2007-05-09

Helvetica turns 50

Don't look now, but the Helvetica typeface just turned fifty. The occasion is marked by Finlow Rohrer of the BBC:

We live in a world where we are surrounded 24 hours a day by adverts and corporate communications, many in typefaces chosen to subliminally complement the message.

Helvetica's message is this: you are going to get to your destination on time; your plane will not crash; your money is safe in our vault; we will not break the package; the paperwork has been filled in; everything is going to be OK.

It is sans serif. There are no wiggly bits at the end of the letters. It has smooth, clean lines, and an unobtrusive geometry that almost suggests it was designed not to stand out.

In Taiwan Helvetica is a favourite of the Taiwan High Speed Rail and every airline and bank. Internationally the typeface's fans include The Gap, Lufthansa, Mondaine and Panasonic.

The typeface, inspired by the 1896 font Akzidenz Grotesk, was designed by Max Miedinger in 1957 in conjunction with Eduard Hoffmann for the Haas Type Foundry, in Muenchenstein, Switzerland.

. . . The land where clocks run meticulously and the streets are spotless carries the kind of cultural resonance that the logo makers and brand masters of the major corporations might like a bit of. For others, its neutrality is a platform for daring design.

The typeface's dominance over the past half-century, cemented by the release of Neue Helvetica in the 1980s, has now inspired a documentary, Helvetica and exhibitions on both sides of the Atlantic.

It has also inspired a photographer's stage name and a new book.


Finlow Rohrer. 'Helvetica at 50.'
BBC News Magazine, 2007.05.09
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