The "Original" Helvetica
What we know as Helvetica is not really Helvetica. The font that was Helvetica before it was "Helvetica" is Neue Haas Grotesk, a revival released by the Font Bureau this week.
So what do we mean when we say Helvetica is really Neue Haas Grotesk? The Font Bureau explains: "Neue Haas Grotesk was the original name given to the typeface that Max Miedinger drew in the 1950s for Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei (Haas Typefoundry) in Switzerland under the direction of Eduard Hoffmann. It was designed to compete with the German-designed Akzidenz Grotesk and others. Shortly after release from Haas, the name was changed at the request of parent company Stempel to 'Helvetica' (Latin for 'the Swiss') in order to compete better in a global market."
Over the years, the typeface went through many transformations as it migrated from Linotype machine to photo-lettering compositing to desktop publishing. The story is fascinating (as fans of the film "Helvetica" know), and the Font Bureau has all the details on its Neue Haas Grotesk "mini-site."
Eduard Hoffman's original notebooks document the development of Neue Haas Grotesk.
The Font Bureau's Neue Haas Grotesk, the "original" Helvetica
Type designer Christian Schwartz was commissioned to digitize the original Neue Haas Grotesk — Schwartz calls it a "restoration" — and in so doing he went back to the original forms as drawn for letterpress printing. Some of the features he returned to the font are:
- optical sizes for display and text
- real oblique fonts rather than skewed type
- stylistic alternates for uppercase and accented characters
- case-sensitive numerals and punctuation for better alignment in all-caps settings
- refined spacing that uses the best width for each glyph
- tabular figures that align in data-intense applications
- fractions, superiors, and inferiors
- extended character sets for a wide array of languages
Oblique styles have been redrawn to reflect the originals. Top: Helvetica. Bottom: Neue Haas Grotesk.
Spacing has been refined for a better fit. Top: Helvetica. Bottom: Neue Haas Grotesk.
Neue Haas Grotesk is an OpenType font &38212; available in both Standard and Pro versions — that comes in 22 styles. Unfortunately for independent designers, the Font Bureau requires a minimum license of 2-5 computers for purchase. A 2-5 computer license for OpenType starts at $1,232.
Neue Haas Grotesk comes in 22 styles, 12 of which are shown here.