The Helvetica killer

Bruno Maag is so enraged by Helvetica that he has designed a typeface aimed specifically at wiping it off the face of the planet. He explains his hatred in the latest of SEA’s Naturalis booklets

Bruno Maag is so enraged by Helvetica that he has designed a typeface aimed specifically at wiping it off the face of the planet. He explains his hatred in the latest of SEA’s Naturalis booklets

Helvetica may be the world’s most popular typeface but one man is having none of it. Type designer Bruno Maag of Dalton Maag, views Helvetica’s popularity with a mixture of bemusement and irritation. So he has decided to do something about it. With the Dalton Maag team, he has created Aktiv Grotesk, a typeface designed to provide an alternative (and, he hopes, improvement) to Helvetica.

Maag discussed the project and his feelings about Helvetica in a conversation with CR editor Patrick Burgoyne which is published in Naturalis x 7, the latest of GF Smith‘s promotional booklets for its Naturalis paper range, designed by SEA and set in Aktiv Grotesk (shown here). Here is what he had to say:


Patrick Burgoyne: Bruno, where does your deep-seated hatred of Helvetica come from? Isn’t hating Helvetica pointless? It’s like air or vanilla ice cream, it’s just there…

Bruno Maag: That’s the point, it is vanilla ice cream. In my whole career in typography, starting with my apprenticeship, I have never used Helvetica. Being a Swiss typographer, it’s always been Univers. Even in my apprenticeship we didn’t have Helvetica in the printshop. Then I went to Basel school of design and of course in Weingart’s workshop it was Univers, never Helvetica. Then I come to England and there’s all these designers using Helvetica! The Macintosh had just come out and Helvetica was on every single machine. Everyone was so fascinated with it … I never understood that.

PB: Do you think it was an outsider’s impression of the Swiss style? Almost in the way that a tourist forms an idea of a country that is different from reality?

BM: I think – that’s describing it quite nicely. My Swiss colleagues always thought of Univers as Swiss typography. It was the American advertisers of the 60s that we associated Helvetica with.


PB: But wasn’t its popularity in America due to the influence of European émigrés?

BM: The thing is that Univers was released in 1956 by Deberny & Peignot, a small French foundry. Helvetica was released a year later with the full might of the Linotype marketing machine behind it. Linotype stuck it on every single typesetting machine they could and took it round the market, particularly around the New York advertising scene. And there was little Deberny & Peignot with no marketing budget. It’s a fluke of marketing that Helvetica now is this incredibly popular typeface.

What galled me most in the movie [Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica] was when Massimo Vignelli said that Helvetica was a Modernist typeface – No! No! Helvetica is anything but Modernist, Clearly it has its roots in Akzidenz Grotesk and that was designed in 1899, which is Victorian as far as I am concerned. Akzidenz is a fantastic font but it’s not Modernist, it’s got a really antique feel about it, which again shows that Max Miedinger [Helvetica’s designer] didn’t have a clue about type design. He was the salesman at [foundry] Haas’sche Schriftgießerei for Christ’s sake.

And there are a lot of things wrong in the design of Helvetica once you start going in to the detail. I can appreciate why a lot of designers like Helvetica compared to Univers – Univers has a starkness about it, it’s cold. Maybe because of the antique-ness of Helvetica it has a certain charm that Univers lacks and at the same time has this neutrality, so I can see why people go for it, but if you start analysing it and going into the nitty gritty it is quite a horrendous font. It’s quite poorly crafted and has become completely overused. People go on about Arial and how awful it is, and Comic Sans, what an atrocity that is, why not the same about Helvetica? It’s often used wrongly too.

PB: How can you use it wrongly?

BM: I’ve seen it in books. It has no place there, it has no place in body copy, it is not a hardcore reading font. Being a grotesk font, inherently, it is not very legible. Going back to Vignelli and using it on the New York Subway – that goes against every principle of legibiltiy. For signage you want to have something condensed so that you can have a higher letter count and you want to have character forms that are not ambiguous. Some of the character forms in Helvetica are very ambiguous because they are so uniform. In the movie, [Erik] Spiekermann says it very well, that they are like soldiers on parade and that is detrimental to legibility. People just use Helvetica because they have heard of it, it’s on everyone’s computer and everyone else uses it.


PB: Is it almost a non-choice to use it?

BM: It’s very much like that, a bit like Julia Roberts – pretty enough but…

PB: So all this combines to deeply upset you about it?

