The Many Faces of Helvetica
Among typefaces, Helvetica is probably the most used sans-serif in the 19th century—it is the fifty year old font which we commonly see in subways, logos, signage, artworks, books, and even in income tax forms.
We see Helvetica almost everywhere, often times barely recognizing that we are looking at the same font. It’s very interesting to note that its simplicity actually stemmed from a very rich history: In 1957, Swiss gents, Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffman created a typeface named Neue Haas Grotesk. They envisioned a new font to rival Akzidenz-Grotesk, the first widely used sans-serif during their time. They wanted to design something that is very neutral and applicable to a wide range of uses. They wanted a font that is chameleon-like with its versatility. A few years later, they changed the name to Helvetica.
The More You Know
Helvetica originated from the word Helvetii, an indigenous tribe dwelling at the snowy Swiss platue. According to history, the Helvetii were the first Gallic tribe to be encountered by Julius Ceasar—pretty neat background for a font outlasting its golden anniversary. From New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Chicago Transit Authority, early CNN, Canadian government, Toyota, Panasonic, 3M, Northface, Philippine Airlines, Mcdonald’s, Iphone 4—Helvetica had been the forefront when it comes to giving a brand its own image. Aside from logos, Helvetica had been taken in the streets, starred in a documentary film by New York-based filmmaker, Gary Huswit, and was even used by NASA.
How is that for a single font?
Most designers credit Helvetica’s stamp in the history of typography when it was used in 1984 by the corporate giant, Macintosh. However, amidst its popularity and rather impressive resume, some had been veering away from using Helvetica. It can be a case of merely going against what is predominant in the industry, or simply preferring another minimalist font. We can’t deny the fact,though, that Helvetica’s appeal and versatility stems from its ability to become invisible. When used correctly, the font disappears into space, paving the way to let the words stand on its own—not the letters itself, but the meaning behind the words.
Getting your fill
Helvetica is concise, crisp, and for something that is so modern, it has a tiny hint of warmness. For those without a background in typography, it might be easy to mistake Arial, Univers, or Grotesque with being Helvetica. To make it easier to spot Helvetica from Arial, just remember that Helvetica’s “a” has a tail and Arial’s does not. We can actually say that Arial is Windows’ answer to Helvetica. To make the most out of this font, a simple rule to follow is to not pair it with something similar. It is best seen with serif types, and long bodies of text. Some typefaces only work as headings, but with Helvetica, it doesn’t matter if it’s long or large texts, it works its magic just the same. When it comes to choosing fonts, one must pick a typeface that conveys meaning without being overpowering. Most san-serifs aim to do just that— hide behind the logo’s identity, but Helvetica does it differently with grace and clarity. It combines modernism and grotesk beginnings to create something that not only does the job but outlasts trends and time.
What are some of your favorite fonts? Are you sick of seeing Helvetica and would rather have Chiller, Papyrus, or Comic Sans? Let us know in the comments!