Case Study: Helvetica Neue Typographic Poster

Setup

My process in choosing a typeface was pretty simple considering the project was limited to system fonts that are available on any computer. This requiems me to only consider universal typefaces, which I ended up appreciating. These typefaces tend to be more used, well known and respected in the professional world. I chose Helvetica Neue because I recently used it for a typographic freelance assignment, in which I designed a 2018 calendar magnet for a realty company to distribute to clients. I had not previously used Helvetica Neue often, but had taken a liking to it through sketching and brainstorming. I also considered Futura and Bodoni, but eventually found that I liked Helvetica Neue the best. I then used word mapping and cubing to decipher the aesthetics and connotations of the typeface, in which I found that the typeface felt modern, clean, versatile, and city-like. It reminded me a lot of New York city, where I spent this past summer working. This prompted memories and ideas which I translated into my sketches and final work. Below is the mind map I created in class pertaining to the concepts I felt were related to Helvetica Neue. Some parts of the mind map might be silly, but it was important for me to get everything out into the open. Although the ideas are all over the place, it helped me generate how I and other perceive Helvetica Neue, and what essence a poster based on the typeface should embody.

Process

As for my process, I knew I wanted to have a black background with the elements of the typeface being negative white space. This gives the poster a more modern and clean design, which are two main characteristics of Helvetica Neue. I then used my sketchbook to generate ideas, mainly using the capital letters ‘H’ and ’N’ for Helvetica Neue as a focal point for my posters. This idea guided the design for the main poster I decided to use for my final submission. Some sketches can be seen above. I also considered trying to make a city skyline using the capital letter ‘H’ as the geometric shapes of buildings, but the design seemed to be too messy and busy, which is the opposite of Helvetica Neue.

I wanted to exhibit that one of the typeface’s main benefits is its readability. In order to portray this I only made around 2/3 of the actual words “Helvetica” and “Neue” visible in my poster. Even without the words fully visible, the reader can still understand the meaning. I also used an extremely small font size, 11 pt, for my 250 word description of the typeface. This is to show that Helvetica Neue cannot only be used for headlines, but is great for copy because of its large x-height.

I very carefully placed my elements using the rule of thirds. The center of the stem of the capital ‘H’ takes up exactly 2/3rds of the page. The rest of the word ‘elvetica’ takes up exactly 2/3rds of the space within the crossbar of the ‘H.’ ‘Neue’ is also exactly placed in the center of the page vertically, and takes up 1/3rd of the space, while it is also placed on the horizontal 2/3rds gridline. This may be confusing to understand by reading alone, so I’ve created a visual as well. Above, I’ve attached a look at the poster with the gridlines that show the rule of thirds being used. I also played around with the justification and leading of the description paragraph so that it took up an exact rectangular amount of space, and so that there were no widows.

For my second poster, which I did not end up choosing to be my final submission, I wanted to focus on the lowercase letters rather than the capital letters. I wanted to show how organic the typeface is by creating a pattern from the lowercase letters ‘h’ and ’n’ that would be both aesthetically pleasing and representative of the typeface. I also wanted to make the words that are most important in my description stand out against the rest of the text. I used the different weights, forms, and sizes available in the typeface to create this contrast. Although I enjoyed this idea, it was better in theory. It ended up looking too overstated, and in my final prototype of this poster I used this contrast sparingly.

After our class critique, I chose the poster that focused on the capital ‘H’ of Helvetica Neue. I felt this design communicated the essence of the typeface much more clearly than my other prototype, and was much more minimalistic, much like Helvetica Neue. I switched the placement of the words ‘Helvetica’ and ‘Neue’ so that it was more readable. I also added the paragraph with my typeface description, which was not in my original prototype. This was when I tweaked the justification of the text and the final placement of the words ‘Helvetica’ and ‘Neue.’ This was quite tedious and took some math, but was definitely worth it in the long run, as even the slightest changes make a big difference. Below are the two original prototypes I created, along with critiques.

Results

At the end of the project, I was pretty satisfied with my results. It’s funny how when you first begin a project, you may not want to change anything, or take any critiques. I’ve definitely found as a designer I need to take feedback seriously and to never accept anything as “finished.” One thing that irks me about the final exported PDF, is that the paragraph description is a bit off. The PDF makes it seem as if the last line of text is a slightly lighter weight font than the above text. On InDesign, this is not the case, as the entirety of the text is set in Helvetica Neue thin, with the few exceptions of the words modern and versatile. I’m unsure if this is a glitch by Adobe or my computer, but it is a tad frustrating. But overall, I am happy with the design and am excited to add it onto my portfolio.

Word Count: 1044

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