The R’s have it… “It” being the most distinguishable difference between Helvetica and Arial

The R’s have itWhether or not my aesthetic sense and artistic ability really warrant the appellation “designer,” design has been a part of what I do for my entire career, and I’ve had the eye for detail (minutiae?) since I was a kid. It follows naturally that I have an unhealthy fixation on fonts. Just ask anyone how I feel about Verdana to erase all doubts on that point.

My obsessions seem slightly less unhealthy working in the publishing field, and they’re downright validated at moments like last Friday, when the recent documentary honoring the 50th anniversary of Helvetica was screened in our boardroom over lunch. I loved it.

While I unequivocally loathe Verdana (unless, that is, it’s displayed at such a small point size that it’s hard to tell what it is), I hold Helvetica in high regard. It’s rather plain, I’ll admit, but it’s just such a perfectly realized vision that in its relatively short lifetime it has become the norm. Helvetica is just how letters should look, and any other font’s uniqueness is judged most clearly by how it differs from that norm.

Unfortunately, on-screen type is a world of its own. Although with the advent of Mac OS X, system-wide anti-aliasing has made smooth font rendering possible, most computer systems still look better when fonts are specially tooled for the low-resolution environment of a CRT or LCD display. And for the most part, Helvetica has never really fared too well in such an environment.

So when, in the mid-’90s, Microsoft made what might have been their single most thoroughly positive contribution to the world by releasing a set of standard fonts to be used on web pages that look (reasonably) good on computer screens, I embraced them wholeheartedly (Verdana notwithstanding).

The closest counterpart to Helvetica in this set of fonts is Arial. Many people hate Arial, for reasons generally too arcane even for me to appreciate, but ultimately, for me, the fact that it doesn’t quite hit the mark of being a pure Helvetica clone, it tends to render much better on-screen than Helvetica does, and it’s become my own personal standard (along with another of the Microsoft web fonts, Georgia) for web design.

But this Helvetica movie has turned my world on its ear. For the last week I’ve been hyper-sensitive to fonts, noticing Helvetica everywhere I turn all day long, and becoming acutely aware of every slight difference between Helvetica and its web font doppelgänger, Arial. I think I’ve hit upon the most easily identifiable difference between the two fonts: the right “foot” of the capital R.

To be honest, I don’t really like the capital R in Helvetica. That wavy little foot seems too jaunty, too incongruously immoderate next to its supremely efficient and utilitarian siblings. But if anything is worse than the capital R in Helvetica, it’s the capital R in Arial! What the heck is that? It’s almost enough to make me want to give Verdana another chance. (After all, it’s even used on the Helvetica site.)

OK, putting ads on my site was worth it just for this

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been running Google ads on my website for the better part of two years now. I do feel like a bit of a tool, but hey, it’s earned me a whopping $114 in cold hard cash so far. (OK, maybe that’s revealing too much about my low readership selective appeal.) But it was all worth it just to discover an ad for appearing on one of my music pages.

Now, the ad features some animation which is apparently JavaScript-driven from Google ads, because when I tried to save it to repost here, it was a JPEG (and if anyone out there has ever heard of an animated JPEG before, please let me know). So I’ll just have to recount the experience for you as best I can.

First, it says, in an EXTREME font (both distressed and metallic — a winning combination):


And then, in an even MORE EXTREME font (with randomly-sized, overlapping letters):


Followed by an explosion of EXTREMENESS mixing multiple distressed fonts, and with a tantalizing sample of the mangled grammar to follow:


This then changes to the final frame, a still shot of the URL in bold black text: over a picture of a row of woofers.

Clicking the link takes you, of course, to, a place where design is alternately excessive or non-existent, and where the only apostrophes are in places where they don’t belong! A place that implores you to “Find out what some of the industrys Hottest producers Have already discovered.” (Yes, all apostrophes are optional and all H-words are capitalized.)

Don’t miss such outstanding products as “Killer Klapz 1 & 2” and “Monsta Drumz,” although my personal favorite is “Screwed Voicez.”

Whatever you do, just remember: “Dont Waste your DOE.”

(Incidentally I believe that was the only instance on the entire page of correct use of “your/you’re”; fortunately they’ve tempered it with errors in every other word in the sentence.)