The (not so) Tuesday Type: Helvetica

The Swiss Type That’s Come to Dominate The World

DISCLAIMER: The type I have used in the Title Image is Gill Sans Nova. This is due to the fact that I couldn’t find Helvetica to use in Adobe InDesign. For a proper example of the type, check out my picture of the document example in the second section. 

There’s little new about Swiss typography I can say today that hasn’t already been said. Inspired from the innovative type of the inter-war Bauhaus, the Swiss typography movement was one of the definitions of modern design, following World War Two. Perhaps one of the best known of these typefaces from this period is Helvetica. This type has evolved and become one of the most widely-used types in the world right now.

A Modern Type with a Long History

Like much of the typography we use today, Helvetica is very new. Created by Swiss typist Max Miedinger in 1957, the type was originally named Neue Haas Grotesk. This is to connect it back to its neo-grotesque origins, which were inspired by typography of the 19th century. The type was later named Helvetica in 1960, in which the name is derived from Helvetia, the female personification of Switzerland, with origins dating back to Ancient Roman times.

The typeface is one of the world’s most used and recognisable today. The place where it is the most identifiable would have to be in the United States. It is the typeface of the New York Metro, which helped give it a universal look and feel that was lacking before. Until 2017, IBM used it as their corporate font. Completing this is how it has been used as the default font on the iOS version of Pages. This form of Helvetica is actually how I came across the type for the first time. This occurred way back in 2011, when the iPad and tablet computing was still taking off, and when you could buy Pages outright for $13AUD. 

Image Gallery: Some examples of Helvetica being used

Clean, Beautiful Type That’s Sadly Overused

There’s little about Helvetica that I can say that already hasn’t been said about its strengths. It’s such a clean and easy type to read at short to medium distances. The neo-grotesque origins of this type really give it a unique feel as well, all while being modern. Yet, despite these, there are some issues regarding the type.

Unlike a lot of sans-serif type, Helvetica is a nice sort of type to read in long-form. However, this type has to be well-spaced, as well as have decent kerning. I speak of this from experience of using the type in the iOS Pages. By default, the program sets it out with 1 space at size 11. It’s good at saving space, but as a writer, I’ve found it to be an extremely difficult type to use and edit with. If you’re a writer and ready to use this type for your story, you will need to do a lot of proper formatting and kerning to use it effectively.

Another problem with Helvetica is one that’s plagued a lot of other good reading type: overuse. Like Arial, Calibri, and Times New Roman, Helvetica has become a typeface that’s become way too overused. This is due to its default setting on computer programs, like iOS Pages, and many corporations who like to use it for their logos. Then again, this is less of a criticism of the type and more of how effective it’s become as a typeface.


There’s little more I can say about Helvetica that already hasn’t been said before. It’s such a clean, easy type that’s a pleasure to see and read. However, it’s a type best avoided if you’re redesigning a logo as it’s overused. You also need to ensure that you do proper spacing and kerning with this type as well for it to be readable.



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