BM: Yes and a certain amount of commercial jealousy! But I do find it an inferior typeface. I would choose Univers every time – it’s crafted better, the proportions are better, it is a modern typeface that doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t which Helvetica does. What upsets me even more is the ignorance that people have in using it. Once I had a long debate with Hamish Muir on a round table discussion at the RCA. He said ‘I just use Helvetica for everything’. We were almost at each other’s throats over that. I said ‘How can you?’ He said ‘I’ve always used it, I’ve set up my core kerning pairs…’ Well, that’s not an argument! You use a typeface that is appropriate to the job. You don’t have to have 5000 fonts on your machine but you use the one that speaks in the right voice, that conveys the right functionality for the job.

PB: A lot of designers feel uncomfortable with showing expressing emotion in their work. Particularly in the UK there is this concensus over what ‘good’ design is –this watered down Swiss style, let’s not frighten anyone, let’s just tidy it all up. Keep it clean. Helvetica appeals to that…

BM: You’re right, it does fit into that grid thinking. A lot of graphic designers are really scared of the organic shape, the thing they can’t control – just let it go. And with Helvetica, because everyone else uses it you can justify it to your client.

PB: So let’s talk about Aktiv, Dalton Maag’s new Helvetica killer. Can you design a typeface in opposition to something? Is that what you set out to do or were you just trying to create as good a grotesk as you could for general use?

BM: It was two-pronged really. One was the fact that we were looking at our font library and felt that we were missing a pure grotesk in a Univers style, purely as a commercial entity. It has been at the back of our minds to do this for the last three or four years now. We wanted to have a grotesk font positioned somewhere between Helvetica and Univers – not as icy cold as Univers but devoid of all the quirks of Helvetica. To have a font that is beautifully crafted, spaced well, with not a chink in a curve or anything – perfectly drawn but hopefully with a bit of personality. We wanted to create something that could be used in a corporate environment but that has that bit of warmth that Univers doesn’t have.

Clearly, because we are competing aganst Univers, Akzidenz and Helvetica there are a lot of close similarities. The x height is fractionally higher than Helvetica but the rounds have a little bit of squareness about them that Helvetica’s don’t have. The differences are really subtle but give it just that bit of personality.


PB: Do you always need those idiosyncracies in typefaces?

BM: You do, otherwise what’s the point? Why use this or that? When people choose a typeface it’s not a rational decision, it’s completely emotional. They home in on details and say ‘I love that, that’s why I’m going to use it’. But then they want a rational explanation to tell their client. We’re hoping with this that people will react positively to it and that it can do everything that Helvetica isn’t doing … and in the process I get very very rich!

PB: So success for Aktiv would be to see Helvetica driven from the face of the earth?

BM: Yes! When I do lectures I always have a little rant about Helvetica and at the end I say if everyone in the world used Univers instead from now on I’d happily retire, but it ain’t going to happen.

PB: When this is out can you let Helvetica go? Have you exorcised the demon?

BM: Yes, it’s catharsis. It’s done now.



There will be a launch party for Naturalis x 7 at the SEA Gallery on Tuesady July 13. The booklet was printed by Fulmar Colour using a mixture of Hexachrome and special inks on Naturalis Smooth Absolute White paper. Designed by SEA Design and set in Aktiv Grotesk.


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  • Sam

    Well this might be my inexperience speaking, but I’d really struggle to tell the difference between that and Helvetica (please don’t hurt me Bruno!)

    I just had a quick look through their site and Effra and Interface look like good alternatives if you’re getting bored of Helvetica.

  • I very much enjoyed reading that. Entertaining and also very interesting. I’ve also always been a big fan of Univers so it’s nice to hear some detailed dissection of the two.

    The new font looks great, but surely if he wishes to kill off Helvetica he should make it available for free ; )

  • Sam, I appreciate if you can’t tell the difference if you look at simple letters such as l and i, or some of the caps. But in every glyph there are fairly obvious differences. Just observe the round stroke terminations: the tops are sheard at a slight angle, whilst in Helvetica they terminate horizontal. Compare the ‘o’s and you’ll find that our Aktiv is a fraction squarer, stands with more shoulder.

    I won’t hurt you, as long as you promise to become a diligent study of type.


  • Having been on the receiving end of this Helvti-hate from Bruno in person I can attest he is serious. We then got him to work on a DIN project which he was similarly damming of.

