselves to be bigger than they really are. They do this by projecting a certain image out to the world. The irony is that the projected image is just a mask and, in fact, sometimes the least interesting part of a person.

posted by Bryan Keplesky

The Imago Effect: Avatar Psychology

I am becoming more and more interested in avatars, the online, graphical representations users create as their identity. The avatar can be as simple as finding a photo of your favorite movie character or, in massive online games that implements a character creation system, a fully fleshed out character. No matter which end of the spectrum a user is on, one thing holds true: people love self-expression.

Game designer and panelist Harvey Smith of Midway put together a thoughtful presentation. He said that the avatar phenomenon is part of the larger modern trend of participatory culture. There is a greater desire (and, thanks to the web, outlet) for self-expression and asserting one’s will, views and identity.

Despite this, an avatar is still a mask and only so much information can be gleaned from them. The reasons people choose their particular avatar is a combination of an individual’s self perception and state of mood. Images across the web are appropriated with personal meaning. The state of mood is important, because it always changes, and so can the avatar. The avatar is the pulse-check into a person’s state of mind, and as more and more people sign on to instant messengers, social networking sites, forums, blogs and massive online games, the use of the avatar will only continue to increase.

posted by Bryan Keplesky 

Shootin’ Marbles on the Eastside

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Homegrown Austin production company Beef & Pie premiered Life Is Marbleous! tonight at Red’s Scoot Inn and Bier Garden. The Marble Lady, Cathy Runyan-Svacina, was on hand to lend pointers as snap-buttoned patrons marbled their way through a hard-fought tournament. Haven’t heard of shooting marbles? Okay, neither had I. It’s of an era gone by. And that’s what makes this documentary so unique. Beef & Pie opens our eyes to a simpler world where marbles are collected, bought, sold, shot and all around adored.

Music by honky tonk purist Dale Watson.

Posted by Prentice Howe

Why Web Typography Sucks

Typographers get a bad rap. No one (except other typographers) understand them. Typography in the print world has precedent and history to back it up, with everything from the Chicago Manual of Style and Robert Bringhurst’s formative treatise The Elements of Typographic Style. But the established typographic rules can get muddled up with html coding and browser defaults on the web and end up looking less sophisticated.

Granted, most people don’t know the difference between a dash, en dash, and em dash. But a designer should, and should not let browser defaults take care of the details of type design.

The panelists provided a few websites that are a good resource for designers who work with type on the web:

Webtypography.net

A List Apart

SimpleBits

posted by Bryan Keplesky


What’s Behind the Door?

SXSW is an Austin event. And Door Number 3 is an Austin advertising agency. We're interested in how new ideas in advertising, media and branding will be presented during these 9 quick days. From inside the lecture halls where top specialists present their thoughts, to out on the streets where advertising is put to the test on tens of thousands of festival-goers. We'll be there with the complete coverage, reports, photos, editorials, and perhaps some tricks on how to sneak into a few sweet afterparties.

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