Design Moment: Helvetica typeface, c 1957

Some consider it the quintessential capitalist typeface because it used by so many corporations; others consider it socialist as it is so ubiquitous and accessible

 

The Helvetica typeface turns 60 this year – a fact something only typography students might mark were it not for its ubiquity. Simply put, its how we have come to navigate the modern world. The letters are simple, geometric, easy to read – little wonder it became the go-to typeface for a seemingly never-ending list of global brands from BMW to North Face and beyond.

There’s no peering at it, wondering if there that’s an “s” or an “n” as there can be in decorative scripts with their curly descenders and uneven appearance, which is why it is used so often as the type for transport, from the London Underground to Lufthansa.

From its invention – or rather its arrival in the US after 1960 – Madison Avenue advertising agencies adopted it with gusto – used in logos, it shook off the past with its clean utilitarian modernism. Its sans-serif simplicity has encouraged its use on digital media – Twitter uses a version,  Helvetica Neue, for the same reason, publishers don’t want you to waste a nano-second trying to decipher a letter.

Its origins are Swiss – which from the start helped give it a clean neutral image. It was designed in 1957 by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann at the Haas Type Foundry in Switzerland. The brief was to design a competitor to the then popular Akzidenz Grotesk typeface, one that would have no intrinsic meaning and which would be used on a range of signage. It was originally only available in light and medium, with italic and bold coming later. Its original name, Neue Haas Grotesk, was changed in 1960 to Helvetica – a version of Helvetia, the Latin name for Switzerland.

 In the documentary Helvetica (there have been books too and a Museum of Modern Art New York exhibition devoted to the typeface), contributors debate all aspect of the typeface – not least its political meaning. Some consider it the quintessential capitalist typeface because it used by so many corporations; others consider it socialist as it is so ubiquitous and accessible.

For a look at how modern designers see it, check http://60helvetica.com/ a project, curated by Spanish studio Husmee to mark the 60th birthday with posters from 20 designers using the typeface.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.