Bringing a Classic into the Digital Age with Helvetica Now
Optimized for screens and design flexibility, an old favorite gets a rehaul
In April 2019, Monotype launched a complete rehaul of the classic Helvetica typeface. Named Helvetica Now, it comprises an impressive three optical sizes (Micro, Text, and Display), 48 font styles, and 815 glyphs (that’s 38,976 characters in all).
To understand the context of this rehaul, we have to go back in time a bit.
Helvetica, originally called “Neue Haas Grotesk,” was designed in 1957 by Max Miedinger for the Haas Type Foundry in Switzerland. Haas parent company D. Stempel AG later renamed the font Helvetica — inspired by the Latin name of Switzerland, Helvetia — arguing that it would sell better. And it did. Helvetica took the world by storm and quickly replaced the previous darling of typography, Futura (released in 1928). Helvetica began popping up everywhere and inspired scores of fonts and designs. There’s even a feature-length documentary about it.
In 1983 Helvetica got an update with Neue Helvetica (yes, that is the proper name. Adobe changed it to “Helvetica Neue” to make it easier to find in the fonts menu), the first digital version of the typeface, designed by D. Stempel AG for Linotype.
Helvetica had a significant influence on the digital space, but because it wasn’t designed with modern screens in mind, it also had its shortcomings. Both Apple and Google recognized the functional, clean simplicity of Helvetica but realized that it wasn’t optimized for reading on digital devices. Apple’s latest brand font San Francisco (introduced in 2014) replaced Helvetica as the default, but took a lot of inspiration from it. Android’s standard typeface Roboto (launched in 2011) is also heavily based on Helvetica. With this release, a new and reworked Helvetica for the digital age has arrived. I’d argue its arrival is 10 years or so overdue, but nonetheless, it is an exemplary update of the most popular font ever. Helvetica Now is full of features and goodies, as we’ll discover…