Helvetica, originally Neue Haas Grotesk, is a sans-serif typeface developed at the Haas type foundry in Münchenstein, Switzerland by Max Miedinger. It made its first appearance around 1957 as Neue Haas Grotesk and received the moniker Helvetica in 1961 when the German type foundry D. Stempel AG produced versions of it for American and English companies.

Helvetica has become one of the most used typefaces internationally. Versions of Helvetica exist in Roman, Cyrillic, Greek, and Hebrew alphabets, with special Unicode characters for most Asian languages. Many advertising and marketing companies use it based on its classic style, simple design and ease of letter recognition. It can be seen in ads and logos ranging from Toyota to Tupperware to American Airlines. Many professional typographers find it to be rather plain and therefore unappealing. It is a type that emits safety, stability and sensebility.

Helvetica's popularity was also aided by Apple Computers decision to make it the default system typeface for the original Mac in 1984. Thus, it became the most widely used typeface for early desktop publishing.

Most non-specialist in the world of fonts and typefaces have trouble distinguishing between Arial and Helvetica. The difference is in subtle details, such as the tails on characters R and a. Helvetica also uses vertical and horizontal cuts, as Arial employs slanted cuts.

Helvetica is also a feature-length documentary film by Gary Hustwit released in 2007 to coincide with the typeface's 50th birthday. The film analyzes how it has managed to transcend so many aspects of Western culture, as well as the way typefaces affect our buying habits, thinking patterns, and lives. Hustwit explores cities in the United States, England, Germany, and the Netherlands, among others, demonstrating how many places, from the extraordinary to the mundane, Helvetica shows up.

Thanks to:
BBC “Helvetica at 50” - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6638423.stm

Helvetica (btw, Helvetica is a typeface, not a font) is strongly associated with International Style. It can be considered a redesign of Akzidenz-Grotesk (also spelled Accidenz-Grotesk), an 1896 font from Berthold.

The big differences are, for example, in the endings of certain capital letters like C and G: in Helvetica they are perfectly horizontal, in Akzidenz they are slanted. Also, the capital R in Helvetica ends in a cute little curve, completely missing in the rather straight and business-like Akzidenz.

While it is true that Helvetica is now considered boring by many, it is also true that it is very easy to read, it is available in a great variety of fonts, weights and variants, and it still has a certain elegance.

A close relative would be Univers. Arial, on the other hand, is more like an embarassing relative.

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