The Helvetica® typeface is one of the most famous and popular in the world. It’s been used for every typographic project imaginable, not just because it is on virtually every computer. Helvetica is ubiquitous because it works so well. The design embodies the concept that a typeface should absolutely support the reading process – that clear communication is the primary goal of typography.
Helvetica didn’t start out with that name. The story of Helvetica began in the fall of 1956 in the small Swiss town of Münchenstein. This is where Eduard Hoffmann, managing director of the Haas Type Foundry, commissioned Max Miedinger to draw a typeface that would unseat a popular family offered by one his company’s competitors.
Miedinger, who was an artist and graphic designer before training as a typesetter, came up with a design based on Hoffmann’s instructions, and by the summer or 1957, produced a new sans serif typeface which was given the name “Neue Haas Grotesk.” Simply translated this meant “New Haas Sans Serif.”
The Stempel type foundry, the parent company of Haas, decided to offer the design to its customers in Germany, where Stempel was based. The company, however, felt it would be too difficult to market a new face under another foundry’s name and looked for one that would embody the spirit and heritage of the face. The two companies settled on “Helvetica,” which was a close approximation of “Helvetia,” the Latin name for Switzerland. (“Helvetia” was not chosen because a Swiss sewing machine company and an insurance firm had already taken the name.)
Over the years, the Helvetica family was expanded to encompass an extensive selection of weights and proportions and has been adapted for every typesetting technology.
Helvetica is among the most widely used sans serif typefaces and has been a popular choice for corporate logos, including those for 3M, American Airlines, American Apparel, BMW, Jeep, JCPenney, Lufthansa, Microsoft, Mitsubishi Electric, Orange, Target, Toyota, Panasonic, Motorola, Kawasaki and Verizon Wireless. Apple has incorporated Helvetica in the iOS® platform and the iPod® device. Helvetica is widely used by the U.S. government, most notably on federal income tax forms, and NASA selected the type for the space shuttle orbiters.