Helvetica. A font by any other name….
You either love it or hate it, or you don’t know what I’m talking about. For the latter group, Helvetica is a sans-serif (and if you don’t know what that is, we’re really in trouble) typeface designed in 1957 by Swiss typographer Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann. It became an instant sensation and now it’s used for everything from government forms to street signs to logos. The rest is history.
And in case you can’t tell, I’m one of those who happen to love it, and use it. I love it so much I use in my own logo.
Yes I know it’s overused. It’s also, more often than not, overused and not used well. But I’m not one of those designers who think Helvetica is automatically evil because it’s overused; on the contrary, I think since it is such a versatile typeface, and it’s beautifully designed, it should be used often. The problem occurs when it’s abused, or not used well.
The fact that it’s a default on everyone’s computer may be part of the problem. But that’s not Helvetica’s fault.
So why do I love it so much? Let me count the ways…
1. It’s versatile
What do I mean by versatile? I mean it’s a very large typeface family, which means it comes in things like Ultralight (my personal favorite), Medium, Italic, Bold, Black, etc. For the designer, options are a good thing. Limited typefaces are a bad thing. So with Helvetica, it’s really a question of, “how do you want your Helvetica?”
With Helvetica, it’s really a question of, how do you want your Helvetica? Click To Tweet
2. It has no voice
This is a double-edged sword.
All typefaces have their own “voice”, that is, a certain style with certain attributes. Think of a Chinese restaurant; it wouldn’t make sense if their name was in a fancy script typeface, now would it? That’s a font’s voice.
Now, Helvetica does have a distinctive look to it, but in a way it’s voiceless; a blank slate. Which in a weird way is it’s voice. But to me, that’s a wonderful thing, because that means Helvetica can mean or say whatever you want it to. Not many typefaces can boast that.
Helvetica can mean or say whatever you want it to. Click To Tweet
3. It’s simple
Simple is clean, clean is less, less is more. Now not every single font should be simple or clean, but when the occasion calls for those adjectives, Helvetica comes to the rescue. It’s very essence is minimal, which is a beautiful thing.
4. It’s beautiful
This one may be a bit controversial. Some people call Helvetica “ugly”. After all, its original name was “Neue Haas Grotesk” with “Grotesk” meaning just what you think it means. Sans-serifs were originally referred to as “grotesque” because they lacked the serif as decoration, which was at the time considered more aesthetically pleasing.
But I, along with many others, consider the structure of the Helvetica letterforms to be quite beautiful. Especially on the lighter weights, the delicate shape of the letters with the clean lines is extremely attractive.
5. There’s even a movie about it
Don’t believe me? Yes, Helvetica is so revolutionary, so controversial, there is actually a full-length film all about it.
In it the film makers cover the history, the applications of Helvetica, and speak to a multitude of world-class designers and typographers who either hate it or love it. It was actually viewing this film for the first time that opened my eyes the the wonderful world of Helvetica; up until that point, I really didn’t know that much or even care about this little typeface.
What about you?
Do you love or hate Helvetica? Do you think it’s overused?