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helvetica neue



the agenda

History of Typeface Comparative Analysis Breadth of Family Typographic Anatomy Typeface Pairings Font Limitations Examples in Use Sources + Citations


HISTORY “If you do it right, it will last forever.”

-Massimo Vignelli


Creation Helvetica originated in Switzerland. It was created to compete with its precursor Akzidenz-Grotesk, which was designed in 1896. The typeface was originally called Die Neue Haas Grotesk, but the design team wanted to change the name to Helvetia, the Latin word for Switzerland, but eventually they settled on Helvetica which is the Latin word for Swiss. It was designed by Swiss typeface designers Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann at the Haas Type Foundry in Switzerland.

The Makers Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffman were colleagues when they worked together at the Haas Type Foundry which eventually became part of Linotype. Miedinger was born in Switzerland in 1910 and was a type designer while Hoffmann was the director of the type foundry at that time. Though Miedinger was by trade a type designer he had been working at the foundry as a type salesman but was still commissioned by Hoffman to work collaboratively on a new sans-serif typeface.


Hoffmann and Miedinger had no idea that their work together would become one of the most defining pieces of graphic design history, yet it soon would change the world.

Max Huber, Autodromo di Monza, 1957


Wim Crouwel, 1983

Dan Reisinger, Let My People Go, 1969

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Political Context Helvetica was designed in post-war Europe where the world was still reeling from the events of WWII. Companies were looking for change and Helvetica offered the opposite of the decorative typography that was popular of that time. Helvetica was modern and what companies desired to recreate their brand identities following WWII which is how it became a popular choice for corporate identities. Many say that the reason Hoffmann and Miedinger chose the name Helvetica, which means Swiss, over Helvetia, their original name that translates to Switzerland, was to make the font more marketable internationally in the wake of WWII and because the beginning signs of the Cold War had arisen.

hel vet neue

swiss swiss swiss style

Swiss Style, also known as International Style, was a radical movement in graphic design that originated in the 1950s in Switzerland but quickly spread around the world. It emerged from modernist and constructivist ideals which highlighted the beauty in simplicity, strong geometry and purposeful order. Additionally, readable text, grid systems, and the importance of whitespace were important elements of this style then and today. One of the strongest characteristics of this style is the use of sans-serif typefaces; mainly Helvetica and Helvetica Neue.


what’s neue?

Lineage Akzidenz-Grotesk was created by German typographer Ferdinand Theinhardt in 1896. This font was a typeface used for commercial uses much like its predecessor, Helvetica. Helvetica Neue is a redesign of the original Helvetica typeface and was introduced by D. Stempel AG of the German Stempel type foundry in 1983. Helvetica Neue has more unified heights and widths among its characters, heavier punctuation marks and glyphs, increased spacing in numbers, and overall improved legibility.

Classification Helvetica Neue’s design is impersonal and was specifically created to appear neutral and have little meaning in its actual design. Due to its san-serif nature it remains a modern typeface, but because of its plain nature it is still quite traditional. It is a neo grotesque typeface which means it is relatively straight in appearance and has less line variation than humanist san-serif typefaces. Neo Grotesque typefaces are also called the “anonymous sanserif” fonts because of their neutral ppearance.


Similar Typefaces Since Helvetica’s creation there have been many typefaces created to mimic the ubiquity and modernity of the font. Some of these clones include Nimbus Sans designed by URW++ in 1999, Arial designed by Monotype in 1982, and MS Sans Serif which was designed by Microsoft in 1997. Although these typefaces are similar to their inspiration, Helvetica remains one of a kind.

Arial Regular

MS Sans Serif

Nimbus Sans

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USAGE “The meaning is in the content of the text and not in the typeface, and that is why we loved Helvetica very much.” -Wim Crouwel

Hans G. Conrad, Lufthansa, 1967



The Myth, The Legend Helvetica was first designed to compete with Akzidenz-Grotesk and to be a new sans-serif typeface as graphic design of the time became more simplified and modern. The aim of Helvetica’s design was to appear neutral and become a typeface which had “great clarity, no intrinsic meaning in its form, and could be used on a wide variety of signage.� Today it is arguably the most famous typeface in the world and used extremely frequently in corporate identities among other lesser uses.



Neutral Typeface Although the intended use of Helvetica, to be a neutral typeface, was carried out; the meaning it can carry and impact is much more diverse. Helvetica is ubiquitous because it fulfils so many demands for modern type, yet it remains the top of its class because of what sets it apart. Geographically its Swiss heritage offers a background of impartiality, neutrality, and freshness. On an emotional level, the font is simple enough that it conveys honesty and invites trust from its audience, yet the variety of widths allows it to be versatile.

you can say

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Text vs. Display

Experimental Jetset, 2007

An aspect of Helvetica which makes it so timeless is its ability to be used as a text or a display typeface. One can differentiate between these two by imagining that a display font is used more for headlines while a text font is used for copy. What makes Helvetica so interesting is that it was made for display type, yet its generous character width and x-height makes it readable as a text typeface as well. In addition, its sans-serif nature and family breadth helps maintain readability at almost any point size.

