In the April 24 issue I gave a rough description of the sans serif Helvetica font demanded by the new tobacco display (or non-display) rules when you print your signs. This was in response to a rant from Iain Lyall when he tried to source the correct Helvetica.
Then I got a full-on email from a retailer who wishes to remain anonymous. Her trading standards officer is apparently a coiled spring just watching and waiting…
She says she went through the going dark pain in 2012 owing to the size of her store. She writes: “I too, got pretty worked up about the font to use, even going to the extent of writing to 10 Downing Street about it.”
She dug around the internet and discovered that Helvetica is just the name of one of many sans serif faces. Sans serif faces were developed by printers in the 18th century; it simply means without marks, serifs being the little flicks on the ends of each character in seriffed fonts - such as the typeface used for this magazine. (‘Sans’ is just French for ‘without’.)
She adds: “Helvetica was developed in Switzerland in 1957. There are 315 types of Helvetica. Guess what? The government has not specified which one of the 315 types to use.
“I use sans serif size 10 and my TSO is happy with that. I stopped worrying about it at this point.”
Then comes her warning: “What your retailers should be worrying about is illegal openings of the gantry. How many times your staff open the gantry, when there are customers present in the shop, for reasons other than the six specified in the law. I have it on good authority that the government are ‘interested’ in how many times this happens per shop and it is only a question of time before a retailer is caught and fined for a breach of the strict laws on gantry openings. The law is clear - £5,000 for your staff member, £20,000 and up to six months in prison for the retailer. Now you can start worrying.”
On a follow-up email she wrote: “This particular law has been so badly written and with so many grey areas, it is clear that no one actually came to see how a gantry was used before they wrote the law. In my reply from 10 Downing St, it was made clear that the Helvetica font was specified as it was in common use by Apple users in 2002 and therefore was continued into law in 2006 when this new law was drawn up.
“Unfortunately, no one in a government office seems to understand that the vast majority of businesses and particularly those of us in the retail trade are all on Microsoft platforms, mostly XP, not on Apple which is not particularly business friendly to use or devise programmes for business use. Totally out of touch with business.”