  • Hi Bruno

    Your craft, attention to detail and crucially your passion is a joy to behold. I shall endeavor to find the funds to put Aktiv Grotesk on our machines if you’ll come in and talk about it!

  • Bruno it’s beautiful! If placed on the same playing field it’d definitely bring Helvetica down a peg- the problem though is the playing field. Like you stated in the beginning in the article, Helvetica owes most of it’s popularity to it’s popularity itself. I think the main challenge would be getting Naturalis into the hands of not only the designers that can appreciate the subtleties of the typeface but to the people that make their own signs for their deli or corner-store carryout and would just as easily use Helvetica.

    Maybe you can get Gary Hustwit to make a movie about it too HAH he made everyone s*** their pants over Helvetica for a while! One guy even got an I

  • Fantastic interview.

    It’s good to hear someone speak so passionately about their area of design. I think it’s great that Bruno is backing up his argument/sticking his neck on the line with Aktiv. On first glance it does look very similar with tweaks to characters making them less uniform and more individual. Tricky to get the balance between individuality and consistency – hopefully this will stand up to scrutiny.

    Viva la revolution!

  • I said Naturalis in my previous comment, obviously meant Aktiv! OOPS!

  • no such thing as a bad type face – just poor choice of typeface
    context is everything!

  • This is brilliant.
    As a student in my second year I created a pamphlet comparing all the critical measurements of Helvetica and Univers just for fun. (Yes I did say fun).
    It was amazing how cleaner and “better” Univers seemed in comparison when identical blocks of text were set next to each other. Even without any idea why any one ‘swiss’ typeface could seem better than another, it was clear that some secret ingredient made Frutigers effort stand out.
    But as someone finally making a serious effort to cross from having a hobbyists interest in lettering and font developing to providing a professional service offering custom fonts and selling my original designs, I can really empathise with Bruno Maags expressed feelings, many of which I agree with entirely. Great article, and another really nice peice of design from SEA, if only I could get my hands on one!

  • Nic

    I appreciate your position, as I cant understand what all the fuss is about Helvetica. Aktiv looks good.

  • Here’s a thought… with all that rant about your rave – why not put it to the test and show us “visual communicators” what you’re really talking about – put two layouts side by side with the exact same parameters using the different fonts so we can “see” your point?

  • john walker

    you mad?

  • Absolutely great. As Tom said: it’s wonderful to read an interview with someone who is obviously so passionate about what they do and why they do it.

    The question I bring to the table is this: what about online, where Helvetica’s hold is ten-fold that of offline print? What are web designers to use instead of Helvetica, when so many fonts (like Univers) are still trying to find their place?

  • Although to experienced typographers and graphic designers Aktiv is obviously a far more considered and well designed typeface, I feel that the layman would not be able to tell the difference. The basic (and I mean really basic) forms of Helvetica are so set in peoples minds through years of advertising that I unfortunately think if you swapped say, the American Airlines logo with Aktiv, most of the general public would be non the wiser.

    So I ask the question, if you are going to design a typeface to kill Helvetica, should it not be screamingly different? Something that will stand out, make people stop and there paths and go, “Wow, what is that amazing typeface?”. In order for everyone, not just designers, to notice and use it, it needs to be very different. Because if the Helvetica killer is not that, it will be destined to be “that typeface which is like Helvetica, but designers think is better”.

    Don’t get me wrong, I really like Atkiv, especially the R and G, and to me it’s quite obviously different. But I’m not convinced it’s the one to rid the world of Helvetica.

  • CHA

    Tell that to ur therapist. I LOVE HELVETICA and i don’t give a shit about every1 else.

  • Rob Cooper

    Always love a good argument on typography, especially one that goes against the grain. Activ seems to have similarities to Akkurat which certainly has some personality. Ironically everything SEA do for GFSmith is set in Helvetica, even the cover of this one, and speaking of principles of legibility – that line length is ridiculous and frankly smacks of this overused aesthetic that Bruno is so against.

    Still, always a fan of Dalton Maag’s work and that of SEA.

  • John Hudson

    Bruno, it is clear that you don’t know the first thing about real vanilla ice cream.

  • Ben

    Im too tired to read the whole article/discussion at the minute, but I have never been a fan of Univers. I have always thought it was squat and ugly and little mis-shapen.

