[This article is about the history of Helvetica font. Click on this link if you want to download Helvetica font.]
The quick answer to “what is Helvetica?” would be: one of the most popular and famous typefaces during the last half a century. Helvetica can be found everywhere, from the title of 1960’s publications to the logos of famous companies such as American Airlines, Panasonics and many others today and even to the words on the space shuttle orbiter. If you want to see Helvetica being used somewhere around you right now, just look at your iphone or ipad!
Helvetica is a sans serif font (a typeface that does not have the small projecting features called “serifs” at the end of strokes (from Wikipedia)) designed by Max Miedinger in 1957. It was originally called Neue Haas Grotesk. In 1960, its name was changed to Helvetica which is an adaptation of “Helvetia” which means Switzerland, mostly due to marketing reasons. Over the years it has gone through redesigns and expansions but the one thing that has not changed is its popularity.
From the typographical point of view, Helvetica falls in a category of sans serif fonts called “Neo-grotesque” which includes other fonts such as Standard, MS Sans Serif, Univers, and Arial. These are the most common sans serif fonts. Their main feature is their plain appearance and relatively small line width variation.
Helvetica is a registered trademark of Linotype design studio.
Helvetica was designed based on other sans serif fonts of its time, one of which was Haas Grotesk, which itself had its roots in Akzidenz Grotesk. Actually characters of these two fonts, Helvetica and Akzidenz Grotesk, look pretty similar to each other.
Helvetica has a very rich background. It was originally designed for hand composition, but over the years it was adopted for various composition methods, generation by generation, until it reached the digital era. In 1983 Helvetica was expanded to various forms, re-designed and digitized. This new font family was called Neue Hevetica.
At the beginning of the 21st century a new version was released, the Helvetica World typeface family, which supports a considerable number of languages such as Latin, Greek, Turk, Hebrew, and Arabic.
Why is Helvetica popular?
One of the main reasons of the continuous success of this typeface is its neutral and no ornament appearance. Helvetica is like a vessel that can hold and convey any feeling or message. The feeling should be in the content. This is ideal for graphic designs, signs and notices and many other applications. In such applications you do not want to necessarily transmit a meaning by the typeface you are using!
The many forms and weights that the Helvetica font family includes have helped Helvetica to fit in seamlessly in various situations and satisfy different tastes. The Neue Helvetica font family contains 51 different font weights, from ultra light condensed to black extended and anything in between! This gives the designers a lot of flexibility in choosing the appropriate typeface for their projects.
Another reason for the widespread use of Helvetica (and other similar sans serif fonts) on the digital devices and online is the absence of fine details and also their minimum line width variation in their characters. This helps the text to look acceptable on even low resolution digital displays.
All these reasons have helped Helvetica keep its wide spread use over the years, and it seems that it will be around in the years to come.