Helvetica is a typeface that was first developed in 1957 by the Haas Type Foundry in Münchenstein, Switzerland. Created to meet the social demand for practicality in 1950s, Helvetica was made to be more functional than decorative. It is now widely used in contexts from designs for public spaces and facilities in Switzerland to the digital interfaces of Apple products. Helvetica’s symbolic quality has earned the typeface recognition as a design icon—and as a brand.
Welcome to the 35th issue of B.
It was during my first year of college that I first really became aware of typography. I was told to work on a monotonous assignment copying the letters of a font one by one in pen. Back then, I didn’t understand the point of this time-consuming exercise. But after studying graphic design and working in a profession that involves choosing the right typeface for each project, if I were asked what the most basic element in design is, I would say without any hesitation that it is typography. That freshman year assignment, I believe, greatly contributed to what I am now.
At its most basic, typography might be a simple set of letters used to convey messages. But the careful selection of font, arrangement, and spacing affects how that information is delivered, making a typeface more than merely a collection of letters. The wrong typeface can render the refined and profound light and superficial, and an unstable combination of fonts can disrupt an entire document. A sophisticatedly designed hotel or restaurant often sets itself apart through a fantastic use of type design. I thought it was a shame that the collection of computer typefaces available for the Korean alphabet was so small, so I worked on a project aimed at creating a new, freely distributed type we called nanumgeulkkol (“font for sharing”). It was actually out of a personal interest in typography.
Because there are many languages, such as those in Korea and Japan, that use characters not based on the Latin alphabet, it can be difficult to talk about letter design across different languages. Instead, it might be easier to see the way they write numbers, which are the same in most places around the world. For example, the numbers on Japanese license plates somehow feel Japanese, while the numbers found on Vietnam’s public signage take on something of that country’s character. This is especially true of handwritten numbers. Perhaps this is because every culture emphasizes different elements.
This month, we introduce Helvetica, a widely used sans serif typeface born in Switzerland. It was the typeface I was supposed to draw for the assignment I mentioned above, and I would say it is one single typeface worthy of careful study even now. The most basic, but also the most sophisticated typeface, Helvetica is perfectly balanced and has a great deal of potential for variation depending on the designer. This explains why, for more than half a century since its creation, Helvetica has been—as it will surely remain—a global graphic design standard. Sometimes Helvetica is criticized for being too rigid or for stifling individuality. But every typeface also has its own merits and demerits, and such criticism is not channeled at Helvetica only.
I believe that the aesthetics of a thing, whether it is a small bag or an imposing work of architecture, is determined by having the aesthetic acuity necessary to find balance for a font in a small space. This requires the sensitivity for the fine-tuning of weights, widths, and spacing in a typeface that can be trained down to 0.001 mm. That does not mean that typography has to be approached professionally by a design major. But those who are skilled in designing and employing typefaces are sure to have an outstanding sense not only for design, but for other fields as well. That is because they must have their own distinctive perspective on the content and expressions they are trying to convey. I’d like to recommend that you look closely at well-designed documents and try to imitate the weight and spacing of the typefaces used. I believe even to an untrained eye, this exercise would reveal a new world of type design.
Comments made by Helvetica users in social media
Quotes about Helvetica from designers
Hyun Cho, S/O Project CEO and Art Director
Various typefaces spotted in the field
Typeface designs that influence consumer choices
Jordan Crane, Creative Director of Wolff Olins
Logotypes visualizing a brand’s image
Helvetica in the Brands
Helvetica conveys very different ambiences in a variety of brands
Sungmin Choi, Graphic Designer of Studio Sulki & Min
Typeface references selected by creators from different fields
Typeface design studios create original typefaces to communicate with the world
Helvetica on the Pages
Helvetica as a neutral tool for delivering messages
Helvetica’s 58-year history and the origins of its prestige
Photos documenting Helvetica’s birth and advance into the market
The people who created and popularized Helvetica
Helvetica as seen through the press
A look at the business strategies of Monotype, holder of the Helvetica copyright
Helvetica’s history and commercial value
From the Editor in Chief
The Editor in Chief offers his observations on Helvetica’s core values
- Suyong Joh
- Editor In Chief
- Taehyuk Choi
- Issue Editor
- Heeyoung Yoo
- Senior Editor
- Eunsung Park
- Yunseong Jang, Bora Nam
- Translation Editor
- Heejean Kim
- Hyunkyung Yoo, Rancy Kim, Seongae Yang, Soonok Hwang
- Copy Editing
- Eugene Larsen-Hallok
- Simon Chan
- Lead Designer
- Younghyun Ok
- Ayoon Jung, Minyoung Kim
- Film Designer
- Onedoe Jung
- Nohseon Song
- Mihye Nam (Tokyo), Nari Park (London), Jungho Lee (New York), Jeewon Lim (Milan), Hyeseon Jeong (Paris)
- JOH & Company
- Printed in the Republic of Korea
- 978-89-98415-72-3 03050
- Helvetica Forever: Story of a Typeface
- Helvetica, Objectified, Urbanized: The Complete Interviews
- I Love Helvetica: I Love Type Series, vol. 07
- 100 Years of Swiss Graphic Design