Anybody who knows me well will know that I have a major soft spot for House Industries, designers and purveyors of some of the finest typefaces and associated graphic-designery merchandise out there.
Back in 2002, House released Christian Schwartz’s Neutraface, a family of fonts based on the architectural lettering specified by Richard Neutra in his gorgeous, modern architectural designs. It was epic. The type appeals to me on so many levels. In fact, architectural lettering was one of the factors most exciting to me about moving to Los Angeles several years ago. I even put together a small “photo essay” (I’m so pretentious) of local apartment building lettering examples.
“I am surprised that Neutraface has become so ubiquitous. I can’t leave my apartment without running into an ad for a new condo development using it, or a restaurant, or a new cookbook.”
—Christian Schwartz, Neutraface’s designer
So let’s get one thing straight—I’m not knocking Neutraface.
But it occurred to me yesterday when looking at my junk mail (the physical kind that arrives in your mail box) that Neutraface is now everywhere. It’s an epidemic. It’s managed to find its way into all sorts of unlikely and inappropriate places—in my opinion, it’s somehow jumped the gap from highbrow to lowbrow better than any of House’s fonts that were intended to be lowbrow, like their Street Van, bowling-inspired, and punk rock Flyer Fonts, among others. I find myself pointing and saying “there’s Neutraface!” several times a day to whomever may be beside me. I’ve even trained Don, my future father-in-law and three steps ahead account manager, to spot it on his own—and he sees it all over the place.
I’m tempted to put together a comprehensive exhibit of examples, both bad and good, but I do have projects to work on, so here’s a short list of the first few real-world examples I could think of offhand:
- All of the environmental signage at the new section of the Del Amo Fashion Center here in Torrance, California (1, 2, 3)*
- Wendy’s website/advertising (mostly uses the italic face, but plenty of other weights too; see the embedded video for further detail)
- The identity for 007 film The Quantum of Solace
As I say, it’s not always a bad thing to use Neutraface. There are plenty of great examples of Neutraface in use on House’s website. I just feel like it’s becoming a bit indiscriminately used, like Helvetica. I wouldn’t even be surprised if the film Helvetica is partially responsible for Neutra’s more recent propagation—once you see just how populist a typeface has become, it’s almost embarassing to perpetuate it. But such is the case with all trends. When the bubble bursts, and enough time passes, and everybody else has moved on, it will again be cool to use Neutraface. And I’ll be waiting in vain for the moment to arrive.
Am I just living in a Southern California Neutraface bubble, or are you also seeing it often in your neck of the woods? Feel free to comment.
*Thank you to the unwitting Flickr folks I’ve quoted for taking these photos.