The Null Device

Arial in Venice

This blog has been quiet recently, because I have been travelling.

I recently spent a few days in Venice; a spectacularly beautiful city, and one well worth visiting. (This is made all the more poignant by the possibility that Venice may not be around in its present form for much longer; rising sea levels and subsiding buildings threaten to sink the city.) In any case, I have posted photos to my Flickr page.

One thing I noticed about Venice (and this is, granted, a somewhat trivial observation, and one which seems unworthy of mention in the face of the all-surrounding sublime): its public transport system's signage is, for some inexplicable reason, set in Arial (i.e., the free Helvetica lookalike that Microsoft bought to give away), as evident below:

The giveaway is the 'G'; the vertical line descending from the crossbar would, in Helvetica, cross the circular part and touch the baseline. Other signs show other telltale Arialisms (the right leg of the 'R' being diagonal rather than vertical, and the top of the 't' being slanted rather than flat, but otherwise it looking more or less like Helvetica).

I say inexplicable because there seems to be little reason to use Arial on public signage. While it's a perfectly technically workable sans-serif typeface, Arial is known only as a Helvetica substitute one doesn't have to pay for. In fact, its entire raison d'etre is to be a cheaper, off-brand drop-in replacement for Helvetica, a state of affairs which makes it a defacto signifier of cheapness or naïveté. (It's a ubiquitous 20th-century modernist sans-serif font for people who aren't into fonts, and who aren't paid to pay attention to these sorts of things.) Does the city of Venice really save that much money by going with Arial? (Would a city have to specifically licence a typeface for signage? If so, presumably Arial would no longer cost nothing. If not, wouldn't shelling out the €25 or so for a copy of Helvetica Bold* be worth looking more professional? (I.e., dotting one's 'i's, and crossing (and not slanting the tops of) one's 't's.)

* A weight of Helvetica is listed as £20.25 on Linotype's website; this is roughly €23.50.

There are 1 comments on "Arial in Venice":

Posted by: luis
http://cero23.com
Tue Aug 18 10:57:56 2009

hi, i'm luis. long time reader from spain.

it's got to do with the lack of knowledge from typefaces in countries with lack of artisanal (as oposed to artistry) legacy. everywhere in spain but barcelona recently, where there's been lots of good painters (artists), there's a lack of a solid artisanal legacy. We dont have that many good ilustrators, photographers and typographers.

may be that's the reason why madrid city signs are in arial too.

(hope i made myself understable enough)

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