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What is So Good About Helvetica?

Friday, October 28, 2016

 

 

A modern logo in tightly kerned Helvetica

A commentary on the go-to American font

by Jim Lennon

 

Any concept of universality, you’d think, wouldn’t really be a consideration

of a graphic designer attempting to create a distinct visual brand. A logo is

the antithesis of brand identity - it draws in the eye, it creates a sense of

familiarity and comfort, it creates separation. It makes your box stand out

on the shelves.

Ah! But here comes Helvetica, a font that I’d argue has become the end-all

be-all typeface of the modern American logo. Created in 1957 by Swiss

designer Max Meidenger, Helvetica draws heavy influence from the

famous neo-grotesque Akzidenz-Grotesk font family and gained

international fame after being adopted by as the International Typographic

Style.

It’s safe to say that Helvetica’s greatest premiere break into the American

consumer conscious came in 1967 with the revisualization of the American

Airlines logo. The font has since flooded the market - Sears, Toyota,

American Apparel, Jeep. The list goes on.

If I’m being honest, I found this mass appeal painful! There was once a

time when I viewed Helvetica with a sense of disdain. I mean, come on, a

designer is paid x amount of dollars to type two words and modify the

spacing? I’d joke to anyone who would listen to my dorky ramblings about

how the quick ride to creating a successful American business was to

follow a name template of “American (insert business service here)” and to

display that name in tightly-kerned Helvetica. Simple! Safe! Hackneyed!

But I’ve since begun to view Helvetica as less of a cop-out and more of a

chameleon. I see it now as a clay, a blank slate - a typeface that provides

just enough minimalist aesthetic quality and yet leaves ample room for

interpretation. This change in attitude came when I realized that every

single logo that uses Helvetica, whether it be for an airline or a clothing

company, just looks different. I found that Helvetica is a font with an

endless number of uses, and that the brand identity of the logos in which it

is incorporated gain their recognition not from the typeface itself but by

subtle nuances such as color, placement, and positioning.

Helvetica and I still have a love-hate relationship, but hey, you need to give

credit where it’s due. The genius of the typeface lies in its timelessness, its

minimalism, its unique mark. And so, if you’re a designer who is looking for

a solid typeface to compliment your brand, may I make a humble

suggestion:

Go to Helvetica.

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