Designer Headstones


“For the past 50 years Helvetica has dominated design. But, now its pioneer Mike Parker has passed away, is the era of this sleek, modernist typeface drawing to a close?” – Steve Rose for The Guardian Newspaper

Great article in The Guardian on the passing of one of modern design’s significant contributers. If I have my facts straight, Mike Parker was the insightful innovator who took Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffman’s Neue Haas Grotesk and “rebranded” it for Linotype as the photoypeset face Helevetica, when typesetting evolved from “hot metal” to “cold type” technology in the 1960’s. According to the article, “Talk to a graphic designer today and they will often admit an intense dislike of Helvetica.” This does not apply to our IDEA students, some of whom have a deep affection for the typeface, as do many designers and brands old and new (American Apparel, Crate & Barrel, Target, etc.). This does beg the question, do we choose Helvetica because it’s a well designed face with a timeless style that just works, or do we choose it out of laziness, or a lack of confidence to make the right choices, or innovate? (It’s been tried and tested by others, so it must be OK.)
There’s no doubt in my mind, that Parker did the world a service by bringing us Helvetica: who would want to fly an airline whose planes were liveried in Comic Sans? But all the same, I am tempted to ban Helvetica from my classroom because of its “default” nature. Once upon a time our options were somewhat limited, today, hundreds of amazing typographers around the world are pushing the boundaries of type: creating expressive and functional faces for us to delight in. Perhaps the best homage we can pay to Parker is to embrace the new as he did all those years ago?
This news made an interesting segue from an image of Paul Rand’s headstone that one of my student’s included in a class pecha kucha talk recently. I am curious to see what Mike Parker’s headstone will look like: no pressure for the designer!
For lazy readers, there is also a short video on Parker’s legacy on