Anyone involved in marketing or graphic design
knows the typeface perfection that is Helvetica. This sans-serif typeface has been so extensively used, and so influential to modern typography since its 1950s creation that there is even a documentary film about it. With its distinctive square dot above the “i,” Helvetica is the typeface of choice for numerous company logos in many different fields. These include 3M, American Airlines, American Apparel, Microsoft, Jeep, J.C. Penny, Verizon Wireless, and Target. If you’ve turned on an iPod or iPhone, you’ve seen at least one version of the ever-growing Helvetica font family. It is used by NASA as well as on federal income tax forms, on CNN and the American television show The Office, for the British Airports Authority and the New York City MTA.There is a Cyrillic alphabet Helvetica as well as a Greek alphabet Helvetica. In 2008, NYC’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) even had a special exhibit, titled “50 Years of Helvetica,” showing the numerous uses of this iconic typeface.
But where did it come from?
|American Airlines logo in the Helvetica typeface|
Helvetica was designed in 1957 by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann at the Haas Type Foundry in Münchenstein, Switzerland. The foundry had set out to design a new sans-serif typeface that would be neutral, with no intrinsic meaning in its form, that had great clarity, and that could be used on a wide variety of signs and advertisements. The succeeded. In the film Helvetica, graphic designer and typographer Wim Crouwel describes the typeface as “a real step from the 19th century typeface… We were impressed by that because it was more neutral, and neutralism was a word that we loved. It should be neutral. It shouldn’t have a meaning in itself. The meaning is in the content of the text and not in the typeface.”
|Different Weights of Helvetica|
Aside from its crisp, clear, and neutral personality, one of the main marks of Helvetica is its squareness and symmetry. Of course curves are used, but only when they need to be. Parts of letters, such as the tops of Ms, the bottoms of Us and the lowercase y, and even the tips of the lowercase a, are square. The dot above the i is not a small circle, but a square—like a pixel—and the curl of the lowercase y ends in a square edge. The tops of lowercase letters line up, and the extra curls of the g and y are short, hanging only minimally beneath the line, giving the typeface a tight, tidy look.
Originally called Neue Haas Grotesk after the foundry, the typeface went through some minor changes at the Linotype foundry before being renamed, in 1960, to “Helvetica,” based on the original Latin name for the Swiss people. Since Helvetica’s first appearance, not only have different weights appeared (seen right) but also ten variants, including Neue Helvetica, Helvetica Texbook, Helvetica Inserat, and Helvetica Rounded. And, as the newest variant Neue Haas Grotesk was created in 2010, it also has no signs of slowing down.
|One of the many Helvetica Wallpapers|
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