Fusi Thin Normal Font For Essays
For other uses, see Helvetica (disambiguation).
Helvetica or Neue Haas Grotesk is a widely used sans-seriftypeface developed in 1957 by Swisstypeface designerMax 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, compact 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 typefaces 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, being similar to the Latinadjective for Switzerland, Helvetia. 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.
Influences of Helvetica included Schelter-Grotesk and Haas' Normal-Grotesk. Attracting considerable attention on its release as Neue Haas Grotesk, Linotype adopted Neue Haas Grotesk for widespread release.
In 1960, its name was changed by Haas' German parent company Stempel to Helvetica (meaning Swiss in Latin) in order to make it more marketable internationally. It comes from the Latin name for the pre-Roman tribes of what became Switzerland. Intending to match the success of Univers, Arthur Ritzel of Stempel redesigned Neue Haas Grotesk into a larger family. The design was popular, and rapidly made available for phototypesetting systems as well as for the original metal type. Many imitations and knock-offs were rapidly created.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, Linotype licensed its version to Xerox and then Adobe and Apple, guaranteeing its importance in digital printing by making it one of the core fonts of the PostScript page description language. The rights to it are now held by Monotype Imaging, which acquired Linotype; the advanced Neue Haas Grotesk release (discussed below) was co-released with Font Bureau.
- tall x-height, which makes it easier to read in smaller sizes and at distance
- quite tight spacing between letters
- An oblique rather than italic style, a common feature of almost all grotesque and neo-grotesque typefaces.
- narrow t and f.
- square-looking s.
- bracketed top flag of 1.
- rounded off square tail of R.
- concave curved stem of 7
- two-storied a (with curves of bowl and of stem), a standard neo-grotesque feature
Like many neo-grotesque designs, Helvetica has narrow apertures, which limit its legibility onscreen and at small print sizes. It also has no visible difference between upper-case 'i' and lower-case 'L', although the number 1 is quite identifiable with its flag at top left. Its tight, display-oriented spacing may also pose problems for legibility. In situations where this matters, other designs intended for legibility at small sizes above all, such as Verdana, Meta or Trebuchet or a monospace font such as Courier, which makes all letters quite wide, may be more appropriate.
Helvetica on the logo of Cassina S.p.A., showing its traditionally tight letterspacing
Helvetica used on signs in Vienna, 1973
A 1969 poster by Robert Geisser exemplifying the trend of the 1950s and 60s: solid red colour and simplified collage images.
Helvetica is among the most widely used sans-serif typefaces. Versions exist for Latin, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Hindi, Urdu, Khmer, and Vietnamese alphabets. Chinese faces have been developed to complement Helvetica.
Helvetica is a popular choice for commercial wordmarks, including those for 3M (including Scotch Tape), American Apparel, BASF, Behance, Blaupunkt, BMW, Diaspora, ECM, Funimation, General Motors, J. C. Penney, Jeep, Kawasaki, Knoll, Kroger, Lufthansa, Motorola, Nestlé, Oath Inc., Panasonic, Parmalat, Philippine Airlines, Sears, Seiko Epson, Skype, Target, Texaco, Tupperware, Viceland, and Verizon.Apple used Helvetica as the system typeface of iOS until 2015. Notably, from 1967 to 2013, the logo for American Airlines featured two upper case As (AA) and a wordmark using the font.
Helvetica has been widely used by the U.S. government; for example, federal income tax forms are set in Helvetica, and NASA used the type on the Space Shuttle orbiter. Helvetica is also used in the United States television rating system. The Canadian government also uses Helvetica as its identifying typeface, with three variants being used in its corporate identity program, and encourages its use in all federal agencies and websites.
In the European Union, Helvetica is legally required to be used for health warnings on tobacco products such as e.g. cigarettes.
Helvetica is commonly used in transportation settings. New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) adopted Helvetica for use in signage in 1989. From 1970 to 1989, the standard font was Standard Medium, an American release of Akzidenz-Grotesk, as defined by Unimark's New York City Transit Authority Graphic Standards Manual. The MTA system is still rife with a proliferation of Helvetica-like fonts, including Arial, in addition to some old signs in Medium Standard, and a few anomalous signs in Helvetica Narrow.
Helvetica is also used in the Washington Metro, the Chicago 'L', Philadelphia's SEPTA, and the Madrid Metro.Amtrak used the typeface on the "pointless arrow" logo, and it was adopted by Danish railway company DSB for a time period. In addition, the former state-owned operator of the British railway system developed its own Helvetica-based Rail Alphabet font, which was also adopted by the National Health Service and the British Airports Authority.
The typeface was displaced from some uses in the 1990s to the increased availability of other fonts on digital desktop publishing systems and criticism from type designers including Erik Spiekermann and Martin Majoor, both of whom have criticised the design for its omnipresence and overuse. Majoor has described Helvetica as 'rather cheap' for its failure to move on from the model of Akzidenz-Grotesk.
