Monotype just unveiled its redesign of one of the world’s most iconic typefaces, Helvetica. Its retooled version called Helvetica Now boasts 48 fonts including weights ranging from Micro Light to Display Extra Black.
Helvetica is so famous in the design world, that a feature film was produced touting the design’s perfection. How can perfection be bettered? The new design adheres to the original’s aesthetic and has some tweaks that enhance readability at smaller sizes. The letterforms have been simplified by modifying the stroke’s weight variations (the thickness of the stroke) which aids readability on the screen. They’ve also designed a “symbols and numerals” font which would be ideal for any wayfinding project, such as airports, transport centers and more.
Q & A
I asked Monotype’s Charles Nix, Monotype’s lead Type Director, what differentiates Helvetica Now from the original design?
He replied: Helvetica Now has as much in common with the original 1957 Helvetica as it does with the 1982 Neue Helvetica. That is to say, one part of what makes it different is that we’ve returned some of what was lost in the 1982 version—the version we’ve all grown accustomed to. That family uses a single drawing to represent all sizes. We call that a single master. Helvetica Now has three masters—small (Micro), medium (Text), and large (Display). Having multiple masters allows the letters to be drawn and spaced in ways that make sense for their intended scale.
Very small (Micro) type needs to be spaced more widely. Its forms need to be open and the lowercase slightly larger. And there are a host of other changes that help improve legibility and readability in tiny use or low-res environments. The Text sizes are spaced better also. And the Text letter designs are even more clear, simple, and neutral than previous Helveticas. The Display versions are spaced more tightly and have refined drawings that truly shine in large sizes—where typographic “close-ups” are most revealing.
We’ve cleaned up a lot of loose ends—like the “at sign” (@)—forms that were designed in a different time with very different typographic demands. But perhaps the most recognizable change is the introduction—and in some cases, reintroduction—of alternate forms. There are now a handful substitutes for key character shapes: a single-story a; a beardless G; a straight-legged R; a hooked l; a straight-descender y; a u without a trailing serif; and rounded accents and punctuation. Each of these has the potential to dramatically alter the look and feel of the family. In combination, the possibilities are nearly endless.
Then I asked what alterations aid readability on screen?
He replied: The new spacing and simplified forms in the Text range make Helvetica Now a “screen first” family. And for rugged environments—super tiny type and/or low-res screens—Helvetica Now Micro goes where no Helvetica has gone before. Previous Helveticas struggled to be legible at tiny sizes because of their compactness and closed apertures. And the one-size-fits-all, single-master solution of Neue Helvetica meant that its spacing was cramped and ill-suited to 5-, 6-, and 7-point settings. Helvetica Now Micro addresses those shortcomings. More open apertures; wider, more open forms; a larger x-height; optical adjustments to the shapes of complex forms; open spacing; larger accents; and a host of other small changes—combine to produce a highly-readable, highly-legible font at very small sizes—especially on screen.
Design credits go to Charles Nix, Monotype Studio, and Jan Hendrik Weber. The new family is being well received and is presently at #1 on myFonts.com‘s “Hot New Fonts listing” and can be downloaded now.