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Vincent Figgins was the first to use the word sans serif when he designed Two-line Great Primer Sans-serif.


William Thorowgood was the first to design a lowercase with his Seven Line Grotesque, introducing at the same time the word Grotesque. From a design point of view these typefaces have little value, but it is interesting to note their existence. In Germany at the end of the nineteenth century, the Grotesk (the German name for sans serif) gained popularity fast. These Grotesks turned out to be the most influential faces in the history of the sans serif, much more so than their English counterparts. Several German type foundries published their own Grotesks, some only in regular, some in bold or light, some only in one size, but always more or less lookalikes. They had names such as Royal Grotesk, Breite Grotesk and Lilliput-Grotesk, and the fact that most of them included a lowercase made them suitable as a text typeface, too.


Berthold, which had become the biggest German type foundry, started releasing the Akzidenz Grotesk family, built up from existing and new Grotesks. The different versions of the Akzidenz family were produced by anonymous punch cutters, which makes it hard to appreciate that the Grotesks were actually designed by people. One name, however, did survive: that of Ferdinand Theinhardt, who is known as the designer of Royal Grotesque and Breite Grotesque, two typefaces that later became members of the Akzidenz family.


Berthold first published Akzidenz-Grotesk. Originally named Accidenz-Grotesk the design originates from Royal Grotesk light by mentioned above royal type-cutter Ferdinand Theinhardt. The Theinhardt foundry later merged with Berthold and also supplied the regular, medium and bold weights. Like all sans serifs from that time, Akzidenz Grotesk was meant to be used as a display face (the German word Akzidenzschrift means display face or jobbing type), but because it also included a good lowercase and different weights it was used more and more as a text face.


Gunter Gerhard Lange, then art director at Berthold, began a project to enlarge the typeface family, adding a larger character set, but retaining all of the idiosyncrasies of the 1898 face. Under the direction of Gunter Gerhard Lange, Berthold added AG Medium Italic (1963), AG ExtraBold (1966) , AG Italic (1967), AG ExtraBold Condensed & Italic (1968), AG Super (1968).


Lange was instrumental in developing the Akzidenz-Grotesk program at Berthold. In 2001 Lange helped Berthold complete the AG series with the additions of AG light italic, Super Italic, light condensed, condensed, medium condensed, extrabold italic, light extended italic, extended italic and medium extended italic. H. Berthold foundry's most celebrated family of typefaces is arguably Akzidenz-Grotesk, known as the mother of all sans serifs.


Haas typefoundry in Switzerland recognized a decrease in sales of their sans serif (grotesk) typefaces. Their classic designs were less favored than competitors like Berthold's Akzidenz-Grotesk, which was especially popular in the emerging International Style of graphic design.

Eduard Hoffmann, the President of the Haas'sche Schriftgieserei, commissions Max Miedinger to develop a new sans-serif typeface.

Punchcutters of the Haas Type Foundry

In this department the letters are completed and put together in language-specific sets

The type-casting room

The letter storage room

Print department

Cafeteria of the Haas Type Foundry


The Neue Haas Grotesk face is introduced with it's debut at design trade show Graphic 57. The most distinctive features of the new typeface were consistently horizontal stroke terminals, large x-height, and extremely tight spacing. These features together resulted in the typeface's characteristically dense and vigorous texture. The type was well received and adopted as the face of graphic design in Switzerland.

Eduard Hoffmann (Zurich, 1892-1980), the director of the Haas’sche Schriftgießerei

Max Miedinger (Zurich, 1910-1980). Designer of the typeface

Neue Haas Grotesk, 1957, proof from Eduard Hofmann's journal


Introduction of the roman (or normal) version of Neue Haas Grotesk.

