Helvetica or Neue Haas Grotesk is a widely used sans-serif typeface developed in 1957 by Swiss typeface designer Max Miedinger with input from Eduard Hoffmann.
Helvetica is a neo-grotesque or realist design, one influenced by the famous 19th century typeface Akzidenz-Grotesk and other German and Swiss designs. Its use became a hallmark of the International Typographic Style that emerged from the work of Swiss designers in the 1950s and ’60s, becoming one of the most popular typefaces of the 20th century. Over the years, a wide range of variants have been released in different weights, widths, and sizes, as well as matching designs for a range of non-Latin alphabets. Notable features of Helvetica as originally designed include a high x-height, the termination of strokes on horizontal or vertical lines and an unusually tight spacing between letters, which combine to give it a dense, solid appearance.
Developed by the Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei (Haas Type Foundry) of Münchenstein, Switzerland, its release was planned to match a trend: a resurgence of interest in turn-of-the-century “grotesque” sans-serifs among European graphic designers, that also saw the release of Univers by Adrian Frutiger the same year. Hoffmann was the president of the Haas Type Foundry, while Miedinger was a freelance graphic designer who had formerly worked as a Haas salesman and designer.
Miedinger and Hoffmann set out to create a neutral typeface that had great clarity, no intrinsic meaning in its form, and could be used on a wide variety of signage. Originally named Neue Haas Grotesk (New Haas Grotesque), it was rapidly licensed by Linotype and renamed Helvetica in 1960, which in Latin means “Swiss” (from Helvetia), capitalising on Switzerland’s reputation as a centre of ultra-modern graphic design. A feature-length film directed by Gary Hustwit was released in 2007 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the typeface’s introduction in 1957.