Helvetica was designed by Max Miedinger, Alfred and Edouard Hoffman in the mid 1950s. The three worked for the Haas typefoundery in Munchenstein, Switzerland. Their intent was to produce a competitive, new san-serif typeface. At the time Switzerland was known for its clean, high-end design. Miedinger, the lead designer on the font project, based his first designs on Schelter Grotesk, a popular sans-serif from the late 1800s. Helvetica was originally released in 1056 under the name Neue Haas Grotesk. Neue Hass wasn't very popular in Switzerland after its release because Swiss designers were very happy using Akzidenz-Grotesk.

In 1961, Neue Haas was released by the Haas parent foundry, D Stempel AG, in Frankfurt, West Germany. The typeface was then renamed to the latin name for 'Swiss', Helvetica (the full latin name for Switzerland being 'Confoederatio Helvetica'). The reasoning behind the renaming was to encompass the world-renowned Swiss design style.

In 1983, D Stempel AG licensed Linotype Design Studio to digitize and update Helvetica for use as a digital font. At this point Helvetica became very popular, much like Times New Roman for similar reasons. Helvetica is one of those fonts that you either love or hate – much like Arial or Verdana. This tends to be because of availability of these font sets on every digital text interface; availability then leads to misuse and overuse.

Design Differences

Modern, digital Helvetica has about 19 variations (regular, condensed, compressed, rounded, roman, narrow, etc.). It can be identified from other sans-serif fonts by its very round capitals in the 'C', 'G', 'O' and 'Q'. The terminals of the 'C', 'G', 'S', 'a', 'c', 'e', and 's' are horizontal, unlike Akzidenz which have terminals closer to 45 degrees.

The Movie

In 2007, Gary Hustwit created a documentary on Helvetica, celebrating it's 50th anniversary. The documentary goes in to detail the history and uses of the typeface. The movie is very interesting for those interested in design and typography.

Watch Helvetica on Netflix Watch It Now

Visual Study


Dodd, Robin. From Gutenberg to opentype: an illustrated history of type from the earliest letterforms to the latest digital fonts. Vancouver: Hartley & Marks, 2006. Print.

"Helvetica - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2012. .

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