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The unfortunate death of Helvetica Ornament Oct 23rd, 2006

I’ve been holding off a while now writing a follow up to my Open Letter to John Warnock. Partly because I’ve been hemming and hawing over what topic to write next. But also because I’ve been waiting for a response from Warnock himself.

That finally came this past weekend.

John Warnock and Chuck Geschke were spotlighted and interviewed by the San Jose Mercury News. In the interview, which you can read online (account required), Ryan Blitstein asked Warnock directly about my open source font request.

Q: Last summer, Andrei Herasimchuk, who spent eight years at Adobe, generated buzz among designers and programmers with an open letter asking Adobe to open-source several of its typefaces online so the Internet would look less boring. What do you think of the idea?

Warnock: It’d be very easy to do that. Adobe can do it with just its own typefaces, but it wouldn’t fix the problem. HTML does not have a good way to specify and download typefaces the way PDF does. There are fundamental changes in the Web infrastructure needed to fix this problem.

It’s unfortunate that this is the response. Of course the technology needs to be fixed to truly solve the problem. I stated that explicitly in my original letter. And note that Warnock acknowledges that it would “easy” to release a few core fonts, something I know a lot of naysayers out in the blogosphere thought was some large impediment to the issue.

However, it’s clear by this response we can expect little to nothing from Adobe on this matter. That’s a real shame.

I guess we can now officially grieve for the death of Helvetica, as it is lost to Arial.

Why do I say that? Just look around on the web. Sure, you’ll find design blogs and type geeks like myself spec’ing their CSS using Helvetica as the primary font of choice. But 99.9% of the rest of the web uses Arial or Verdana, both incredibly poor substitutes for a classic like Helvetica.

Walk into major businesses these days and check out what font their everyday, normal written communication is now set in. It sure as hell ain’t Helvetica. People use Arial simply because it’s loaded onto their machines and they know it’ll be there 99% of the time when viewed in a browser or another computer. Within five to ten years, we’ll probably have a whole new crop of designers coming out of school who have the web so ingrained into their DNA that few of them will probably even know that Helvetica existed.

And guys like me only have myself to blame.

Recently I attended a workshop conference in Half Moon Bay sponsored by Microsoft. The workshop was called Spark UX. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss how software architects can define their role and what is needed by companies of all shapes and sizes to support design in the architecture role for creating software products. Obviously, Microsoft is keen on the next wave of technology as it hits the business world. That is to say, technology is flattening to the degree that everyone will be able to architect software solutions to drive various business needs both large and small. Microsoft wants to find out ways to help people build those solutions, and they are actually interested in how good design will fit into the process.

Bravo to them. I know little of anyone at Apple doing the same thing, which says a lot about where Microsoft and Apple are positioning themselves for the next decade.

During the lunches and breakout sessions, I started grumbling about typography with some of the folks from Microsoft, as I am wont to do whenever given the chance. It’s a sad sight to behold, I must admit. A type and graphic design geek like myself who had an active role in solidifying desktop publishing while at Adobe lamenting about the fact that type sucks on the web. At Adobe, I was in a spot to possibly help change this and I blew it, thinking the whole thing would work itself out.

In this conversation, I brought up my letter to Warnock, along with Jeff Croft’s similar rant about the same issue. In the discussion, I made the case for better type as it relates to web sites and enterprise software, pointing out that while it was nice to see Microsoft actually spend money on better screen typography, it does little to help the overall problem since Microsoft seemingly has no intention of releasing the fonts with an open license. It’s like Croft states: If the fonts only exist on Windows, designers are back to square one as we have to worry about all systems, not just Windows. No matter how dominant Windows is in the world.

The further I got into this conversation, the more I found myself making the case that Croft’s approach might be better than mine. To that end, I asked point blank for the folks from Microsoft to go back to Seattle and make the case to the Windows team there to release the five Vista C fonts, known as the ClearType Font Collection, into the public domain.


Well obviously, it solves the platform problem. Designers creating web sites need fonts they know will exist on the client machine. And if the client machine does not have the font, then they could at least get the font for free without violating any license.

The next thing is bigger for Microsoft though. They have already paid for the design and production of the fonts. That investment is a fixed cost and is complete. By releasing the fonts into the public domain, they’ll do a lot to win the hearts and minds fight with designers that Apple and Adobe have assumed they have already won. Of all the business sectors Microsoft has historically had a difficult time with, it’s the creative community they have the hardest time reaching. This one act would go a long ways toward getting their foot in the door with that sector.

Further, if Microsoft were to do this, in irony of all ironies, they will have done a large part in boosting legitimate type and design on the web. It would not come from Apple nor Adobe. In the history books on design, Microsoft would be remembered for this simple act of planting a few trees in the commons, not their competition.

