Helvetica Cookies


cookiecuttersThe first official Canadian Friend of IBD Joan Lawrence knows us well. She clearly knows that we enjoy unique expressions of typography, especially three-dimensional type, and that we’re suckers for the typeface Helvetica. She also knows that we enjoy eating.

Joan sent us this link to a site featuring cookie cutters based on Helvetica, created by graphic designer and food-lover Beverly Hsu:


Needless to say, I must have these.

In the never-ending debate about the typeface, we have always leaned a little more towards “Helvetica is the ultimate achievement of typographic design” rather than “Helvetica is a corporate shill, emblematic of The Man holding us down.” But even the most vehement anti-Helvetica voices out there would have to soften at the smell of those fresh-baked sans serifs just out of the oven.

The beauty of this project is that Helvetica is the last typeface you’d associate with cookies. How many people on their way into the New York subway system look at the signage and think, “I sure am hungry for something sweet”? Sure, Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann might have been striving to create the perfect neutral typeface in 1957, but cover those uniform stroke widths and unadorned letterforms with pink frosting and rainbow jimmies, and you have performed the ultimate act of recontextualizing.

I realized (perhaps too late) that my interest in food shaped like specific typefaces is not normal. I showed the Helvetica cookie cutters to Friend of IBD Howard Aprill, who, like some people we know, talks about typography in his free time (Howard once started a conversation with me by asking, “So what do you have against Comic Sans?”). Instead, Howard, who is one of the top three nicest people on the planet and has never said an unkind word about anyone, doubled over in laughter for several minutes before catching his breath and saying, “Boy, you are a nerd.”

Related to the theme of design and food, Friend of IBD Kelly Farrell sent us a link to a story on NPR called “Rectangles Vs. Triangles: The Great Sandwich Debate.” We write in the book Interpretation By Design that odd numbers of columns in a composition are more pleasing visually than even numbers. This statement from the NPR article relates to that idea:

The number 3 has always been more popular than 4, says [emeritus professor of mathematics at Vermont Technical College Paul] Calter, who writes about the intersection of math, art, and culture. Three is mother, father, and child, he says. Three is the beginning, middle and end. Three is birth, life and death. Without three, there could not be a best — only a good and a better.

As soon as I get my Helvetica cookie cutters, I’ll have to find a way to cut those fresh-baked letterforms into triangles.

The Great Space Debate: To Single- or Double-Space After a Period

A while back, I declared my allegiance to the serial comma, and I am ready to take another stand.

I believe that double-spacing after a period at the end of a sentence is outdated, clunky, and typographically unsound. (While I’m at it, I also believe that college football’s postseason format is fraudulent, the designated hitter rule is silly, Conan O’Brien was treated unfairly, and Arrested Development was taken off the air way too soon.)

This is not exactly a cutting-edge opinion, but there are still plenty of people out there using the antiquated post-period double space. This is fine if you’re writing e-mails or crafting ransom notes from magazine clippings, but if you’re creating professional-quality printed materials, the single space is the way to go.

monospace-1The double space after periods was a standard in the days of typewriters, which used monospaced typefaces in which each letter or grammatical mark, whether a capital M or an apostrophe, is given the same amount of space. The typeface Courier, pictured here with ugly, gaping double-space holes after the periods, mimics a typewriter and is an example of a monospaced typeface. (Note the way the characters line up in columns, delineated here with pinstripes, because of the monospacing.) The thinking at the time was that the double space helped provide a visual break between sentences, but when the computer came along and allowed for more subtle variations in spacing, the double space became obsolete.

proportional-1Since the advent of the computer, most typefaces are proportional, allotting the appropriate amount of space for each typographic character, including spaces after periods. See the typeface Minion, set with elegant, contemporary single spaces, in the example here.

These days, most style guides, including The Chicago Manual of Style and Associated Press, call for the single space. Another proponent of the single space is Robin Williams (the not-funny female graphic designer and author, not the not-funny male actor), who has written several books on technology and graphic design, such as The Mac is Not a Typewriter, The PC is Not a Typewriter, and The Non-Designer’s Design Book.

You’ll notice that nearly all professionally designed printed materials (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.) utilize the single space. The double space after a period looks especially silly if you are using justified type, which already skews word- and letterspacing to force lines of text into a certain amount of space.

The proponents of two spaces after a period seem to harp on the same point: I was taught that way. Many are trying to stop but can’t. Others refuse to hear reason, desperately clinging to their Sholes & Glidden typewriter in one hand, waving the jagged end of a broken moonshine bottle at you with the other.

In the end, there is technically no right or wrong when it comes to spacing after periods, unless you are obligated to follow one of the many style guides out there that call for the single space. But then again, there’s technically no right or wrong when it comes to wearing tapered jeans and paisley shirts, and people do that, too.

My Affair with Movie Title Sequences

In about a decade, I plan to have a midlife crisis, during which I will undergo a bunch of plastic surgery, quit my job, and move to Los Angeles to work as a movie title sequence designer. Also, I will live in a refrigerator box because LA is expensive and I’ll have spent all of my money on a red sports car.

My first love in graphic design is print design—the interaction of type and image on a tangible surface. But if, during my midlife crisis, I were to dump print design for something younger and sexier, movie title sequences would be a great rebound. Title sequences take type and image, then add the elements of time, motion, and audio. So many elements have to work perfectly together to succeed, and when they do, they are truly memorable. I’ve posted a few noteworthy examples below.

Frequently, title sequences are designed by firms that specialize in the medium and that are completely removed from the production of the film. Sometimes this results in a marked difference in quality between the titles and the rest of the film. The Island of Dr. Moreau is a famously terrible movie, but it’s well-known in design circles for its excellent title sequence created by Kyle Cooper of the firm Imaginary Forces.

The title sequence in the movie Catch Me if You Can created by the firm Kuntzel + Deygas tells a story in a visual voice completely different from the rest of the movie, but it works because not only is it visually interesting, it evokes the era in which the film is set and sets the appropriate pace for the rest of the movie.

You can tell that the designers at Shadowplay Studios who created the titles for Thank You for Smoking had fun with the project. The sequence doesn’t attempt to tell a narrative story (as with Catch Me if You Can), but rather uses the unique visual vernacular of cigarette boxes to set an appropriate tone.

One of the most famous title sequence designers was Saul Bass, a graphic designer and film maker who died in 1996. His work influenced (and continues to influence) a generation of designers (you’ll certainly see his influence in the Catch Me if You Can title sequence). Friend of IBD Brian Trosko turned us on to the above video, “Star Wars Versus Saul Bass,” which is the result of a school project in which student Brian Hilmers sets the titles of Star Wars in the Saul Bass’s unique visual voice. (For real Star Wars nerds, it’s essential to watch this video reply, which adapts this spoof to the remastered Star Wars.)

For those of you who are really into this sort of thing, check out the site Art of the Title. There’s enough there to keep you busy for countless hours that might otherwise be spent on work or family.