Helvetica: Old and Neue

The Helvetica design can be seen anywhere: print, web, news and the movies.  Since its release in 1957, Helvetica has steadily been one of the most popular typefaces and was very much a product of the Modernism period.  Helvetica captured the modernist preference for using clarity and simplicity to suggest greater ideas. The clean cut simple typeface means it can be a neutral platform in a wide variety of settings.

Helvetica was first called “Neue Hass Grotesk” but in 1960 was renamed to be more international friendly, Helvetica- the Latin name for Switzerland. There are in fact two versions of Helvetica, the first the original design created by Max Mideinger released by Linotype in 1957; and the second the Neue Helvetica in 1983 by D. Stempel AG (Linotype’s daughter company) which was a reworking of the original.  In addition Linotype released the Neue Helvetica Pro design in 2001 which is an open type version with expanded foreign language support, therefore not another type in itself.

 Since the original launch, Helvetica has been worked on by a variety of designers to adapt it for successive methods of composition, from hot metal to photo composition to digital.  Given the technical limitations of some methods the character weights widths and spacing were inconsistent and compromised. As technologies improved, the limitations were removed and this allowed more freedom to design.

These changes led to the re-working of Helvetica in 1983 when the complete Helvetica font family was carefully redrawn and expanded.  The outcome was the Neue Helvetica design a synthesis of aesthetic and technical refinements and modifications that resulted in improved appearance, legibility and usefulness.