Chapter 6: Helvetica

Posted on October 28, 2019 | Updated on October 31, 2022

Figuring out which font is the best is definitely a subjective thing. One designer may love one font, while the next designer might find it limiting and hate it. Helvetica, however, seems to be well loved by many. Helvetica is so commonly used and popular that a film about it was released on the 50th anniversary of the typeface’s creation. Gary Hustwit made the documentary by the same name as the font. The film showcased different designers who have used the font extensively, many of whom stated they believed the font showed authority and corporate dominance. The film also explored how some designers not wanting to use the font was the driving force behind many new styles of fonts being created.


Helvetica was originally designed by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann in 1957 at the Swiss Haas type foundry. Helvetica is considered to be a sans-serif typeface in the neo-grotesque design, also called realist design. It is typical of work from Swiss designers of the 1950s and 1960s. It was first named Neue Haas Grotesk, but when it was licensed by Linotype, it was renamed to Helvetica. The word Helvetica simply stands for Switzerland and was chosen to depict where the font was created. Since the font was made in Europe after WWII, it was created during a time when typographers wanted to create something new and fresh.

Typography before had been more decorative, but Helvetica was simple and could be used by companies for advertising. Helvetica could have easily gone the way of many other typefaces and become hidden in obscurity. However, Linotype eventually licensed the font to Xerox and later Adobe and Apple. This set the font up for use in digital printing, which over the years would take the world by storm.

What Does the Font Imply?

The font isn’t meant to imply anything at all but to draw the attention away from the text. When Miedinger and Hoffmann designed the font, they did so with the intention of creating a neutral font that wouldn’t make any particular impression. However, there are other variations of Helvetica, and those can create different looks for the designer who wants to make more of an impression.

For example, Helvetica Bold Oblique has more weight to it and creates a formal look by slanting slightly to the right, but not as much as italicized letters. The Black Condensed version of Helvetica is even heavier and the marks are a bit closer together. While the font remains fairly simple, choosing a different variation can add some contrast and interest to an otherwise bland page.

Where It’s Commonly Found/Used

You will find Helvetica used often in branding. American Apparel used the font to make a statement that they were breaking away from the traditional. The font became widely associated with the brand until the two were basically tied together for all time. It is even used on U.S. government forms, such as income tax forms. There are many famous logos that utilize Helvetica in some form, including 3M, A&E, AccuWeather, American Airlines, Azul Brazilian Airlines, Broadcom, Caterpillar’s logo, CBS, and The NBA.As you can see, different variations create unique looks when using Helvetica font. Arial is a font that also looks a lot like Helvetica and is commonly used.

Technical Elements

Helvetica does have some elements that make it look a bit different from other sans serif fonts. The terminations on Helvetica’s strokes are vertical or horizontal but are not diagonal like some sans serif fonts. The lowercase “a” makes a loop that resembles a raindrop. The weight of the strokes is very uniform. When animated or placed on a moving object, Helvetica is still readable. The font also has a taller height than some other fonts, which makes it easier to read at a distance or from strange angles. The lowercase “t” and “f” are quite narrow.

Helvetica also translates well on both Windows and Macs. This makes the font highly versatile, allowing companies to reach the widest audience possible and brand their product easily across devices. It is seen as a modern design and seems to be a bit timeless because of its neutrality.

What Should It Be Used As?

Helvetica is mainly used for business purposes and logos. However, it is a very versatile font that designers can use just about anywhere. One problem in design is that a designer will sometimes create a logo, and it doesn’t translate well on the web or in print. The letters come out fuzzy. They’re not as crisp and clear as they appeared on the computer screen during the design process. Because Helvetica is still readable, even on a moving sign, the font is popular for logos that will appear on transportation.

There is a reason it’s used in many airline logo designs, for example. Even when the airplane is taxing down the runway, the logo will be legible. Use Helvetica when creating signage for a transportation company, for animated text or anywhere you need a good, flexible font that will be easy to read in different sizes and weights. It is a safe font to use in almost any situation, so it’s great for beginner designers.

You almost can’t go wrong with this font! Look around at store signs the next time you go out, and you’re certain to see Helvetica in its various forms. Helvetica has inserted itself firmly into the business and design worlds. There isn’t much chance of this font going away anytime soon. Love it or hate it, the font is here to stay.   

The Font Series Guide: Introduction
Chapter 1: 15 Google Fonts You Should Be Using
Chapter 2: Times New Roman
Chapter 3: Roboto
Chapter 4: Georgia
Chapter 5: Verdana
Chapter 6: Helvetica
Chapter 7: Comic Sans
Chapter 8: Didot
Chapter 9: Arial
Chapter 10: Tahoma
Chapter 11: Garamond
Chapter 12: Century Gothic
Chapter 13: Brody
Chapter 14: Bromello
Chapter 15: Savoy
Chapter 16: Athene
Chapter 17: Calibri
Chapter 18: Proxima Nova
Chapter 19: Anders
Chapter 20: Monthoers

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.

Related Posts