An early essay on Helvetica's public image as a font used by business and government was written in 1976 by Leslie Savan, a writer on advertising at the Village Voice. It was later republished in her book The Sponsored Life.
In 2007, Linotype GmbH held the Helvetica NOW Poster Contest to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the typeface. Winners were announced in the January 2008 issue of the LinoLetter.
In 2007, director Gary Hustwit released a documentary film, Helvetica (Plexifilm, DVD), to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the typeface. In the film, graphic designer Wim Crouwel said, "Helvetica was a real step from the 19th century typeface... We were impressed by that because it was more neutral, and neutralism was a word that we loved. It should be neutral. It shouldn't have a meaning in itself. The meaning is in the content of the text and not in the typeface." The documentary also presented other designers who associated Helvetica with authority and corporate dominance, and whose rebellion from Helvetica's ubiquity created new styles.
From April 2007 to March 2008, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City displayed an exhibit called "50 Years of Helvetica", which celebrated the many uses of the typeface. In 2011 the Disseny Hub Barcelona displayed an exhibit called Helvetica. A New Typeface?. The exhibition included a timeline of Helvetica’s consolidation over the last fifty years with a view to understanding its role in the history of design, as well as its antecedents and its subsequent influence. The itinerary started out with a selection of local works, highlighting the top-quality design of current and past creations whose common denominator is their use of Helvetica.
Helvetica Light was designed by Stempel's artistic director Erich Schultz-Anker, in conjunction with Arthur Ritzel.
Helvetica Inserat (1957)
Helvetica Inserat (German for advertisement) is a version designed in 1957 primarily for use in the advertising industry: this is a narrow variant that is tighter than Helvetica Black Condensed. It gives the glyphs an even larger x-height and a more squared appearance, similar to Schmalfette Grotesk. Strikethrough strokes in $, ¢ are replaced by a non-strikethrough version. 4 is opened at the top.
Helvetica Compressed (1966)
Designed by Matthew Carter for cold type. It shares some design elements with Helvetica Inserat, but uses a curved tail in Q, downward pointing branch in r, and tilde bottom £. Carter has said that in practice it was designed to be similar to Schmalfette Grotesk and to compete in this role with British designs Impact and Compacta, as this style was popular at the time.
The family consists of Helvetica Compressed, Helvetica Extra Compressed and Helvetica Ultra Compressed fonts. It has been digitised, for instance in the Adobe Helvetica release. It is used on the League of Gentlemen and Lenovo's ThinkPad laptops, ThinkCentre desktops, ThinkVantage software, ThinkStation workstations, ThinkServer servers, ThinkPlus accessories logo.
Helvetica Rounded (1978)
Helvetica Rounded is a version containing rounded stroke terminators. Only bold, black, bold condensed, and bold outline fonts were made, with outline font not issued in digital form by Linotype.
Helvetica Narrow is a version where its width is between Helvetica Compressed and Helvetica Condensed. However, the width is scaled in a way that is optically consistent with the widest width fonts.
The font was developed when printer ROM space was very scarce, so it was created by mathematically squashing Helvetica to 82% of the original width, resulting in distorted letterforms and thin vertical strokes next to thicker horizontals.
Because of the distortion problems, Adobe dropped Helvetica Narrow in its release of Helvetica in OpenType format, recommending users choose Helvetica Condensed instead. However, in Linotype's OpenType version of Helvetica Narrow, the distortions found in the Adobe fonts have been corrected.
Helvetica Textbook is an alternate design of the typeface, which uses 'schoolbook' stylistic alternates to increase distinguishability: a seriffed capital 'i' and 'j' to increase distinguishability, a 'q' with a flick upwards and other differences. The 'a', 't' and 'u' are replaced with designs similar to those in geometric sans-serifs such as those found in Futura.
The Cyrillic version was designed in-house in the 1970s at D Stempel AG, then critiqued and redesigned in 1992 under the advice of Jovica Veljović.
Matthew Carter designed the Helvetica Greek.
Neue Helvetica Georgian (1983?)
It is a version with Georgian script support. Only OpenType CFF and TTF font formats were released.
The family includes eight fonts in eight weights and one width, without italics (25, 35, 45, 55, 65, 75, 85, 95).
Helvetica World supports Arabic, Cyrillic, Greek, Hebrew, and Vietnamese scripts.
The family consists of four fonts in two weights and one width, with complementary italics.
The Arabic glyphs were based on a redesigned Yakout font family from Linotype. Latin kerning and spacing were redesigned to have consistent spacing. John Hudson of Tiro Typeworks designed the Hebrew glyphs for the font family, as well as the Cyrillic, and Greek letters.
Neue Helvetica W1G (2009)
It is a version with Latin Extended, Greek, Cyrillic scripts support. Only OpenType CFF font format was released.
The family includes the fonts from the older Neue Helvetica counterparts, except Neue Helvetica 75 Bold Outline. Additional OpenType features include subscript/superscript.
