There aren’t many typefaces as well-known or divisive as Helvetica.
“Lots of people love it. Lots of people hate it. I love it and hate it at the same time,” says Jop van Bennekom, the creative director and co-founder of Fantastic Man magazine.
Originally developed by the Swiss designer Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann in 1957, the font has been the subject of a MoMA exhibition and a documentary, and was the typeface of choice for many designers, among them Hedi Slimane.
But the font could be about to change, with Helvetica Now: a redesign to help it survive in the internet age.
Monotype Imaging Holdings – the world’s largest type company, which owns the licensing rights – undertook a five-year design process to update all of Helvetica’s characters.
Charles Nix, says the typeface needed to evolve to stay relevant in digital contexts. “Typefaces must cope with every manner of output and device: high- and low-res, gigantic and tiny, so looking at the technology of today and the applications that require legible text, the move to Helvetica Now is natural.
”The redesign comes after Google, Apple and other digital companies’ creation of their own, more versatile takes on the typeface that were easier to read on smaller surfaces such as an Apple Watch.
Van Bennekom says, despite its status as a modern classic, the typeface was suffering in the smartphone era. “My first reaction [to the redesign] was: ‘Oh my God?’” he says. “But so many people are interacting with design on their smartphones that Helvetica wasn’t really competing any more.”
The graphic designer Mark Farrow believes Helvetica was due a renaissance. “There was a period where it had been done to death. It was everywhere. But you can’t look at it and not think it looks great.