Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 May 2019

Helvetica: the world's most popular font has had a digital-era update

The font has had a 21st century refresh, with the different displays in our connected era in mind

The typefaces of the Helvetica Now update are designed to be clearer in both smaller and larger sizes. Photo: Supplied / Monotype
The typefaces of the Helvetica Now update are designed to be clearer in both smaller and larger sizes. Photo: Supplied / Monotype

Maybe only some of you will know about Helvetica, but you will all use it in some way or another: the font is the gold standard for designers.

The globe's most popular font has now been updated, the 'R' has a straight leg, the 'G' is rounded and the capital 'I' and lowercase 'l' have been differentiated better: Helvetica's new iteration is called Helvetica Now.

The Helvetica font family is 62 years old (and was the typeface representation of the mid-century modern era), and the last update was 35 years ago. The mantra of the typeface has always been to display "clarity, simplicity and neutrality", but it was designed in the pre-digital era by people who weren't thinking about tablets or laptops or wearable devices, and who didn't know about high-res printers and ultra HD yet tiny screens.

The licensing rights to the Helvetica typeface are owned by the world's largest font company Monotype, who have made bold statements about the redesign: "This is not a revival. This is not a restoration. This is a statement," says the group of the new look. "It's more than a refresh or an update."

The earlier iteration of Helvetica (Neue) was designed with only standard text type in mind, whereas Helvetica Now has been designed also with consideration of micro and display sizes (the latter means headlines etc). This means the font is now more legible when both small and big (so will be as easy to read on a smartwatch or billboard, as in a book).

Helvetica Now wasn't a quick update, either, the planning for the new font update began in December 2014 and was a collaboration between dozens of designers and engineers.

This is what the Latin characters look like in Helvetica Now. Photo: Supplied 
This is what the Latin characters look like in Helvetica Now. Photo: Supplied

"Helvetica Now is the tummy-tuck, facelift and lip filler we’ve been wanting, but were too afraid to ask for. It offers beautifully drawn alternates to some of Helvetica’s most awkward moments, giving it a surprisingly, thrillingly contemporary character,” said Abbott Miller, partner at design consultancy Pentagram of the update.

Updated: April 18, 2019 12:03 PM

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