Neue Haas Grotesk, 1958, proof

Neue Haas Grotesk (Design: Fritz Bühler, Walter Bosshardt), 1958, leaflet


Introduction of a bold Neue Haas Grotesk. To truly compete with other sans serifs in the global type market, president of the Haas typefoundry in Switzerland, Eduard Hoffmann knew it was important to make Neue Haas Grotesk available for machine composition. In June 1959 he made a deal with D. Stempel AG in Germany to manufacture Neue Haas Grotesk for the popular Linotype machine, making the typeface more practical to use for an even larger customer base.


The typeface changes its name from Neue Haas Grotesk to Helvetica. The name "Neue Haas Grotesk" was deemed less than ideal for an international Linotype market though. Heinz Eul, sales manager at Stempel, suggested "Helvetia", which is Latin for "Switzerland", but Hoffmann was not convinced, especially since a sewing machine manufacturer and insurance company already carried the name. He instead suggested "Helvetica" - "the Swiss".

The original success of Neue Haas Grotesk was aided by well-executed marketing efforts. Leading typographers were commissioned to design promotional materials like this "Satzkelbebuch" by Josef Muller-Brockmann from 1960.


In the beginning, only the Linotype version of the typeface was referred to as Helvetica. The hand-set type continued to be sold as Neue Haas Grotesk for several years, with some catalogs even using both names side by side. This made sense because the design had to be significantly altered for the limitations of the Linotype machine.

Helvetica / Neue Haas Grotesk specimen brochure,1963. Designed by Hans Neuburg and Nelly Rudin using both names of the typeface on the cover

Ever since Helvetica being extremely popular:
  1. Helvetica was aggressively marketed in the 1960s in Europe and US.
  2. Helvetica became almost the only typeface to be used by the Swiss typographic style of that era, which continues to be very influential. (World War II ended typographic explorations in Germany, England and US, however the neutral country of Switzerland there was a move towards sans serif styles.)
  3. Helvetica is neutral and colourless; it is not dangerous. This makes it easier for graphic designers to use as a display face. A typeface that already has a lot of character determines the character of a poster or a book jacket. With neutral Helvetica, the character must come from the designer.


Helvetica being widely advertised in USA.

"Graphics: New York", volume 2, number 8 from August 1965, USA. Former local trade magazine. Advertisement for Helvetica on a back cover.
"How do you increase legibility without increasing type size?
Solve for x.
Increase the volume of the letter's body. That is, increase it's x-height. That's what the Swiss did with Helvetica. They designed each character to take up a greater volume of space on the type body..."
It concluded: "HELVETICA: Swiss precision, classic simplicity.
HELVETICA MEDIUM: Strongly authoritative; declarative..."

Transitional period in Polaroid advertising, around 1965, USA


Linotype Helvetica (Haas Typefoundry Ltd.), 1968, advertisement


Advertisement for Coca-Colla, 1969

"It's the real thing. Period! Coke. Period! In Helvetica. Period! Any questions? Of course not. Drink Coke. Period! Simple." - Michael Beirut, "Helvetica" documentary, 2007.


As an icon of the Swiss school of typography, Helvetica spread into the mainstream design from the early '70s. With its friendly, cheerful appearance and clean lines, it was universally embraced for a time by both the corporate and design worlds as a nearly perfect typeface to be used for anything and everything.

"When in doubt, use Helvetica" became a common rule. Many designers tired of it and moved on to other typographic fashions, but by then it had become a staple of everyday design and printing.

Advertisement from "Signs of the Times" magazine about Helvetica, 1970

Injection molded plastic and Styrofoam letters is one way that Helvetica became ubiquitous in the 1970s. This advertisement is the earliest one for Helvetica in the sign industry.


By the early '80s when Adobe developed the PostScript page description language, it was no surprise that they chose Helvetica as one of the basic four fonts to be included with every PostScript interpreter they licensed (along with Times, Courier, and Symbol). Adobe licensed its fonts from the original foundries, demonstrating their respect and appreciation for the integrity of type, type foundries and designers. They perhaps realized that if they had used knock-offs of popular typefaces, the professional graphic arts industry - a key market - would not accept them. By the late eighties, the desktop publishing phenomenon was in full swing. Led by the Macintosh and programs like PageMaker, and made possible by Adobe's PostScript page description language, anyone could do near professional-quality typesetting on relatively inexpensive personal computers.