What negative effects could come from releasing the fonts? None that I can see. There’s no way Apple or other major competitors will bother using the fonts in their marketing or branding, so Microsoft need not fear the fonts being used by their competition to brand themselves or their interfaces like Vista. Fear of Linux? That train left the station long ago, and giving Linux users something better to look at on screen isn’t going to end the world for Microsoft. And while at the heart of my request was to release a few core fonts that have passed the test of time for functionality, readability and utility, even I can recognize that the new Vista C Fonts are much easier on the eyes on the screen. They are very well designed. Could the Vista C Fonts become classics? Releasing them will give them a shot to pass or fail that test on their own merits. It’s looking like Georgia will serve it’s purpose year over year in this regard.

Whether anyone at Microsoft can be convinced of this is not something I can predict. But consider this post my official request for them to do so.

I can already see the all the free publicity Microsoft would get from the entire creative community over such an act. It would be a sight to behold for sure.

So to Helvetica, I ask for forgiveness and pity, even though I deserve neither. I hope that if I make it to the ripe old age of 80 or so, that I can pick up my brand new digital ink WiFi device, surf over to the latest issue of the Mercury News online, and read the headlines set in such a timeless classic like Helvetica. I doubt that will happen. It feels already like Helvetica has faded too quickly.

Some call that progress I guess. I call it a tragedy.



Standards rant

Repeat after me Separator Standards do not block, impede or otherwise hinder innovation. Businessmen, engineers or product managers who only care about how they want to implement technology or only care about their own bottom line are the ones doing the real damage in the larger economic picture.

Design by Fire strives to be as standards compliant as humanly possible in spite of the fact that those in charge of developing the technology, the browsers and the operating systems can't seem to to code to the W3C specification with 100% compliance.

However, even though I'm a firm believer in standards, I'm beyond sick and tired of trying to figure out what works and what does not work according to the W3C specification. So while I make every attempt to do the right thing, occasionally I'll just do what I have to get the thing working. In other words, if you run any Design by Fire URI through a code validator and find invalid markup or css, please don't bother sending me an email.

With that little rant out of the way, here are some good articles about the benefits of web standards.

And of course, there's Zeldman's Designing with Web Standards, which is easily one of the best reads from both a practical and technical point of view on the subject.

All of these sources discuss simplification of code, rapid development, smaller file sizes, faster download times, better accessibility for a larger set of users, easier code maintenance and platform scalability - all benefits of standards at a technological level. There's also some ROI discussion on using standards.

Really Simple Syndication is still a pain in the ass

Here's the RSS feed.

RSS Feed
Design by Fire RSS Feed

You should know the drill by now.

Andrei Michael Herasimchuk

Updated 2010 Separator The quick and dirty summary is that I am largely considered one of the first official interface designers hired by Adobe Systems. That is, the first one hired to do nothing but interface design across the professional product line. I worked personally on the interfaces for Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe InDesign.


One of these days, I'll convince Adobe's legal eagles to let me write a book about all that I have been through while working on those products. I just doubt they'll agree to it in my lifetime. Until, then you'll have to be satisfied with the History of Photoshop, an article written by a long-time friend of mine, Jeff Schewe.


Director, Design Team bullet Twitter
March 2011 - Present

Sr. Director of Product Design
Applications bullet Yahoo!
September 2009 - March 2011

Chief Design Officer, Co-Founder bullet Involution Studios
July 2004 - September 2009

Project Lead, Adobe Lightroom bullet Adobe Systems
December 2002 - June 2004

Director, User Interface bullet ePeople
April 2001 - December 2002

Director, User Interface bullet Impresse
January 2000 - April 2001

Director, User Interface bullet Mambo.com
August 1999 - January 2000

Senior User Interface Designer bullet Adobe Systems
August 1995 - July 1999

Co-Founding Member, Director bullet Specular Int'l
June 1990 - August 1995


Having the opportunity to work on Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom has given me a chance to explore photography in way I would not have had access to otherwise. You can find samples of all my personal work on this web site, and unless otherwise noted, everything here is photographed by me.

For a short period of time, I was exploring a screenwriting career. I had a script optioned by Hyde Park Entertainment (a division of MGM), a studio that has since gone under. I even had an agent in Beverly Hills for a short period of time.

I enjoy playing poker on the side and find the game infinitely fascinating. I have made the final table in a few bigger tournaments. One at The Hall of Fame Poker Classic and the other at the Bay 101 Open, but no World Series of Poker bracelet for me yet. I have had the opportunity to play against some world-class poker professionals and have gotten crushed by them.

In my off time I play bass guitar and far too many video games.

Publications and Awards

Industry Awards bullet 1995-2000
Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign have won far too many awards than is possible to list here.

