HELVETICA: The Film and the Schedule

I am showing the documentary HELVETICA by Gary Hustwit to my graphic design classes this week. It is a great film. One of the questions on the “reflection sheet” that I ask my students is: What font is your default and why?

I can easily answer this question. Times New Roman for papers and Helvetica for headings. Then I turn to my left, to see my own laptop computer on my classroom desk. It is open to the desktop where I am citing Federal Code and Regulations. I see I have chosen to use Helvetica for my Schedule.

Helvetica is the typeface used by many agencies in the US Government, e.g., EPA, US Postal Office, IRS, etc. It is very legible (meaning it is easy to read) even if the policies enacted by the agencies may not be so clear in how they communicate the message.

I have experienced the full cycle of confusion to understanding while developing my records retention schedule. In some ways, I had it easier than most, because I was working off of a Minnesota State approved Records Schedule. I also had access to alternate schedules developed by the larger school districts in Minnesota (who had General Council – legal advice – on staff). So I took the nascent  schedule that TIES was using, and started comparing it to the schedules I had. I found outdated references in every schedule. I learned that the U.S. Code contains the Acts (Laws) [USC], and that the Code of Federal Regulations contains the Regulations to enforce the Law [CFR]. Then, mind bogglingly, the USC match up with CFR.

These things seem elementary – but it took me weeks to discover.

Anyway, Helvetica was my first choice for the schedule. I didn’t think of how appropriate the font was to the task I was using it for.

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