What is So Good About Helvetica?
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
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
Go to Helvetica.