“You can say, “I love you,” in Helvetica. And you can say it with Helvetica Extra Light if you want to be really fancy. Or you can say it with the Extra Bold, if it’s really intense and passionate, you know, In this poster Helvetica Neue is used as a display and text typeface due to and it might work.” the clean, readable nature. -Massimo Vignelli

The branding for American Airlines has stayed the same since 1967; designer Vignelli attributes this fact to the timelessness of Helvetica's design.



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Fred Troller, 1972


UltraLight UltraLight Italic Thin Thin Italic Light Light Italic Regular Italic Medium Medium Italic Bold Bold Italic Condensed Bold Condensed Black Linotype’s original foundry of the Helvetica Neue family includes a total of 51 weights. These weights are the main weights of the Helvetica Neue family and from the Adobe's version of Helvetica Neue.





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glyph set

cuttings cuttings cuttings too many Due to the famous nature of this classic typeface there are many cuttings of Helvetica Neue. Helvetica was first designed by the Hass Type Foundry and then it was redesigned into Helvetica Neue by the Stempel Type Foundry in the 1980s. The Stempel Type Foundry is a subsidiary of the Linotype Foundry. In the late 1970s and 1960s Linotype licensed its own version of Helvetica to Xerox, Adobe, and Apple who now all offer their own versions of the typeface, yet because they all came from Linotype the differences between the cuttings are virtually unrecognizable.



ANALYSIS “Helvetica seemed to sustain a beating like no other. Still fresh, still popular, Helvetica is king.� -Alexander Gelman


Capital to X-Height The x-height of Helvetica Neue has been adjusted to appear visually the same in all of its weights. In previous versions, the x-heights were all the same actual height, but since type tends to look shorter as it gets heavier, the new x-heights compensate for this optical illusion. Across the board, the x-height of Helvetica Neue is tall which makes it easier to read at small sizes and farther distances.

Width Comparison Helvetica Neue’s alphabet is comprised of mainly square-shaped letters. Much like the x-heights of the characters, the redesign of Helvetica Neue was created to keep the widths of the letters similar throughout the entire alphabet. Additionally, the letters of Helvetica Neue are quite wide and much wider than its other sans-serif counterparts including its precursor Akzidenz-Grotesk and the original Helvetica.


Because of my x-height, you can read me like this or like this.


Counterspace The Helvetica Neue redesign made the letters rounder and therefore they have a more circular counterspace as opposed to the original Helvetica typeface.

Helvetica Neue Regular

Helvetica Regular

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Stroke Variation & Serifs

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Helvetica Neue is a sans-serif typefcae which means the characters do not have “serifs” which are the projecting features at the ends of strokes. The strokes of Helvetica Neue are typically even because of the block-like sans-serif nature of the font. Despite this, curved letters within the alphabet do thin out slightly at certain points. Here, in the more curved letterforms such as “a, b, c” the locations where stroke variation occurs is present versus the letters “x, y, z” which are not round letters and feature a more even stroke.



Typographic Stress Unlike more ornate typefaces with oblique stress, Helvetica Neue has an even contrast stress among its letters. Additionally, the characters in this alphabet naturally have very tight spacing between the letters.


Helvetica Neue’s “O” on the left has an even contrast in its form whereas the “O” from Adobe’s Garamond has an oblique stress.

Ascender vs. Descender Helvetica Neue has short ascender and descender lengths. These factors help the typeface maintain its square, block-like shape. In addition, the short ascenders and descenders help keep the font readable.



Helvetica Neue

Adobe Garamond

By comparing Helvetica Neue with Adobe Garamond, a typeface which has a serif, one may notice the anatomical differences between the two. Not only is the stress of the alphabet different, but the height of the ascender and descenders is different as well.

read me Readability

Helvetica Neue’s x-height and short ascender and descenders makes the typeface extrememly readable; however, the tight spacing throughout the characters must be adjusted to make it as readable as possible.

Leading Due to the readable nature of the typeface the leading does not drastically improve or impair the readability of text. Leading can be adjusted to be used as a design accent and less for a practical usage. Leading is the space between the baseline of one line of type and the baseline of the next line of type. The “Readability” section above has a normal amount of leading for copy text, while this section shows what larger leading looks like in copy text and how it may make a body of type more readable or meaningful to a reader.

tight spacing vs. large spacing

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Zuz ana Lic

“The most popular typefaces are the easiest to read; their popularity has made them disappear from conscious cognition. It becomes impossible to tell if they are easy to read because they are commonly used, or if they are commonly used because they are easy to read.�



Complementary Pairings Helvetica Neue is often paired with other sans serif fonts. Many of these are famous contemporaries of the classic typefcace as well as modern sans-serifs. Some of the most frequent pairings are below.

AkzidenzGrotesk Avenir Din Franklin Gothic Futura


contrasting & incompatible

Contrasting Pairings Helvetica Neue’s neutrality also allows it to pair well with other classic typefaces, regardless of if they are serif or sans-serif typefaces. Some classic typefaces that go well with Helvetica, yet are quite different include the following.