Linotype set out to revise and systematize the hodgepodge of fonts Helvetica had become over years. Adopting a numeric naming system from the former competitor typeface, Univers, styles and weights were coordinated and complemented. The height of capitals and lower case were aligned throughout the family. Yet the wish for regularization led to new compromises: condensed and expanded styles required squarer forms, which had to be adopted for the normal width, again sacrificing some of the personality of the rounder original.


Linotype publishes its Neue Helvetica, based on the earlier Helvetica.


By the early '90s there were two kinds of PostScript fonts: Type 1 and Type 3. Type 1 fonts included "hints" that improved the quality of output dramatically over Type 3 fonts. Adobe provided information on making Type 3 fonts, but kept the secrets of the superior Type 1 font technology to itself. If you wanted Type 1 fonts, Adobe was the only source. Anyone else who wanted to make or sell fonts had to settle for the inferior Type 3 format. Adobe wanted the high end of the market all to itself. By 1989, a number of companies were hard at work trying to crack the Type 1 format or devise alternatives. Apple and Microsoft signed a cross-licensing agreement to create an alternative to Adobe's technology. At that time, PostScript "clones" were being developed to compete with Adobe. These PostScript "work-alikes" were usually bundled with "look-alike" fonts, since the originals were owned by Adobe's business partners. One PostScript clone, sold by Birmy, featured a Helvetica substitute developed by Monotype called Arial. Arial appears to be a loose adaptation of Monotype's venerable Grotesque series, redrawn to match the proportions and weight of Helvetica.

The situation today is that Arial has displaced Helvetica as the standard font in practically everything done by nonprofessionals in print, on television, and on the Web, where it's become a standard font, mostly because of Microsoft bundling it with all it's products.

How to spot Arial:

Many of the characters in Helvetica and Arial are very similar to each other, although none are quite identical. Other characters are quite a bit different, and they are the key to telling which is which. Here are some of the most obvious ones:

The "a" in Helvetica has a tail; Arial does not. Also, the bowl of the "a" flows into the stem like a backwards "s"; the bowl of Arial's "a" simply intersects the stem with a slight curve.

The top of the Arial "t" is cut off at an angle; the Helvetica "t" is cut off straight. You can see clearly here how the x-height of Arial matches Helvetica's. This is one of the main things that makes Arial look like Helvetica at first glance, even though the details are different.

The ends of the strokes of letters like "S" and "C" are perfectly horizontal in Helvetica; in Arial they are cut off at a slight angle.

The "G" in Helvetica has a spur at the bottom of the stem on the right side and the curve at the bottom of the "G" flows into the stem; in Arial the "G" has no spur and the curve at the bottom meets the stem at an angle.

The tail of the "R" in Helvetica flows out from the bowl and curves straight down, ending in a slight curve to the right. In Arial, the tail flows down and to the right from near the center of the horizontal bar and straightens out at an angle to the end. It appears to be a compromise between the Helvetica "R" and the Grotesque "R". This feature is very unusual for a "grotesque" design, and is more typical of "humanist" sans serifs. It feels out of place here and is one of the more awkward design features of Arial.


Becoming one of the classic Macintosh which is still part of Mac OS X.

Linotype publishes Helvetica World an update to the classic Helvetica design using the OpenType font format with multilingual characterset. It contains the following Microsoft code pages: 1252 Latin 1, 1250 Latin 2 Eastern, 1251 Cyrillic, 1253 Greek, 1254 Turk, 1255 Hebrew, 1256 Arabic, 1257 Windows Baltic, 1258 Windows Vietnamese, as well as a mixture of box drawing element glyphs and mathematical symbols & operators.

