The original purpose behind the creation of the typeface Haas Unica was to provide a sympathetic update of Helvetica. But now the font designer Toshi Omagari has decided to make this typeface his own and has thus significantly supplemented and extended it.
In the late 1970s, at the same time at which hot metal typesetting was being replaced by phototypesetting, the Haas Type Foundry commissioned a group of specialists known as "Team '77" consists of Andre Gurtler, Christian Mengelt and Erich Gschwind to adapt Max Miedinger's font
The characters of Haas Unica are somewhat narrower than those of Helvetica so that the larger bowls, such as those of the "b" and "d", appear more delicate and have a slightly more pleasing effect.
In general, the spacing of Haas Unica was increased to provide for improved kerning and thus enhance the legibility of the typeface in smaller point sizes. Major changes were made to the lowercase "a", in that the curve of the upper bowl became rounder and its spur was eliminated. The form of the "k" was additionally modified to remove the offset leg so that both diagonals originate from the main stem. The outstroke of the uppercase "J" was also significantly curtailed.
In addition to many minor alterations, such as to the length of the horizontal bars of the "E", "F" and "G" and to the angle of the tail of the "Q", the leg of the "R" was extended and made more diagonal.
In the case of the numerals, the upper curve of the "2" was reduced and the lower loops of the "5" and "6" were correspondingly adapted. The sweep of the diagonal of the "7" was also reduced.
Several decades later, Toshi Omagari returned to the original sketches with the objective of reinvigorating this almost totally forgotten typeface. First, however, he needed to revise the drafts prepared by Team '77 to adapt them for digital typesetting. So Omagari carefully adjusted the proportions of the glyphs, achieving a more uniform overall effect across all line weights and removed details that had become redundant for contemporary typefaces. It was also apparent from the old drafts that it had been the case that the original plan was to create more than the four weights that were published. Omagari has added five additional styles, giving his Neue Haas Unica? a total of nine weights, from Ultra Light to Extra Black.
He has also greatly extended the range of glyphs. Providing as it does typographic support for Central and European languages, Greek and Cyrillic texts, Neue Haas Unica is now ready to be used for major international projects. In addition, it has been supplied with small caps and various sets of numerals.
With its resolute clarity and excellent typographic support, Neue Haas Unica is suitable for use in a wide range of new contexts. The light and elegant characters can be employed in the large point sizes to create, for example, titling and logos while the very bold styles come into their own where the typography needs to be powerful and expressive. The medium weights can be used anywhere, for setting block text and headlines.
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.