Neue Helvetica Arabic (2009)
Designed by Lebanese designer Nadine Chahine, it is a version with Arabic script support, designed by Nadine Chahine. Only OpenType TTF font format was released.
The family includes three fonts in three weights and one width, without italics (45, 55, 65).
(Neue) Helvetica Thai (2012)
Thai font designer Anuthin Wongsunkakon of Cadson Demak Co. created Thai versions of Helvetica and Neue Helvetica fonts. The design uses loopless terminals in Thai glyphs, which had also been used by Wongsunkakon's previous design, Manop Mai (New Manop).
Initial release included 6 fonts in OpenType Com format for each family in 3 weights (light, regular, bold) and 1 width, with complementary italics. OpenType features include fractions, glyph composition/decomposition.
Neue Helvetica World (2017)
Designed by Nadine Chahine, Linotype Design Studio, Monotype Design Studio and Edik Ghabuzyan, it is a version of Neue Helvetica with support of Latin, Cyrillic, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Thai, Armenian, Georgian and Vietnamese scripts for total 181 languages, and complete support of Unicode block u+0400. Published in November 2017 by Linotype, it was released in Truetype and OpenType CFF formats.
The family includes 6 fonts in 3 weights (light, regular, bold) and 1 width (regular), with complementary italics (45, 46, 55, 56, 75, 76). Each roman and italic font includes 1,708 and 1,285 glyphs respectively. OpenType features include case-sensitive forms, denominators/numerators, fractions, standard/discretionary/required ligatures, localized forms, ordinals, proportional/tabular figures, scientific inferiors, superscript/subscript, stylistic set 1, initial/terminal/isolated/medial forms, glyph decomposition/composition, kerning, mark/mark to mark positioning.
For other writing systems not supported by Neue Helvetica World, the publisher recommended to pair the font with other suitable typefaces.
Linotype and Monotype
Neue Helvetica (1983)
Helvetica Neue (German pronunciation:[ˈnɔʏə]) is a reworking of the typeface with a more structurally unified set of heights and widths. Other changes include improved legibility, heavier punctuation marks, and increased spacing in the numbers.
Neue Helvetica uses a numerical design classification scheme, like Univers. The font family is made up of 51 fonts including nine weights in three widths (8 in normal weight, 9 in condensed, and 8 in extended width variants) as well as an outline font based on Helvetica 75 Bold Outline (no Textbook or rounded fonts are available). Linotype distributes Neue Helvetica on CD. Helvetica Neue also comes in variants for Central European and Cyrillic text.
It was developed at D. Stempel AG, a Linotype subsidiary. The studio manager was Wolfgang Schimpf, and his assistant was Reinhard Haus; the manager of the project was René Kerfante. Erik Spiekermann was the design consultant and designed the literature for the launch in 1983.
Designer Christian Schwartz, who would later release his own digitisation of the original Helvetica designs (see below), expressed disappointment with this and other digital releases of Helvetica:
Much of the warm personality of Miedinger's shapes was lost along the way...digital Helvetica has always been one-size-fits-all, which leads to unfortunate compromises...the spacing has ended up much looser than Miedinger's wonderfully tight original at display sizes but much too tight for comfortable reading at text sizes.
iOS used first Helvetica then Helvetica Neue as its system font. All releases of macOS prior to OS X Yosemite used Lucida Grande as the system font. The version of Helvetica Neue used as the system font in OS X 10.10 is specially optimised; Apple's intention is to provide a consistent experience for people who use both iOS and OS X. Apple replaced Helvetica Neue with San Francisco in iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan.
Neue Helvetica eText (2011)
It is a version of Neue Helvetica optimised for on-screen use, designed by Akira Kobayashi of Monotype Imaging. Changes from Neue Helvetica include more open spacing, a slightly taller x-height, richer weight contrast.
The family includes eight fonts in four weights and one width, with complementary italics (45, 46, 55, 56, 65, 66, 75, 76). OpenType features include numerators/denominators, fractions, ligatures, scientific inferiors, subscript/superscript.
Neue Haas Grotesk (2010)
Christian Schwartz's digitisation for Font Bureau is based on the original Helvetica drawings and uses the typeface's original name. It was released with an article on the history of Helvetica by Indra Kupferschmid.
Unlike earlier digitisations, Schwartz created two different optical sizes for body text and display sizes, which have different spacing metrics giving tighter spacing at display size and looser spacing to increase legibility in body text. The release includes a number of features not present on digitisations branded as Helvetica, including corrected-curve obliques, tabular figures and stylistic alternates such as separate punctuation sets for upper- and lower-case text.
Writing for Typographica, typeface designer Matthew Butterick described the release as better than any previous digital release of Helvetica:
"As someone who’s worked with cold-metal Helvetica, I can vouch for the fact that it’s never looked better...My sole criticism of the face [is] its ungainly name, which I’m regrettably certain will limit its visibility and hence its uptake. "Neue Haas Grotesk" makes it sound like a second cousin of Akzidenz Grotesk that’s just stumbled in from the hinterlands. But no, it is the rightful heir to the Helvetica throne. It should carry the Helvetica name.
Users include Bloomberg Businessweek and the Whitney Museum. It originated from an abandoned redesign plan for the Guardian newspaper. The release does not include condensed weights or Greek and Cyrillic support.
As one of the most iconic typefaces of the twentieth century, derivative designs based on Helvetica were rapidly developed, taking advantage of the lack of copyright protection in the phototypesetting font market of the 1960s and 70s onwards. Some of these were straight clones, simply intended to be direct substitutes. Many of these are almost indistinguishable from Helvetica, while some add subtle differences.
Substitute Helvetica designs that have survived into or originated during the digital period have included Monotype's Arial, Compugraphic's CG Triumvirate, ParaType's Pragmatica, Bitstream's Swiss 721, URW++'s Nimbus Sans, Scangraphic's Europa Grotesk and others.
URW++ produced a modification of Helvetica called Nimbus Sans. This is an extremely large font family with optical sizes spaced for different sizes of text and other variants such as stencil styles. Florian Hardwig has described its display-oriented styles, with tight spacing, as more reminiscent of Helvetica as used in the 1970s from cold type than any official Helvetica digitisation.
Arial and MS Sans Serif
Monotype's Arial, designed in 1982, while different from Helvetica in several details, has identical character widths, and is indistinguishable by most non-specialists. The characters C, G, R, Q, 1, a, e, r, and t are useful for quickly distinguishing Arial and Helvetica. Differences include:
- Helvetica's strokes are typically cut either horizontally or vertically. This is especially visible in the t, r, f, and C. Arial employs slanted stroke cuts.
- Helvetica's G has a well-defined spur; Arial does not.
- The tail of Helvetica's R is more upright whereas Arial's R is more diagonal.
- The number 1 of Helvetica has a square angle underneath the upper spur, Arial has a curve.
- The Q glyph in Helvetica has a straight cross mark, while the cross mark in Arial has a slight snake-like curve.
The design was created to substitute for Helvetica in digital printing, since Helvetica was a standard font design in this market. Arial (and many other clones of the period) are metrically identical to the PostScript version of Helvetica, so that a document designed in Helvetica could be displayed and printed correctly without IBM having to pay for a Helvetica license.
Microsoft's "Helv" design, later known as "MS Sans Serif", is a sans-serif typeface that shares many key characteristics to Helvetica, including the horizontally and vertically aligned stroke terminators and more-uniform stroke widths within a glyph.
In 2016, CNN introduced a Helvetica Neue-inspired font designed by Monotype Imaging known as CNN Sans. The font was commissioned in 30 different weights to facilitate multi-platform usage across its properties.
CNN Sans has some resemblance to Helvetica, while adding some few modifications in the characters, notably the numerical "1" having base, which Helvetica doesn't have.
Free Helvetica substitute fonts
Nimbus Sans L, a version of URW's Nimbus Sans spaced to match the standard Linotype/PostScript version of Helvetica, was released under the GNU General Public License in 1996, and donated to the Ghostscript project to create a free PostScript alternative. It (or a derivative) is used by much open-source software such as R as a system font. A derivative of this family known as "TeX Gyre Heros" has been prepared for use in the TeX scientific document preparation software.
FreeSans, a free font descending from URW++ Nimbus Sans L, which in turn descends from Helvetica. It is one of free (GPL) fonts developed in GNU FreeFont project, first published in 2002.
Liberation Sans is a metrically equivalent font to Arial developed by Steve Matteson at Ascender and published by Red Hat under the SIL Open Font License. It is used in some GNU/Linux distributions as default font replacement for Arial. Oracle funded the additional development of Liberation Sans Narrow in 2010. Google commissioned a variation named Arimo for Chrome OS.
Much more loosely, Roboto was developed by Christian Robertson of Google as the system font for its Android operating system; this has a more condensed design with the influence of straight-sided geometric designs like DIN 1451.
Some fonts based on Helvetica are intended for different purposes and have clearly different designs. Digital-period font designer Ray Larabie has commented that in the 1970s "everyone was modifying Helvetica with funky curls, mixed-case and effects". Indeed, in one 1973 competition to design new fonts, three of the 20 winners were decorative designs inspired by Helvetica.
Created by Aldo Novarese at the Italian type foundry Nebiolo, Forma was a geometric-influenced derivative of Helvetica with a 'single-storey' 'a' and extremely tight spacing in the style of the period. It was offered with 'request' stylistic alternates imitating Helvetica more closely. Forma has been digitised by SoftMaker as "Formula" and (in a much more complete version with optical sizes) as Forma DJR by David Jonathan Ross at Font Bureau for Tatler magazine.
Helvetica Flair and others
Designed by Phil Martin at Alphabet Innovations, Helvetica Flair is an unauthorised phototype-period redesign of Helvetica adding swashes and unicase-inspired capitals with a lower-case design. Considered a hallmark of 1970s design, it has never been issued digitally. It is considered to be a highly conflicted design, as Helvetica is seen as a spare and rational typeface and swashes are ostentatious: font designer Mark Simonson described it as "almost sacrilegious". Martin would later claim to have been accused of "typographic incest" by one German writer for creating it.
Helvetica Flair was one of several derivative fonts created by Martin in the 1970s (and a particularly questionably legal one, since it was directly named 'Helvetica'). Martin also produced 'Heldustry', a fusion of Helvetica and Eurostile, and 'Helserif', a redesign of Helvetica with serifs, and these have both been digitised.
Shatter LET (1973)
Designed by Vic Carless, Shatter assembles together slices of Helvetica to make a typeface that seems in motion, or broken and in pieces. It was published by Letraset after jointly winning their 1973 competition to design new fonts.
Writing in 2014, designer Tim Spencer praised the design for its ominous effect, writing that it offered "glitch-like mechanical aggression [inspired by] cold, machine-induced paranoia. It attacked the Establishment’s preferred information typography style with a sharp edge and recomposed it in a jarring manner that still makes your eyes skitter and your brain tick trying to recompose it. Shatter literally sliced up Swiss modernist authority."
House Industries’ Chalet family is a series of fonts based on Helvetica inspired by its many derivatives and adaptations in post-war design, organised by “date” to '1960' (conventional), '1970' and '1980' (both more radically altered and “science fiction” in feel). House Industries, who are known for outlandish font marketing methods, promoted Chalet through presenting it as inspired by the branding and career progression of a fictitious Swiss haute couture designer, “Renè Chalet”.
In the digital period, Canadian type designer Ray Larabie has released several digital fonts based upon Helvetica. The most widely known and distributed of these is Coolvetica, which Larabie introduced in 1999; Larabie has stated he was inspired by Helvetica Flair and similar variants in creating some of Coolvetica's distinguishing glyphs (most strikingly a swash on capital G, a lowercase y based on the letterforms of g and u, and a fully curled lowercase t), and chose to use a narrower letter spacing, more commonly seen in Helvetica samples from before the digital type era, for use in display type at the expense of decreased body text legibility. As of 2017, the single semi-bold freeware version remains Larabie's most popular font, more than twice as frequently downloaded as any other font he offers; Larabie also offers the font in a wide variety of weights as a commercial product.
Larabie has also borrowed heavily from Helvetica and other Swiss typefaces in some of his other fonts, including Movatif and GGX88.
Inspired by noticeboards using stencilled or plastic letters from a variety of sources, Christian Schwartz created the font 'Local Gothic', which randomly mixes capitals in the loose style of several popular American display capital fonts, Helvetica Bold among them.
Unica by Team ’77 (André Gürtler, Christian Mengelt and Erich Gschwind) is as a hybrid of Helvetica, Univers and Akzidenz-Grotesk. It was developed in the 1970s for electronic on-screen phototypesetting and released in 1980. As phototypesetting was soon replaced by desktop publishing and because of a legal dispute, the typeface disappapeared from the market very soon. In 2012 the Swiss foundry Lineto made the first digital edition with help by Christian Mengelt. Nowadays Unica is used on websites as well as in printed books.
In 2011, one of Google's April Fools' Day jokes centered on the use of Helvetica. If a user attempted to search for the term "Helvetica" using the search engine, the results would be displayed in the font Comic Sans.
We’d need another book, of course, to do this justice. And where would one start?
Fonts are like cars on the street–we notice only the most beautiful or ugly, the funniest or the flashiest. The vast majority roll on regardless. There may be many reasons why we dislike or distrust certain fonts, and overuse and misuse are only starting points. Fonts may trigger memory as pungently as perfume: Gill Sans can summon up exam papers. Trajan may remind us of lousy choices at the cinema (you’ll see it on the posters of more bad films than any other font) and grueling evenings with Russell Crowe. There was a time when it looked as though he would only appear in films–A Beautiful Mind; Master and Commander; Mystery, Alaska–if the marketing team promised to use Trajan in its pseudo-Roman glory on all its promotional material (There is a funny and rather alarming YouTube clip about this.)
Most of the time we only notice typeface mistakes, or things before or behind their times. In the 1930s, people tutted over Futura and predicted fleeting fame; today we may be outraged by the grunge fonts Blackshirt and Aftershock Debris, but in a decade they may be everywhere, and a decade after that we may be bored with their blandness. Fortunately, choosing the worst fonts in the world is not merely an exercise in taste and personal vindictiveness–there has been academic research. In 2007, Anthony Cahalan published his study of font popularity (or otherwise) as part of Mark Batty’s Typographic Papers Series (Volume 1). He had sent an online questionnaire to more than a hundred designers, and asked them to identify: A) the fonts they used most B) the ones they believed were most highly visible C) the ones they liked least.
The Top Tens were:
- Frutiger (23 respondents)
- Helvetica/Helvetica Neue (21)
- Futura (15)
- Gill Sans (13)
- Univers (11)
- Garamond (10)
- Franklin Gothic (8)
- 9. Minion (7)
- 10. Arial
- Helvetica/Helvetica Neue (29)
- Meta (13)
- Gill Sans (9)
- Rotis (8)
- Arial (7)
- ITC Officina Sans (4)
- Futura (3)
- Bold Italic Techno; FF Info; Mrs Eaves; Swiss; TheSans; Times New Roman (2)
- Times New Roman (19)
- Helvetica/Helvetica Neue (18)
- Brush Script (13)
- Courier (8)
- Souvenir (6)
- Grunge Fonts (generic) (5)
- Avant Garde
- Gill Sans (4)
- Comic Sans (3)
The Least Favorite survey contained brief explanations. Twenty-three respondents said the fonts were misused or overused; 18 believed they were ugly; others found them to be boring, dated, impractical or clichéd; 13 expressed either dislike or blind hatred.
This was not the first such survey to be conducted. There seems to be a new one every year online, but they tend to concentrate, rightly, on best fonts. Occasionally a novel theory emerges, such as the opinion expressed by the designer Mark Simonson on the Typophile forum. Simonson believes that some typefaces are ‘novice magnets’, possessing properties that draw in those with an untrained eye but a desire to impress. ‘To the average person, most fonts look more or less the same. But, if a typeface has a strong flavour, it calls attention to itself. It’s easy to recognize and makes people feel like they know something about fonts when they recognize it. And it looks “special” compared to normal (i.e., boring) fonts, so using it makes their documents look “special.” To the experienced designer, such typefaces have too much flavour, call too much attention to themselves, not to mention the fact that they often carry the baggage of being associated with amateur design.’’
The choice of the Worst Typefaces in the World that follows may appear to be purely subjective, like the choice of most reviled pop singer or most hilarious fashion crime. And so it is. But there is also a broad consensus about what constitutes awfulness in type. As we have seen, the one thing that most people (type professionals and laypeople combined) agreed on is that Comic Sans is no good at all. But it is harmless and even benign, and, on account of its unassuming beginnings, perhaps does not deserve the loathing that has been heaped upon it. But what can you say about the virtually illegible outer-limits fonts: Grassy, for example: a type with hair; or Scrawlz, which looks like writing by a 3- or 103-year-old?
These targets, though, are just too easy, and it would be like criticizing your child’s acting in the nativity play. By contrast, the names in the list below, designed by professionals for reward and approval, have had it coming for a while. Here then, in reverse order, are my nominations for the eight worst fonts in the world.
One ought to approve. Ecofont is designed to save ink, money and eventually the planet, but heaven save us from worthy fonts. Ecofont is a program that adds holes to a font. The software takes Arial, Verdana, Times New Roman and prints them as if they had been attacked by moths. They retain their original shape, but not their inner form, and so lose their true weight and beauty. They also usually go no bigger than 11pt, although at this size or smaller they may save you 25 percent of ink consumption.
The plus side: In 2010 Ecofont won a European Environmental Design Award. The downside: a study at the University of Wisconsin claimed that some Ecofont fonts, such as Ecofont Vera Sans, actually use more ink and toner than lighter regular fonts such as Century Gothic (although one could, of course, always print Century Gothic using Ecofont software).
The verdict: the string vest and Swiss Cheese of fonts; a nice idea for printing large documents in draft–but do you really need to print them at all?
“Real men don’t set Souvenir,” wrote the type scholar Frank Romano in the early 1990s, by which time he had already been performing character assassination on the type for over a decade. At every opportunity in print and online, Romano would have a go. ‘Souvenir is a font fatale . . . We could send Souvenir to Mars, but there are international treaties on pollution in outer space . . . remember, friends don’t let friends set Souvenir.’
Romano is not alone; Souvenir seems to infuriate more type designers than practically anything else. Peter Guy, who has designed books for the Folio Society, wonders, ‘Souvenir of what, I would like to know?’ He has a possible answer: ‘A souvenir of every ghastly mistake ever made in type design gathered together–with a few never thought of before–into one execrable mish-mash.’ And even the people who sell it hate it. Here is Mark Batty from International Typeface Corporation (ITC) on one of his best-selling fonts: ‘A terrible typeface. A sort of Saturday Night Fever typeface wearing tight white flared pants . . . ’
Souvenir was the Comic Sans of its era, which was the 1970s before punk. It was the face of friendly advertising, and it did indeed appear on Bee Gees albums, not to mention the pages of Farrah Fawcett–era Playboy. Oddly, though, Souvenir was far from a seventies face. It was cut in 1914 by the American Type Founders Company, one of the many fonts of Morris Fuller Benton. After a bit of attention it died away, and that would have been that, had it not been revived by ITC half a century later and given a big push in the heyday of photocomposition.
Souvenir has been in the wilderness for two decades, hiding from a design community critical of anything once described as “warm and fuzzy,” but bizarrely it is almost hip again, at least in the pages of the design magazines. One may be rightfully suspicious of ironic retro patronage, but in this case there is genuine enthusiasm. “Every character is a graphic icon, but as a typeface it is still harmonious,” believes Jason Smith, the founder of the Fontsmith foundry, who once chose the lowercase g of Souvenir Demi Bold as his favourite single character of all time (“the soft terminals and rounded organic body—gorgeous”).
#6: Gill Sans Light Shadowed
Gill Sans Light Shadowed is the sequel that should never have been made–a font that pleases the taxman and no one else. It’s hard to believe that this is what Eric Gill had in mind when he first picked up chisel and quill–a type design that would combine the look of both but ultimately end up redolent only of crackly Letraset on a school magazine.
Gill Sans Light Shadowed is an optical font defined by its black dimensional shadow, designed to suggest the effect the sun would cast over thin raised letters. Like an Escher drawing, it will soon induce headaches, the brain struggling to cope with the perfection and exactitude.
There are a great deal of similar three-dimensional effects on the market, the majority from the late 1920s and 1930s–Plastika, Semplicita, Umbra, and Futura Only Shadow–and many digital shaded fonts such as Refracta and Eclipse suggest the trend has not worn itself out. Like the many fonts designed to resemble old-fashioned typewriters–Courier, American Typewriter, Toxica–the effect amuses for a very limited time, leaving cumbersome words that are difficult to read and lack all emotion.
#5: Brush Script
If, during the 1940s, you were ever persuaded by government posters to bathe with a friend or dig for victory, the persuading was probably done in Brush Script. If, during the 1960s or ’70s, you worked on a college or community magazine, then Brush Script screamed, Use me, I look like handwriting. If, during the 1990s, you ever perused the menu of a local restaurant (the sort of restaurant opened by people who on a starlit evening thought, “I’m a pretty good cook–I think I’ll open a restaurant!”), then that menu had a good chance of featuring Pear, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad on a Bed of Brush Script. And if, in the twenty-first century, you ever even momentarily considered putting Brush Script on any document at all, even in an ironic way, then you should immediately relinquish all claims to taste.
Brush Script was made available by American Type Founders (ATF) in 1942, and its designer Robert E Smith gave it a lower case with joining loops, creating a quaint and consistent type that looked as if it was written by a fluid, carefree human. The problem was, no one you had ever met actually wrote like that, with such perfect weight distribution and no smudges (and of course every f, g, and h exactly the same as the last one). But it seemed like a good type for corporations and government bodies to get what they wanted across in a non-corporate way, which is why advertisers used it so much for three decades. It was also the type that introduced Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Neighbours to the world in 1985, a rare instance of opening credits that looked as though they had been written by an elderly member of the cast.
Brush Script inspired a hundred more handwriterly alternatives–Mistral, Chalkduster, Avalon, Reporter, Riva. Many of these are rather nice, and some (Café Mimi, Calliope, and HT Gelateria) are lavishly beautiful. Every leading digital foundry offers an extensive list, ranging from childish scrawl to technical precision. But they all have one thing in common: they are trying to fool you into thinking they are not made on a computer, and they never succeed.
There are also a number of companies that offer you the chance to create a font from your own handwriting. With a site like Fontifier.com this is almost instant: you fill in an alphabet grid, upload it (with your payment) for digital rendering, and you’ll be able to preview your own uniquely named type with hundreds of professional script fonts, and perhaps discover that it’s better than many.
Avatar cost more to make than any other film in history but it did its best to recoup whatever it spent on 3-D special effects and computer-generated blue people by using the cheapest and least original font it could find: Papyrus, a font available free on every Mac and PC. They did tweak it a little for the posters, but they used the standard version for credits and the subtitling for the Na’vi conversations. (On the website iheartpapyrus.com you’ll see an amusing Photoshop of James Cameron briefing star Sam Worthington in a T-shirt proudly asserting “Papyrus 4 Ever!”)
Cameron’s choice was baffling. Papyrus is not a bad font on its own, but is so clichéd and overused that its prominent selection for a genre-busting movie seems perverse. It also seems geographically inappropriate: as everyone who has written a school project over the last decade will tell you, Papyrus is the font you use to spell out the word “Egypt.”
Designed by Chris Costello and released by Letraset in 1983, Papyrus suggests what it might be like to use a quill on Egyptian plant-like material. The letters have notches and roughness, and give a good account of a chalk or crayon fraying at the edges. The primitive letters leave the impression of writing in a hurry but there is also a consistency to the style, with E and F both carrying unusually high cross-bars. The lower case seemed to be modeled closely on the early twentieth-century American newspaper favourite Cheltenham.
The font soon became a favourite of Mediterranean-style restaurants, amusing greeting cards, and amateur productions of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (long title–good in Papyrus Condensed), and its digital incarnation proved perfect for the desktop publishing boom of the mid-1980s. It said adventurous and exotic, and marked its user out as a would-be Indiana Jones. Its use in Avatar was a remarkable notch up–and another example of growing typographic literacy as moviegoers scratched their heads and wondered where they had seen those titles before.
