The Neue Haas Unica? family is a reimaging of the 1980s Haas Unica design, a suite of typefaces intended to be an updated alternative to the Helvetica? family. While Neue Haas Unica's design foundation is firmly based on the earlier version, it has also been restructured for current imaging technologies.
In the late 1970s, the Haas type foundry had concerns that its most important suite of fonts, the Helvetica family, might need updating to remain competitive with the many new sans serif faces that had been recently released specifically for phototypesetting. As a result, the company commissioned Team 77, a typeface design studio and typographic consulting firm, to compare the Helvetica design to other popular sans serif typefaces. Team 77’s resulting report recommend a new adaptation of the Helvetica design that incorporated subtle changes to take advantage of phototypesetting technology. Haas quickly gave Team 77 the green light to begin the design process that was to become the Haas Unica family. (The name derived from those of its two great predecessors, the Helvetica and Univers® families.)
“Haas Unica was intended to be a new alternative to the original metal type versions of Helvetica,” says Toshi Omagari, the designer of the new design. “While it clearly lived up to the claim of being a classic grotesque for phototypesetting technology, Haas Unica disappeared from the market and no digital version was made available.” Omagari saw the value in the original design but realized that changes would need to be made to optimize the family for digital imaging.
He began work on the Neue Haas Unica family by digitizing the analog production drawings for the original design. “Once I had a good foundation to work with, Omagari recalls, “I improved consistency of proportion within each weight of the new design, removing the design details that that are not consistent with digital imaging.”
Omagari studied typeface design at Musashino Art University in Tokyo and the University of Reading in England. A typographic polyglot, he has developed a varied portfolio of fonts in Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, and Mongolian scripts. “I don’t know exactly when it happened, but by the time I entered an art university,” recalls Omagari, “it was already clear that I loved letters – especially drawing them.” “Designing typefaces is an opportunity to maintain the visual aspects of a culture, as well as to bring it forward,” says Omagari. "Because they are important communication tools, letters are strongly entwined with culture. Type design helps maintain the visual aspect of a culture – as well as push it forward. This is particularly challenging when a designer is confronted with drawing a foreign typeface.”
From subtle adjustments to sweeping changes, the Neue Haas Unica family has been has been restructured for digital and hardcopy imaging. “The original typefaces were designed for the relatively coarse Linotype phototypesetting unit system,” says Omagari, “so I adjusted the character proportions slightly and re-spaced them with strictly visual parameters.” “Neue Haas Unica also spaces slightly more open and the letters are narrower than Helvetica,” Omagari explains. “This ensures text readability at small sizes, and on modest resolution devices.” The Neue Haas Unica family has 9 tailored weights, from ultra thin to extra black, each with a complementary italic. “A booklet published by the original Team 77 designers showed a more ambitious plan of weights than the typeface eventually had,” says Omagari, so I added five more weights to the original four.” He also added characters for Eastern and Central European, Greek and Cyrillic language support, which did not exist in the original design.
The family range, delicate gradation of weights and the clear character shapes in the Neue Haas Unica family make it appropriate for a wide range of applications. The very light weights are perfect for headlines and other large settings, as well as small blocks of copy at typical text sizes. The regular, medium and bold weights know no boundaries and the heavy and black designs are ideal for when typography needs to be powerful and commanding. Like the Neue Helvetica and Univers Next typefaces, the Neue Haas Unica family can be used just about anywhere – and for any project.