    Then again, I don’t often use Helvetica (apart from web) simply because Akzidenz is superior, and Akkurat is superior to that, and is in my mind by far the best ‘Helvetica alternative’ and one of the most beautiful typefaces ever created.

    However, I’m not going to go in to too much detail for fear of being shown as a lowly typesetter rather than a master of typeface construction.

  • Asaad El Salawi

    How about akkurat, bruno? And what about Nimbus Sans? I already do have a choice? So why Aktiv Grotesk?

  • Helvetica is like a rusty scalpel. There is an appropriate place to use it, its just hard to see where.

    I really like the look of Aktiv Grotesk…I like how the lower terminals are still horizantal while the upper terminals are angled. It gives it a nice feel!

  • Love it, but… if you want to wipe out Helvetica then sell it to MS and/or Apple and have it as a system font. That’s the only way, or it’ll end up just another alternative. Don’t mean to be pragmatic!

  • Mickrock

    I feel like Sasha Baron Cohen is going to jump out of the bushes and start doing impressions of Helvetica…

  • Joe Bloggs

    I’m always glad to see I’m not the only one who is thoroughly sick of seeing Helvetica everywhere, context be damned. I voiced my disapproval of “Helvetica Everywhere™” in my office once and almost got nailed to a cross though.

    I have to take this argument one step further though: The overuse of Grotesk Sans Serif fonts is out of control. Grotesk Sans Serif is NOT the answer to all your problems!

    The good news (IMO) is that Humanist Sans Serif is STILL on a popularity rocketride and has gone a long way to closing the appropriateness gap, at least when it comes to logos and headings IMO.

  • Migrainiac

    I think there are a lot of designers who believe that Helvetica are over-credited, (including myself).
    Bruno has really documented arguments about it, due to his knowledge and expertise in typeface design.
    But many designers don’t have the training to distinguish those differences at once, or -let’s face it- maybe they don’t really care.

    In my view it all has to do with the repeatability of the typeface usage.
    Major design and advertising agencies started using them in worldwide projects throughout the years.
    As a result, Helvetica became a status quo in type direction.
    If those agencies had chosen Univers, I am certain that the history of Helvetica would have been a lot different.

  • Thanks for all your comments and I would like to respond to a couple of them:

    Laurie – I appreciate that what I am talking about is so type design specific that it is near abstract. So much is so detailed and subtle that pretty much only those whose eyes are attuned to type design can ‘see’ it. This is not to say that type users, visual communicators, are oblivious but I believe it is probably more of a feel, rather than being able to clearly pinpoint what the differences and issues are. So, please bear with me whilst I will try to compile a layout as you suggest. It may take us a few days.

    Tanner – a fair comment about online. However, it’s only been very recently that embedding of fonts into websites has become a real typographic solution in web design, via services such as TypeKit or with embedding formats EOT and WOFF. In the past fonts would be embedded either via Flash or converted to image files. But the use of Helvetica is not technically predetermined, it stems from print design where Helvetica is still one of the most specified fonts in identities and other sorts of print collateral. When cllients didn’t want to bother with possible license implication for using a specific font in their web embedding they opt for Arial, Helvetica’s poor relative (not a copy, mind!).

    Today, one of the main issues with web embedding is that the vast majority of fonts are not hinted – enhanced for screen display. This is a hugely labourious process that for foundries is only worth doing on fonts that are already commercially very successful. Helvetica has had some screen enhancement making it viable to be used online, as in fact Aktiv Grotesk is, too. You will find that in the Wild West of fonts online it will still take some time before we have a good quality variety of fonts available. This will depend on a number of things: technical standards, licensing models and commercial viability for foundries.

  • Bingo Jones

    I think you got some nerve to talk about the flaws of Helvetica, and then come up with THIS!? How lame is that, and how completely uninspired. And ugly, too! I know, I know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And I wouldn’t want to argue about that. Fair enough to harp on about the shortcomings of Helvetica, but hey, what’s new?! This is an old and tired story, a favourite topic of fontspotters. Come on, deal with it. It’s history. Other people have come up with ‘bettered versions’ of Helvetica long ago, remember Unica? This beats everything hands down. If you want this to be a better world, you’ll have to work harder than this lame clone called, of all things, AKTIV GROTESK. If you need some more suitable names, I’ll be happy to suggest a few.

  • Eduardo

    From the DaMa twitter feed: “Bruno’s anti-Helvetica rant has caused a stir – some people deeply offended by it, in fact!”