Famouse 'John & Paul & Ringo & George' shirt was designed in 2001 by Experimental Jetset, for Japanese t-shirt label 2K/Gingham, using Neue Helvetica Black. The idea of the graphic design refers to itself, to its own context, or to the medium as a whole.

"What we tried to do with those two other shirts was to remove the focus from the idea of one specific band: we wanted to show that the 'John & Paul & Ringo & George' shirt was not specifically about one particular band, but more about a certain method. By applying this method to two other bands, we wanted to make the underlying idea clearer: pop-cultural imagery 'abstracted' through text. Around the beginning of 2003, we noticed something interesting: in addition to these shirts being sold really well (it was quite an unexpected success), people started sending us images of self-made shirts that were referring to our shirts, either as homage, tribute or parody. We documented this phenomenon elsewhere on this site: see T-Shirtism" Experimental Jetset


Helvetica is an independent feature-length documentary film about typography and graphic design, centered on the typeface of the same name. Directed by Gary Hustwit, it was released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the typeface. Film Helvetica premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March 2007. The film toured around the world for screenings in selected venues, such as the IFC Center in New York, the Institute of Contemporary Arts London, the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, and the Roxie Cinema in San Francisco. Helvetica was nominated for the 2008 Independent Spirit's Truer than Fiction Award.

Advertisement for Helvetica documentary, 2007

MOMA, Exhibition "50 Years of Helvetica" marks the fiftieth anniversary of Max Miedinger and Edouard Hoffmann's design Helvetica, the most ubiquitous of all typefaces. Widely considered the official typeface of the twentieth century, Helvetica communicates with simple, well-proportioned letterforms that convey an aesthetic clarity that is at once universal, neutral, and undeniably modern.

The New York Times on "50 Years of Helvetica" exhibition, 2007: Helvetica: The little typeface that leaves a big mark


Google introduces Helvetimail - a minimalist Gmail skin and Helvetwitter.

"Helvetica Forever
Story of a Typeface"
Edited by Lars Müller and Victor Malsy
This publication retraces Helvetica’s fifty-year history, compares it to the well-known sans serif fonts of the twentieth century, and examines the phenomenon of its unparalleled spread. The documentation is based on the achievements and archive of Alfred Hoffmann, the former director of the Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei, where, in conjunction with Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann, Helvetica was developed. Numerous illustrations show a multitude of ways the font has been used in five decades from a wide variety of fields – from signal design to party flyers.


Neue Haas Grotesk is the most recent digitisation of Helvetica's precursor. Type designer Christian Schwartz has newly restored the original Neue Haas Grotesk in digital form with "as much fidelity to the original shapes and spacing as possible" - bringing back features like optical size variations, properly corrected obliques, alternate glyphs, refined spacing, and more.
Schwartz divided the family into two groups - display styles, which retained the characteristically tight spacing of the original's larger sizes, and text styles, slightly sturdier and spaced more loosely for smaller sizes. Additionally, he incorporated alternative glyphs, like the straight - legged R which had been available in pre-digital formats. Other amenities like an Ultra Thin weight, drawn by Berton Hasebe, and additional numeral sets were added, but the essence of Neue Haas Grotesk was preserved throughout.


It is a version of Neue Helvetica optimised for on-screen use, designed by Akira Kobayashi of Monotype Imaging.

Becoming one of the default fonts for the iOS operating system for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch and since iOS 5.0.
Which makes the typeface even more recognisable worldwide.

According to mobile statistics in the period 2009-2011 there have been 112,289,000 mentioned devices sold.


The default font of iOS 7 is Helvetica Neue UltraLight. Flexibits' Michael Simmons (the OS X and iOS software development company): "Like many of Apple's products, Helvetica Neue has an industrial feel. With iOS 7, the whole design message is clear: It's less about the design and more about the usability".