Consult any list of popular computer fonts, and Helvetica is probably among the top ten. Many of its variants are likely on the list as well. People who’ve never heard the font’s name almost certainly recognize the design: a clean and simple sans-serif typeface.
Helvetica is used everywhere in the Western world from airlines and apparel to automobiles and more. Many international corporations use the typeface in their messages and logos.
The History Of Helvetica
The world celebrated Helvetica’s fiftieth birthday in 2007. Since its 1957 introduction, the Helvetica family has virtually dominated the typography world.
Helvetica was originally called Neue Haas Grotesk, a rather less easily memorable name. Developed by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann for the Haas Type Foundry, the design was based on two other fonts that were popular in Swiss graphic design. The new font emerged as a more neutral typeface, one that could be readily used in various signage.
In the early days of typography, new typeface designs were rare. Letter shapes were still carved from metal, and anyone who wanted to use a font had to buy an entire set of letters to print with. It was an expensive step that inhibited the spread of any new typeface, accounting for Helvetica’s lack of popularity in the beginning.
In 1961, the company that owned Neue Haas Grotesk decided to market the font internationally. To entice a global audience, the company re-dubbed the font with a more memorable English name, Helvetica, an easily pronounced version of Helvetia, the Latin name for Switzerland.
The font re-branding worked, and Helvetica soon became a popular choice among American ad agencies. In fact, it became the default typeface for most United States companies throughout the 1960s.
Helvetica And The Computer Age
By the 1990s, Helvetica was everywhere, but other popular fonts were emerging, too. New typefaces had been expensive to develop and sell, but computers changed all that. The new technology enabled quick typeface design and distribution, and thousands of fonts are now created every year.
Arial, a digital generic version of Helvetica, appeared in 1990. While it has enjoyed immense popularity through the years, graphic designers and discerning purists still prefer Helvetica.
Most sources agree Helvetica is one of the most widely-used sans-serif typefaces today. Numerous versions exist for different scripts, including Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Cyrillic, and several Asian alphabets. Helvetica Inserat, the original 1957 font, is a popular choice in the advertising industry. Light, compressed, textbook, narrow, and neue are other popular variations.
Helvetica In Today’s World
Many company text logos, otherwise known as woodmarks, use Helvetica in their design. American Airlines, BMW, Kawasaki, Microsoft, Panasonic, Target, Toyota, and Verizon Wireless are just a few.
The United States government makes wide use of the font, for instance on their annual income tax forms. Many municipalities also use Helvetica, notably New York City and Chicago on signage for their public transit systems.
Britain’s airports and the National Health Service also use Helvetica, and Canada’s government supports its use in government agencies and websites. For a time, Denmark’s largest railway also used the font.
Helvetica is a popular choice for American news networks and professional sports, as well. CNN, TNT, ABC, and CBS have used the font throughout their histories. Helvetica has also appeared in graphics for the NFL, NBA, and NCAA men’s basketball tournaments.
New fonts are created all the time, and now with the easy of digital typography, designs come and go. Helvetica, however, remains. The font’s clean, well-proportioned letters express a neutral clarity everyone can appreciate. The world has celebrated the classic font at the fifty-year mark, and its simple beauty is likely to endure for many years more.
About Guest Author:
Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to videogames. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead.