Helvetica Now: Why the Marmite of fonts was redesigned

The love-it-or-hate-it typeface has been updated to help it survive the internet age

Helvetica Now: Monotype’s redesigned typeface offers character options such as a straight-legged capital R and a “single-storey” lowercase a, like the handwritten form of the character

Helvetica Now: Monotype’s redesigned typeface offers character options such as a straight-legged capital R and a “single-storey” lowercase a, like the handwritten form of the character

 

Not many typefaces are as well known or divisive as Helvetica. “Lots of people love it. Lots of people hate it. I love it and hate it at the same time,” says Jop van Bennekom, the creative director and cofounder of Fantastic Man magazine.

Originally developed by the Swiss designer Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann in 1957, the font has been the subject of a MoMa exhibition and a documentary, and was the typeface of choice for many designers, among them Hedi Slimane. But that Marmite response the font provokes could be about to change, with Helvetica Now, a redesign to help it survive in the internet age.

Monotype Imaging Holdings, the world’s largest type company, which owns the licensing rights, undertook a five-year design process to update all 40,000 of Helvetica’s characters.

Charles Nix, a type director at Monotype, says the typeface needed to evolve to stay relevant in digital contexts. “Typefaces must cope with every manner of output and device: high- and low-res, gigantic and tiny, so looking at the technology of today and the applications that require legible text, the move to Helvetica Now is natural.”

The redesign comes after Google, Apple and other digital companies’ creation of their own, more versatile versions of the typeface that were easier to read on smaller surfaces such as an Apple Watch.

Van Bennekom says that, despite its status as a modern classic, the typeface was suffering in the smartphone era. His first reaction to the redesign was “Oh my God”, he says. “But so many people are interacting with design on their smartphones that Helvetica wasn’t really competing any more.”

The graphic designer Mark Farrow believes Helvetica was due a renaissance. “There was a period where it had been done to death. It was everywhere. But you can’t look at it and not think it looks great. Companies like American Apparel were using it because it looks like a logo, it’s so well designed.”

The typeface has had a facelift before, with a digitised version, Neue Helvetica, introduced in 1983. Love it or hate it, it looks as though Helvetica, in some form or another, is here to stay. – Guardian

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