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Helvetica: The Most Widely Used Font in Print!

Helvetica: The Most Widely Used Font In Print!

Associated with companies including Panasonic, Motorola, Staples, BMW, and many others, Helvetica has swept the globe as one of the most commonly used fonts for designers and corporations, thanks to its simplicity. This sans-serif font is a smooth, straight font with no more lines or markings than necessary. Helvetica came as a breath of fresh air for the United States in an era of overly complicated fonts. Once it took the stage, it pulled the focus away from flowery fonts to clean, crisp designs that got the message across in seconds. Today Helvetica faces competition from similar fonts that mirror its minimalist style. Yet these fonts still have a long way to go to unseat the current king of fonts. 

History of Helvetica

Helvetica was invented in 1957 by Eduard Hoffmann, director of Haas Type Foundry in Münchenstein, Switzerland, with the help of Max Miedinger. The original typography was called Neue Haas Grotesk and it aimed to embody a no-frills style. Hoffmann wanted Neue Haas Grotesk to form a contemporary version of an older typeface known as Akzidenz Grotesk. This new design would allow the typeface to be featured in a variety of situations without ever seeming inappropriate. When Haas Type Foundry’s parent company, Mergenthaler Linotype, decided to market Neue Haas Grotesk in foreign markets, it changed the name to Helvetica in an effort to make it more appealing and easier to pronounce for international customers. Helvetica was received positively, and has grown into several common forms, such as Helvetica Light, Helvetica Bold, and Helvetica Black, that appear on billboards, postcards, business cards, magazine ads, and websites.

Common Uses of Helvetica

Different versions of Helvetica exist to cover a wide selection of languages, including Japanese, Korean, and Hebrew. Popular companies such as American Airlines and Toyota use Helvetica or draw inspiration from it as their font of choice. Apple uses Helvetica in its operating systems and a version appears on the iPhone 4. Other common uses include government organizations and the New York City Subway system, which currently uses Helvetica on its signage.

Why is Helvetica so well received? It comes down to its flexibility, its crisp appearance, and its humanized characteristics. The font appears closer to human writing and less like a computerized font, something a viewer will instantly relate to on a subconscious level. Its crisp appearance and flexibility make it a versatile font that can look either sophisticated or laid back depending on the context. All these factors add up to a well received and commonly used font.

Fonts Similar to Helvetica

Many fonts have imitated Helvetica, and some similar fonts appeared before Helvetica gained its popularity. Take Venus, for example; this font came before Helvetica, but lacked the modernist look Helvetica sports. Other look-a-likes include Folio, Univers, and MS Sans Serif. MS Sans Serif originally went by the name “Helv,” but changed to MS Sans Serif in 1992. The most widely known font that takes its cues from Helvetica is Arial; this font mimics Helvetica in many ways, but still shows subtle differences in the shapes and angles of the letters.

Awards

Helvetica has reigned supreme for more than 50 years, no small accomplishment for a font. It ranked first place in FontShop Germany’s “Best Fonts of All Time” list. It also became the first typeface added to the Museum of Modern Art in New York’s collection. The museum displayed its “50 Years of Helvetica” exhibit starting in April 2007 and running through March 2008.

Interesting Facts About Helvetica

Helvetica has been around the world and shown up in numerous corporate logos and slogans. From its humble origins to its explosion of growth in the 1960s, Helvetica has risen to a role model of sorts for the sans-serif font family. Its journey to the present day comes with many interesting facts about the font and its history:

  • When choosing a new name for Neue Haas Grotesk, “Helvetia” was the original suggestion since it was the Latin word for Switzerland, where it was invented. Eduard Hoffmann did not think naming the font after a country was appropriate and instead suggested “Helvetica” which translated to mean Swiss.
  • Helvetica originated as a font for use by printing presses. At that time the letters on a page were arranged by hand and then printed on the page. The computer revolutionized all that and made many fonts available for access easily and cheaply. Yet Helvetica still survived from physical printing into the age of digital technology. The Helvetica font has gained premier status; as it is the font of choice for many Hollywood producers and directors. It is not uncommon to see movie credits roll down the big screen in Helvetica font. Many prominent actors and models use this font to display their resume on the back of headshots, and postcard announcements of upcoming perfomances. Helvetica itself was the topic of a feature length film that was released in 2007.
  • A film known simply as “Helvetica,” covered the world of graphic design, typography, and Helvetica’s role in it all. Directed by Gary Hustwit, the documentary was released in the same year of Helvetica’s 50th anniversary. The documentary was nominated for the “Truer Than Fiction Award” at the Independent Spirit Awards. 

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