#3: Neuland Inline
Are you out this evening to see an amateur stage version of a musical involving an animal called Pumbaa and another called Timon, with songs performed by a junior Elton John? Good luck! While you’re there, take a look at the poster. More likely than not it will be in Neuland or Neuland Inline. The Neuland family says Africa in the same way as Papyrus says Egypt, albeit the it’s-all-good safari/spear-dance side of Africa rather than the shantytown or Aids side. It is a dense and angular type, suggestive of something Fred Flintstone might chisel into prehistoric rock. The inline version is bristling with energy and a quirkiness of spirit, a bad type predominantly through its overuse rather than its construction.
Neuland was created in 1923 by the influential typographer Rudolf Koch, who also made Kabel, Marathon and Neufraktur. At the time of release it was so far removed from other German types (both blackletter and the emerging modernists) that it was widely regarded with derision – too clumsy and inflexible. But its individuality soon became its strength, and by 1930 it had been adopted to advertise products that thought of themselves as special: the Rudge-Whitworth four-speed motorcycle; Eno’s Fruit Salts; American Spirit cigarettes. Some time later, as with Papyrus, Neuland hit the big time in the movies–with the type almost as prominent in Jurassic Park as the dinosaurs.
Both Neuland and Papyrus are classifiable as theme park fonts, more comfortable on the big rides at Universal Studios, Busch Gardens or Alton Towers than they are on the page. There are many other display types that share this dubious attribute, and the enterprising man behind a site called MickeyAvenue.com has spent a great deal of time at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida noting them all down. We now know to expect Þ at the Corner Café on Main Street, and w at the Haunted Mansion, while x, which was put on this earth to spell the word y, is at Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland. The classics, too, show up in places their designers could never have envisaged. Albertus reigns at the Animal Kingdom Oasis area; Gill Sans provides signage at the Epcot Imagination zone; Univers does its usual information duty at transportation and ticketing areas, while Futura is at the Animal Kingdom’s Dino Institute.
You may write to the MickeyAvenue webmaster thanking him for his sterling endeavours. You will receive a reply thanking you for your communication written–of course–in Papyrus.
#2 Ransom Note
As you might expect, Ransom Note consists of letters that look as if they have been hurriedly cut from magazines to form unnerving messages. There are various styles of such fonts available, many of them downloadable free of charge, and you might use them to write such things as “Pay up or the kitten gets it.” Inevitably these menaces don’t look very realistic, and Ransom Note is a font best used for comic effect, perhaps to say “Christian is having another bloody paintballing birthday party–please do come.”
The names are often better than the type–BlackMail, Entebbe, Bighouse. None of them, however, have a genuine ransom note’s sweat, glue, and menace, nor the cut-up shock-art of those original Sex Pistols record sleeves.
#1 The 2012 Olympic Font
Precisely 800 days before the Olympic Games were due to start, the Official London 2012 shop began selling miniature die-cast taxis in pink, blue, orange and other shades, the first of forty such models, each promoting a different sport. The cabs are not like the lovingly crafted ones you can buy from Corgi, with opening doors and jewelled headlights, more the lumpy ones sold in Leicester Square to tourists in a hurry. Why should this matter? Because they are an example of very bad design, something London has largely begun to shun in recent years. What makes them doubly bad is the packaging, which comes with a bit of trivia about all the Olympic and Paralympic sports, each heralded with the question “Did You Know?” in what is surely the worst new public typeface of the last 100 years.
The London 2012 Olympic Typeface, which is called 2012 Headline, may be even worse than the London 2012 Olympic Logo, but by the time it was released people were so tired of being outraged by the logo that the type almost passed by unnoticed. The Logo was the subject of immediate parody (some detected Lisa Simpson having sex, others a swastika), and even the subject of a health warning–an animated pulsing version was said to have brought on epileptic fits. In the International Herald Tribune, Alice Rawsthorn observed that “it looks increasingly like the graphic equivalent of what we Brits scathingly call–‘dad dancing’–namely a middle-aged man who tries so hard to be cool on the dance floor that he fails.”
Like the logo, the uncool font is based on jaggedness and crudeness, not usually considered attributes where sport is concerned. Or maybe it’s an attempt to appear hip and down with the kids–it looks a little like the sort of tagging one might see in 1980s graffiti. It also has a vaguely Greek appearance, or at least the UK interpretation of Greek, the sort of lettering you will find at London kebab shops and restaurants called Dionysus. The slant to the letters is suddenly interrupted by a very round and upright o, which may be trying to be an Olympic Ring. The font does have a few things going for it: it is instantly identifiable, it is not easily forgettable, and because we’ll be seeing so much of it, it may eventually cease to offend. Let’s hope they keep it off the medals.
From Just My Type by Simon Garfield. Published by arrangement with Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2010 by Simon Garfield.
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