In the graphic design community, typefaces are always a hot topic. We can nerd out on ligatures and how well a font is kerned for hours. Ask a gaggle of designers what their favorite font is, and I can almost guarantee that many will say Helvetica. This is the Kate Middleton of fonts. It even has it’s own movie! So what makes it so special?
A little history
The story of Helvetica begins in 1956 in the Swiss town of Münchenstein. Max Miedinger was hired by Haas to draw a typeface that would dislodge a popular family, which was one of Haas’s competitors. Miedinger, who was an artist and graphic designer, came up with a design and by the summer of 1957, had produced a new sans serif typeface. It was given the name “Neue Haas Grotesk.” Simply translated, this meant “New Haas Sans Serif.” The Stempel type foundry, the parent company of Haas, decided to offer the design to its customers in Germany. The only problem was that it was difficult to market a new typeface under another foundry’s name. The two companies agreed on “Helvetica,” which was a close approximation of “Helvetia,” the Latin name for Switzerland. And clearly, the name stuck.
Characteristics & references
The main feature of Helvetica is it’s tall x-height. This makes the font easy to read even in small sizes. This is a big reason designers love it. It follows the principle that type should communicate clearly. Period. Helvetica has been used in every graphic design and branding project imaginable, including the branding of American Apparel and The North Face. The desire for distinguished, modern typography has been around for ages and, as Helvetica has shown, it’s not going anywhere. Cue designer exhale.