The history of Helvetica


Helvetica is one of the most popular and most commonly used typefaces because it works well when used in a variety of ways, for every typographic project imaginable. But we’re curious as to where it came from and what made it so popular today?

Background of Helvetica

The first version of Helvetica was created in 1957 by Max Miedinger, a Swiss typeface designer. His goal was to design a new sans-serif typeface that could compete in the Swiss market with the goal to create a neutral typeface that should give no additional meaning. Miedinger wanted a font that was clear to the eye and could be used in a variety of ways. It was originally called Neue Hass Grotesk.  In 1960, the typeface’s name was changed to Helvetica, which means “Swiss” in Latin. This was seen as more marketable internationally.

In 2007, director Gary Hustwit developed a documentary film about Helvetica detailing how this typeface has shaped the culture of typography and design. After its release, the film was featured by MOMA for nearly a year, was nominated for the “Truer Than Fiction Award” at the 2008 Independent Spirit Awards “and was given an 88% rating by Rotten Tomatoes. Little did we know that a simple font like Helvetica can have such impact in the world today.

Variations of Helvetica

The Helvetica variation continued to grow as the typeface grew in popularity. Some of these variations include:

  • Helvetica Light: Designed by Erich Shultz-Anker and Arthur Ritzel.
  • Helvetica Compressed: Designed by Matthew Carter.
  • Helvetica Rounded: Designed in 1978 and incorporates a more rounded stroke.
  • Neue Helvetica: A redesign on Helvetica in 1983 which gave the typeface a more unified height and width.

What sets it apart?

Helvetica can be commonly mistaken for other san-serif fonts, such as Arial, but there are more details within Helvetica that sets it apart from other fonts.

  • Helvetica’s characters have vertical or horizontal terminations in the stroke.
  • Helvetica focuses on the space surrounding the letters.
  • Helvetica has a monotone stroke weight.
  • Helvetica is easy to read while in motion, which is why you will often see this font used for airlines or automobile logos.

Why graphic designers choose Helvetica?

With its sleek lines and modern look, Helvetica is used in many company logos and other marketing materials that we see today. Some corporations that use Helvetica in their logos include, Apple, Microsoft, 3M, American Airline, Jeep, Verizon and many more. Apple gravitated towards this typeface so much, Helvetica was even used on all iPod and iOS platforms.

This typeface is the most commonly chosen by graphic designers because of its neutral design that makes it compatible with most types of content and design projects without drawing attention away from the message. You can see Helvetica used online, in printed materials and as a chosen logo typeface. Helvetica is also a good choice when thinking about your signage designs. If you are looking to get your message to your audience, they will see your content rather than being distracted by the font you’ve chosen.

If you are looking for a typeface for your next project that is modern but still offers a classic feel, Helvetica may be just what you are looking for.

Curious about the history of other fonts? Read about the history of Gothic Fonts on our blog!

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