Bell Gothic Clarendon Garamond Gill Sans Incompatible Pairings

The simple design of Helvetica Neue allows it to pair well with many typefaces; however, its neutral and classic nature hinders its ability to pair well with extremely decorative and ornate typefaces.

Copperplate Courier Hobo

Doug Aitken, Edward Taylor, A-Z Book, 2003


“ I’ve come to think that Helvetica was never intended to be the cold, perfect, rational typeface it’s portrayed to be. There is a subtle warmth in the shapes that was lost over the years.”

limitlimitlimitThe wide character width makes it difficult for large text to fit on one line.


The original Helvetica had some limitations in its inconsistent character weights, widths, and spacing; however, the redesign to Helvetica Neue in 1983 addressed most of these technical issues. Today, there are only three limitations which stand. The first has been apparent since its conception which is that the typeface is impersonal and lacks character which more expressive fonts may have. Secondly, the font is quite wide which makes it readable but at larger point sizes it does not fit on one line well. The third limitation is that because Helvetica is such a famous font we are desensitized to it because it is already everywhere; however, its ubiquity is also one of its greatest strengths.

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sources & citations


Adobe. “Glossary of Typographic Terms.” Adobe, Adobe Systems, www. Accessed 5 Nov. 2016. Aitken, Doug, and Edward Taylor. A-Z Book, Pg. 34. Https:// uses/11187/a-z-book-fractals file, 2003. Co. Design Staff. “How Helvetica Conquered the World with It’s Cool, Comforting Logic.” Co. Design, Fast Company and Inc., 24 Jan. 2012, www. Accessed 5 Nov. 2016. Conrad, Hans G. Lufthansa Advertisement, Pg. 18. Http://www.nytimes. com/slideshow/2015/08/28/travel/30-airline-posters-from-flyings-goldenage/s/28posters-slideshow-slide-RD16.html?_r=0 file, 1967. Crouwel, Wim. Nederland Stamp, Pg. 9. Http://mirsoglasnomne.livejournal. com/121647.html file, 1983. Greenpeace. Time for Change! The Future Is Renewable, Pg. 13. Https:// file, 2014. “Helvetica.” Fonts in Use, Accessed 5 Nov. 2016. “Helvetica.” Linotype, Monotype GMBH, helvetica-family.html?site=details. Accessed 5 Nov. 2016. Helvetica Corporate Brands, Pg. 20-21. Https:// file. Huber, Max. Autodromo di Monza, Pg. 8. Http:// file, 1957. Jetset, Experimental. Posters for the Film Helvetica, Pg. 23. Https:// file, 2007. Lupton, Ellen. Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students. 2nd rev. ed., Princeton Architectural Press, 2010. Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann, Pg. 7. Http:// file.


McCann Erickson. Coca-Cola Advertisement, Pg. 44. Https:// uses/3220/it-s-the-real-thing-coca-cola-ads-1969-74 file, 1970. Mendelsund, Peter. Hopscotch Book Cover, Pg. 16-17. Https://fontsinuse. com/uses/14548/hopscotch-julio-cortazar file, 1987. Muller, Lars, editor. Helvetica: Homage to a Typeface. Lars Muller Publishers, 2002. Muller, Lars, and Victor Malsy, editors. Helvetica Forever: Story of a Typeface. Lars Muller Publishers, 2009. Playtype Foundry. “Typographer’s Glossary.” Playtype, Playtype Foundry Aps, Accessed 5 Nov. 2016. Reisinger, Daniel. Let My People Go, Pg. 10. Http:// uploadedFiles/Education/Sacred%20Stories%20Passover-Letmypeoplegoweb.pdf file, 1969. Strizver, Ilene. “Helvetica: Old and Neue.” Fonts.Com, Monotype Imaging Inc., Accessed 5 Nov. 2016. ---. “TypeTalk: Helvetica Vs. Neue Helvetica.” Creative Pro, Creative Publishing Network, Accessed 5 Nov. 2016. Terror, Diogo. “Lessons from Swiss Style Graphic Design.” Smashing Magazine, Viatly Friedman / Sven Lennartz, 17 July 2009, www. Accessed 5 Nov. 2016. Troller, Fred. American Airlines Posters, Pg. 25. Http:// Travel_Posters/American_Airlines/Travel_boston.htm file, 1972. Vignelli, Massimo. American Airlines, Pg. 24. Http:// identity/aa.html file, 1967. ---. New York City Subway Map, Pg. 4-5. Http://www.cooperhewitt. org/2014/05/27/remembering-massimo-vignelli-1931-2014/ file, 1972. Web Designer Depot Staff. “The Simplicity of Helvetica.” W, Web Designer Depot, 20 Jan. 2010, Accessed 5 Nov. 2016.

McCann Erickson, Coke Ad, 1970


“For me Helvetica is just this beautiful, timeless thing. And certain things shouldn’t be messed with, you know?” Michael C. Place


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Helvetica Neue Type Specimen Book  
Helvetica Neue Type Specimen Book