Restoring Helvetica

“Neue Haas Grotesque” is a new version of Helvetica by Christian Schwartz, a partner in the type foundry Commercial Type, who brought the legendary font into the digital age.

Helvetica’s detractors rail that it is boring, but after spending time working on Neue Haas Grotesk, Schwartz argues that Helvetica “was never intended to be the cold, perfect, rational typeface people believe it is. There is a subtle warmth in the shapes that was lost over the years. When designers use existing digital versions of Helvetica, they are using a compromised version of Miedinger’s original drawings and Hoffmann’s original ideas, and while I don’t think the original should replace what has come after it, I think it’s nice to have the choice.”

Schwartz is cognizant that the face is often misused, and sees more disciplined applications atBloomberg Businessweek. “In a lecture on the Bloomberg Businessweek redesign last month, [design director] Richard Turley said that in effect, using Neue Haas Grotesk made him and his staff have to work a little bit harder and make sure their ideas were solid, particularly for feature spreads, because the type does a great job of communicating an idea when you have one, but isn’t interesting enough on its own to make up for the lack of one.”

Over the years Helvetica has, arguably, become a faceless face. So how does Schwartz see its role today? “Year after year, vanilla is the most popular flavor of ice cream in the U.S. I think of Helvetica as a perfect vanilla.”

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