Wednesday, 4 March 2015


Brian Mendonça

No. This is not the name of a new helmet in town. It is the name of a font -- a style of writing the alphabets which you can choose when you type your words on Microsoft Word on the computer. I was delighted to see that Helvetica -- a film inspired by this font-- was screened recently at Design Centre, Povorim.

Working as an editor in the publishing industry my life had been ruled (or ruined) by typefaces. Once the manuscript (MS) was in, the editor had to generate a style for the book. Since we were dealing with children’s books we used to use child-friendly fonts like Baskerville, Garamond and Lucida. Sometimes the typesetters to whom we would give the MS to lay out as per the approved style would not have the required font in their catalogue. One typesetter used pirated software for a particular font with the result that when printed, the angle of the words tilted precariously to the right. It was promptly named the ‘sleeping font’ which may have had something to do with the fly-by-night typesetter who couldn’t care less if the font slept -- or knelt for that matter!

Editors agonize over fonts as though they are choosing a partner for life. It is true a printed book has a life of its own and the reader’s reception of it is largely determined by the font, its size, the readability, and aesthetic appearance. So when I self-published my book of poems Peace of India I chose Perpetua. This font was created by a sculptor and was used to etch words in stone. Somehow I felt my poetry through Perpetua would also be perpetually preserved.

Corporate houses have their own font for official correspondence. However, depending on the version of information technology (IT) infrastructure, the font used by the programme – say Windows XP – becomes the default font --in this case Calibri.

Font styles exist in Hindi like Kruti Dev. With the matras and various diacritical marks, sometimes software glitches arise when the computer omits printing a certain part of a word like a bindu thus altering the meaning. Some of my favourite font styles are Cambria, and Sabon – which I used for my first book of poems Last Bus to Vasco. The accepted style for academic writing is Times New Roman 12 point size. Helvetica like Calibri and Ariel is a sans serif style, i.e. it does not have the curves and loops at the edges of the alphabets like Georgia or Palatino. The ethereal nature of fonts can be misleading though. While checking assignments I come across exquisite fonts camouflaging hideous language!

Helvetica was designed by Max Miedinger in 1957 in Switzerland. The name is derived from Helvetia, the Latin name for Switzerland.* As the promo of the documentary film made by Gary Hustwit in 2007 puts it, ‘Helvetica encompasses the worlds of design, advertising, psychology, and communication, and invites us to take a second look at the thousands of words we see every day.’
See Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on 1 March 2015; image from poster of the movie.

1 comment:

Zorba said...

long live our beloved Helvetica-aah! by the way, i was glad to see an editor's pov for a font. i have been romancing them all for over a decade and half and i have recently found a new love called Bariol. Will share with you. and yes. do see the two other films by Gary Hutswit from trilogy.