Helvetica 60th Birthday

If you have never heard of Helvetica you must at least have seen it. Do you know the brands BMW, Staples, Toyota, Target? Well, you have seen Helvetica typeface then.

Celebrating its 60th anniversary, Helvetica developed in 1957 by Max Miedinger with input from Eduard Hoffmann, must be the most recognised font worldwide.

After recently watching the 2007 Helvetica movie, I’ve realised that even though I consider this typeface naturally loveable not everyone thinks this way.

Erik Spiekermann says “A real typeface needs rhythm, needs contrast, it comes from handwriting, and that’s why I can read your handwriting, you can read mine. And I’m sure our handwriting is miles away from Helvetica or anything that would be considered legible, but we can read it because there’s a rhythm to it, there’s a contrast to it. Helvetica hasn’t got *any* of that.”

So is its simplicity that annoys Spiekermann so much, or does he simply believe using Helvetica is bad taste?

Has Jonathan Hoefler says “ Helvetica maybe says everything, and that’s perhaps part of its appeal.”

But if there’s such debate to either the font is good or not why has it persisted in the world of design for this past 60 years?

Helvetica is based on the Akzidenz-Grotesk font. It pretends to be the essence of modernity. Its low contrast is one of the characteristics of Helvetica. This design gives the typeface a more rigid appearance.

The horizontal terminal cuts make the reading easier and more appealing to the reader.

The aperture (the hole of the letter) used in Helvetica is very closed, folding up stroke ends to make them closer together. This may make similar letterforms hard to distinguish, despite the fact that gives a distinctive design to the typeface.

Another characteristic of Helvetica is its large x-height (height of lowercase letters).

Helvetica ascenders align with the capital letters, which in basic rules of typography should not happen.

All of this characteristics combined make Helvetica the one true master of typography. Not everyone likes Swiss design, but it is one of the most appreciated graphic design styles in the world. Since Helvetica follows this rules it is understandable why it is so loved.

The popularity of Helvetica continues today, due to several aspects, such as the fact that until 2015 it was the system font on the original iPhone, being replaced with its own San Francisco.

As it was discussed before is not appreciated by many designers, such as Lupton that said ”I am not a big fan of Helvetica, but I admire its ability to spread and take root worldwide. It is an invasive and drug-resistant species that may never be eradicated. Even designers who don’t often use Helvetica in their own work take pride in the fact that it is such a persistent cultural icon.”

The creator of the site “ilovetypography.com” John Boardley, refers to Helvetica as “the sweatpants of typefaces”, which in my understanding means those crappy old clothes that you wear when you don’t want to put much effort into your outfit that day.

I do think that Helvetica is a great font has any other if used in is own context, no typeface is a bad typeface, it just needs to be used to its purpose. Saying that a script typeface is bad if used in a car brand is not accurate. If the brand tries to transmit elegance and subtleness to the car in its own context is correct.

“Any good typeface can be completely destroyed when missed or extensively overused. Helvetica seemed to sustain a beating like no other. Still fresh, still popular, Helvetica is king. “ Alexander Gelman.

Constança Costa