Which way to the Helvetica? - Fifth Letter
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Which way to the Helvetica?

I recently had the pleasure of traveling to some countries in western Europe for a couple of weeks. One of the countries my family stayed in was Switzerland. Needless to say, being a designer I had some expectations for my stay: lots of red and white, tilted grids, and copious amounts of Helvetica, the typeface developed in and named after the Latin name of the country itself, Helvetia.


I did find lots of red and white. Swiss crosses everywhere. Lots of knives, postcards, and flags. Hats. Given our company’s color palette, I thought it was great.


I also found lots of grids. Train timetables. Maps. Beautifully designed and printed money.


Fun postage stamps.


Not many grids that were tilted, at least not in the style of Josef Müller Brockmann.


But one thing I was surprised I didn’t see more of was Helvetica. Where was it? Not on building signs or store facades (all over the place, as you can imagine). Not on road signs either (Frutiger). So I started to hunt. Turns out I would be doing some work while on vacation. After all, this was the typeface so famous they made a movie about it.


One of the unexpected delights in the cities of Lausanne and Geneva was all of the street posters that I was surrounded by. Cantilevered, tilted, and distorted type. Translucent overlapping characters. Hand lettering. Sliced images. I loved it.


Keeping my eyes peeled, I did find Helvetica living comfortably in the train stations as a cornerstone of the SBB (Swiss Federal Railways) signage system. Finally.


The lesson learned is that often the hunt is more fun than finally cornering the quarry. It certainly was for me. Have a look at some of the posters below. (You’ll even find some Helvetica.)


Elliot is the Ringleader of Fifth Letter. When he’s not traveling around the world, Elliot and his team enjoy making posters of all sizes for clients of all sizes.