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Amplitude – Why Are We Obsessed with Helvetica?

At over 50-years-old, Helvetica is one of the oldest typefaces in existence. It is one of the most used fonts in the world, thanks to its clean, sans-serif appearance that has excited many a typography fan throughout its lifetime.

A Brief History of Helvetica

Developed by Swiss typeface designer Max Miedinger – in collaboration with Eduard Hoffmann – at the Haas type Foundry in Münchenstein, Switzerland, Helvetica was first unveiled to the world in 1957. Its neutral appearance with sharp corners and clean edges gives it great universality, a selling point that has seen it used in graphic design projects all over the globe.

Despite appearing as an original typeface, Helvetica actually evolved from the Schelter-Grotesk and Haas Normal Gortesk fonts. It was created to compete with the well-loved Akzidenz-Grotesk font face, and was initially named Neue Haas Grotesk. However Neue Hass Grotesk was soon renamed as Helvetica, to make it marketable across the globe as a new and unique typeface.

In 1990, a digital version of the Helvetica font was launched under the guise of Arial – a now-popular default font on PC and Mac computers across the world.

Popular Uses

Helvetica has been a ubiquitous font since rising to fame in the 1980s. Although prominently used in graphic design projects, commercial, industrial and even government companies have also selected the font for use on their promotional materials. Fast food chain McDonald’s, automobile company Jeep and clothing firm American Apparel are amongst the top names to have embraced the Helvetica font, whilst authorities such as NASA also use the font on the outer casing of their space shuttles.

Helvetica in Popular Culture

So popular is the Helvetica font amongst visual designers, that it even has its own documentary. Independent filmmaker Gary Hustwit took it upon himself to give Helvetica its silver-screen debut, in a feature-length documentary of the same name. Released in 2007, the documentary focuses on candid interviews with top graphic and typeface designers, alongside delivering a visual narrative of the font’s history and development.

The font has also had its own exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, entitled 50 Years of Helvetica, to coincide with it’s 50th anniversary. The installation consisted of posters harnessing the font, along with signs and other graphic materials, to demonstrate the wide range of uses for this now ‘antique’ typeface.

Voted FontShops’ ‘Best Font of All Time’, Helvetica truly is one of the most well-loved and universally used fonts in the world – and we’re pretty sure that we graphic designers will love it for another 50-plus years yet.

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