The History of Photoshop bullet February 2000
An article written by Jeff Schewe for Photo Electronic Imaging Magazine. This covers the history and development of Photoshop. A copy of this article can be found here in PDF format. You can also find another copy on Jeff's web site, Schewe Photography.

Design Graphics, Cover Story bullet June 1999, Issue 46
This article covered the work I did on the redesign of the professional product line while at Adobe.

Collage with Photoshop bullet 1994
This book features 14 digital artists using Photoshop and Specular Collage. I'm only mentioned in the prologue, but the book was created to promote Collage and what digital artists were doing with it at the time. I'm still fairly proud about the book and the work produced inside of it.


Amherst College bullet 1989 to 1990
Left Amherst College to start Specular Int'l

The Hill School bullet 1984 to 1988
College preperatory school.


andrei@designbyfire.com bullet To avoid getting tagged by my spam filter, be sure to create a meaningful subject line.

Colophon and other details

Design by Fire v4.0 Separator A quick overview of the design and implementation of DxF for those who care about such details.

Browser Support

If you are viewing Design by Fire in either Firefox or Safari, congratulations! You are experiencing Design by Fire in the manner it was intended. If you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 or less, you have my sympathies as you are getting a version slightly less dynamic. The reason for that is due to Microsoft's lack of support for the CSS property "position: fixed;" plus a few other things.

Get Firefox

Bottom line, Internet Explorer promises to fix these things in version 7, so in the meantime you can either download the beta for IE7 or switch to Firefox.


If you have purchased the Adobe Creative Suite, you should have Helvetica Neue installed in your font library. If so, then you are reading Design by Fire as it was intended to be read. For everyone else, you are either seeing Lucida Grande or Arial.


Clearly, Helvetica Neue is far superior.

As for the logotype of Design by Fire, it's set using the classic Bodoni typeface, complete with ligature for that extra flourish.

Content Management System

This version of Design by Fire is managed using WordPress. So long MovableType.

Copyright Information

Design by Fire is ©copyright by Andrei Michael Herasimchuk. All rights reserved.

You may not use any material, articles, logos, essays, technical illustrations, photos or any content from this site without expressed written permission.

Design articles

This page intentionally left blank Bullet Oct 31st, 2008

Keeping up with the Joneses Bullet Aug 16th, 2007

Introducing Spivot Bullet Mar 5th, 2007

The unfortunate death of Helvetica Bullet Oct 23rd, 2006

An Open letter to John Warnock Bullet Aug 28th, 2006

Convenient Lessons from An Inconvenient Truth Bullet Aug 2nd, 2006

The kids aren’t alright Bullet Jul 17th, 2006

The Culture of Fugly Bullet Jun 25th, 2006

Please make me think! Are high-tech usability priorities backwards? Bullet Oct 10th, 2004

Rebranding the World Wide Web Consortium Bullet Sep 30th, 2004

You say toe – may – toe, I say [expletive] that Bullet Aug 17th, 2004

Gurus v. Bloggers, Round 2 Bullet Jun 20th, 2004

Design Eye for the Usability Guy Bullet May 18th, 2004

Et tu, Brute? Bullet May 6th, 2004

I would RTFM if there was an FM to FR Bullet Apr 30th, 2004

The Art Center Design Conference, Part III Bullet Apr 27th, 2004

Gurus v. Bloggers, Round 1 Bullet Apr 9th, 2004

The Art Center Design Conference, Part II Bullet Mar 31st, 2004

The Art Center Design Conference, Part I Bullet Mar 29th, 2004

Redesigning Google’s search results page Bullet Jan 25th, 2004

Lifestyle articles

Welcome to the new school, same as the old school. Bullet Jun 19th, 2006

Bubble Boy at the Bay 101 Shooting Star Bullet Mar 1st, 2004

Beginner’s Tips for Poker Bullet Jan 31st, 2004

Crucial mistakes against Scotty Nguyen Bullet Dec 10th, 2003

Photography articles

Santorini in black and white Bullet Jun 17th, 2004

Santorini in red Bullet Jun 9th, 2004

Santorini in blue Bullet Jun 8th, 2004

The Art Center Design Conference, Part III Bullet Apr 27th, 2004

The Art Center Design Conference, Part II Bullet Mar 31st, 2004

The Art Center Design Conference, Part I Bullet Mar 29th, 2004

Party like it’s 1999 Bullet Jan 10th, 2004

An Oakland Rave Bullet Jan 10th, 2004

Random favorites from the shoebox Bullet Jan 10th, 2004

Portraits of Donna and Alexa Bullet Jan 10th, 2004

Politics archive

How terrorism works Bullet Sep 10th, 2004