Typefaces are something that’s just as important to graphic design as coffee or the golden ratio. The industry’s go-to typeface since the 1960s has been Helvetica. Sure, there might have been satisfactory fashionable fonts in the past (none of which is Comic Sans) and there are other just as timeless typeface choices, but none of them have had the kind of impact as the mighty Helvetica.
In 2007, in honor of the 50th anniversary, they released a documentary about the typeface, its origin, and influence on the world. If typefaces are the sort of thing that makes your appendages tingle, it’s definitely worth checking out—even if you fear that it’s going to make you seem pretentious to your fantasy football crew. The documentary explained that Helvetica is more neutral than the typefaces before it. Dutch designer Wim Crouwel stated, “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.” It’s this neutralism that makes it popular still.
Going back to what Wim Crouwel said, Helvetica has lasted so long because it won’t be held back by age. Next year, Helvetica will be 60-years-old. After all these years, Helvetica has stayed strong and remained a classic untouched by time. There’s a problem with this popularity, however, it makes designers want to venture out into somewhere new while still finding something familiar and utilitarian. This leads to the growing use of typefaces like Univers and Arial which, to the untrained eye, can look just like Helvetica. This is interesting. If the client can’t tell that you’re not using Helvetica then, why use anything different? This hasn’t stopped Apple who, in 2015, moved away from Helvetica Neue to their in-house designed font, San Francisco. Apple designed this typeface primarily for digital displays and users have reported that it’s increased readability in instances where digital displays have caused eye-strain.
There’s a lot that we do for our craft that makes very little sense to an outsider. However, the fact of the matter is that it’s all these little things that come together to make a Voltron/Megazord/Other cooperative giant robots. It’s the little touches that make the whole project work on the whole and typeface is probably one of the most important little things. A typeface can set a feel or age for the project. If you want something that looks like it came out of the 1950’s, there’s a typeface for that. If you don’t want your project to look dated in 5—10 years, there are certain typefaces that are popular now that you probably should be avoiding.
Can these alternatives to Helvetica be just as timeless as Helvetica itself? We’ll have to wait and see.