Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you know Helvetica. It powers your iPhone. It makes
your Jon Shea’s underpants. It fills out your wedding registry.
But as a typeface designed for neutrality—used unironically in tax forms and corporate media for decades—Helvetica’s current rebirth as a “hip” marketing tool almost certainly has a shelf life. And with bad tv and so-so cinema leaning heavily on the typeface to establish branding, I’d say we’re already looking at the beginning of the decline.
So what’s the next trend in the world of typograhpy? Take a look up during holiday travel this season and you can’t fail to miss it: the FHWA Series fonts, and the innumerable spin-offs they’ve inspired.
Don’t believe me? How do you think satellite radio monopolist XM is reminding everyone that they’re the future of audio communication?
And if you’re looking for a light, hip web publishing platform that redefines the nature of the blog, here’s the first thing you see:
Even Southwest Airlines, one of the most obvious competitors to the Interstate Highway System, is using the typeface to let travelers know that their bags fly free:
I can’t say why highway fonts are experiencing such a marketing revival. When legibility and quick transfer of information are not a priority, the typefaces are rather homely, with their chopped ascenders and bloated x-heights giving them a stubby, pot-bellied look.
It could be the same instincts of subversion and reinvention among designers that put Hevletica back on the marquee. Or perhaps it’s an attempt to tap America’s nostalgic association of the open road with change, freedom, and adventure.
But whatever the ethos behind it, it’s clear the long-overlooked FHWA style is making a comeback in advertising. If Helvetica is the best way to say “everyone else is doing it”, Highway Gothic is the best way to say “everyone else is doing it wrong.”