[Skip this first paragraph if you already know the basics of Helvetica. It’s just the facts and maybe a little dry.] Neue Hass Grotesk was designed by Alfred Hoffmann and Max Miedinger for the Haas’sche Schriftgießerei (Haas Type Foundry) at Basel Switzerland in 1957. In 1960, the name was changed to Helvetica, stemming from Helvetia which is Latin for Switzerland. D. Stempel AG and Linotype redesigned a new version named Neue Helvetica in 1983. Neue Helvetica now contains 51 weights, while the original Helvetica is up to 34 weights. A few language variants have been done, including Arabic by Nadine Chahine; Cyrillic by Stempel’s in-house design team under the advice of Jovica Veljovic; Greek by Matthew Carter; Hebrew by John Hudson of Tiro Typeworks; and Thai by Anuthin Wongsunkakon.
Helvetica’s newest incarnation is an inspiring revival of the original “Neue Haas Grotesk.” Designed by Christian Schwartz, it restores the finer points of that original pre-Helvetica design, resulting in a better overall expression. The capital A at the top of this post is set in Neue Haas Grotesk.
Everyone likes a good Helvetica alternative, especially when more than a few clients ask for Helvetica by name. Perfectly good alternates have always been available, in fact even before Helvetica was around. The following typefaces—one of which is now 134 years old—were all essential to shaping Helvetica. The point isn’t who copied who but rather that we can now pull these types out of history as appropriate. To understand form, one must study its history.
1918 — 39 years before Helvetica: the revival “Dada Grotesk” by Devalence is based on the “Aurora” typeface found in a 1918 issue of the “Dada Paris” magazine.
1902 — 55 years before Helvetica: One of over 200 typefaces designed by Morris Fuller Benton, Franklin Gothic was designed and released between 1902-12. In 1980, it was redrawn with a slightly enlarged x-height by Victor Caruso for the International Typeface Corporation.
1900 — 57 years before Helvetica: “Basic Commercial” was on the scene in the early 1900’s. It was later used for Massimo Vignelli’s wayfinding signage for the New York City subway. See http://thestandardsmanual.com
1896 — 61 years before Helvetica: H. Berthold released “Accidenz-Grotesk,” now “Akzidenz-Grotesk.”
1880 — 77 years before Helvetica: The Leipzig foundry Schelter & Giesecke released “Grotesk.” FontFont has revived it as FF Bau.