“Words have meaning and type has spirit,” says Paula Scher. “And the combination is just spectacular.” That combination is the heart of a new short film by PBS, the latest in their “Off Book” series of web films about art and technology (the first film in the series focused on light painting). With its urban-infused energy and bright white studio shots, you can think of it as a short companion piece to the film Helvetica, except here, font families like Requiem and wavering hand-lettered type also get their moment to shine.
The film’s talking heads include America’s hardest-working type designers, Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones, Pentagram partners Paula Scher and their newest addition Eddie Opara, and Julia Vakser and Deroy Peraza of the Brooklyn-based firm Hyperakt, known for their insightful infographics.
It’s a fun visual romp for designers, of course, but the film also manages to explore the range of current typographic issues in seven short minutes. As Hoefler notes, their type of type work plays “second-fiddle” to the message, almost rendering itself invisible as the design does the heavy lifting — like when the Obama campaign co-opted Gotham. On the other hand, Scher and Opara play with type in a way that is the message, letting it be expressive and experimental. And Hyperakt’s creatives discuss ushering in a new type of interaction between type and layout, conveying massive amounts of complex information.