    The only reason people are offended is because Bruno’s cringe-worthy ‘smack talk’ isn’t being backed up by a decent typeface. ‘Aktiv’ is the exact opposite of what they set out to achieve: ‘To have a font that is beautifully crafted, spaced well, with not a chink in a curve or anything – perfectly drawn but hopefully with a bit of personality.’

    Another typically banal entry into the DaMa stable. Why are you even giving these people the press?

  • Gafyn Townsend

    This guy has the same hatred for Helvetica as I do for Comic Sans! I love Helvetica but each to their own…

  • Helvetica isn’t that bad, but I admire the way in which this guy has gone at it. But the idea that this will try and overtake Helvetica, as a paid font, is just plain stupid. He needs Apple/Microsoft to buy the font to use on every system, then he might get somewhere. And am I the only one who can really see a huge difference between the two fonts? His font looks like any other which comes standard with any OS, so why should we care?

  • Bruce Walker

    Bruno Maag is a sad jealous chap.

    Are you going to rewrite books, reshoot movies, and redesign every poor typeface? People should spend time with something more worthwhile. Active Grotesque is as ‘wrong’ as Helvetica.

  • Eric S

    [comment deleted by moderator] Aktiv is to Helvetica as Weird Al Yankovic is to the late Michael Jackson.

  • Bruce,

    jealous? Yes. Sad? No, not really. I have a happy and fulfilled life. And I am passionate about a number of things. Helvetica is just one of them and I have tried to do something about it instead of just sitting in my armchair spouting obscenities at the world.

    I am also upset about the state of society, and believe me I rant about that at dinner parties, too. And I am trying to do something about it. For example, Dalton Maag has for years now continuously offered internships to students, financially supporting them during this time, as I believe it’s the young you have to change to affect society as a whole. I am seriously considering to offer my time as a magistrate to be able to affect peole’s lifes first hand, and hopefully positively. In my (Swiss) past I stood for National parliament because I believed that this was the way to affect changes, offer my opinions (didn’t get elected, though, so that plan was thwarted). Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair upset me, even more than Helvetica, but that is firmly another discussion.

    And since I have been a typographer for over 30 years, starting with an apprenticeship as a typesetter (no, we did not use Helvetica) this is a subject close to my heart. I love type, I see my world in black and white curves and straights, serifs, ornaments and all that. It gives me unadulterated joy. Even bad type gives me joy as I can delve into it and offer my views on why and what. I comment on the wrong use of apostrophies, ampersand and the various dashes. But I also praise if I see something that is good. I am hugely jealous of not having done the Guardian fonts because I think they are ab fab. And I tell everyone who wants to know so.

    So, as to your question: if I have time enough in my life – statistically about another 30 years – I may well do that, starting with that movie abomination Miami Vice. :-)

  • New typeface. Old application. Wasted opportunity.

  • Phil

    So why did Sea rip-off the work of 8VO for the brochure design? Surely they were one of the leading exponents of early Macintosh helvetica-ism that Bruno hates so much.

    Maybe it’s supposed to be ironic or maybe they ran out of ideas.

  • Amman Sabet

    This is going to be a tough sell considering how entrenched Helvetica is in business thinking.

  • Kevin Houtz

    Complete type snobbery.
    Love the depth of his argument against Helvetica— bascially: “never had it, never used it, hate it”

    If he’s that passionate about killing off Helvetica, he can give his new font away for FREE once it has been hashed out to a dozen wights and had all alternate characters generated to his liking.

    Until then, he’s just a shameless shill for his own work….. like Julia Roberts is for hers.

  • Eric S

    Note to self: never invite Brono Maag to a dinner party.

  • Richard Tate

    Many designers of various talent levels have created “Helvetica replacements”, and the pattern I have seen is that the best designs travel with the least chatter. Christian Schwartz’s Haas Neue Grotesk revival for example, the many Helvetica-like fonts from lineto, and Chester Jenkins’s Galaxie. At the other end of the scale are the weak types “supported” by lots of Helvetica-hate, such as Nick Shinn’s Preface and Bruno Maag’s Aktiv.

  • Anders Gustafsson

    At first I thought, “This actually looks quite good on the cover of the booklet, maybe Mr. Maag is onto something.” Then I realized that this Black Italic actually is Helvetica, and The Aktive Grotesk doesn’t include such a weight. I wonder how he hopes to kill a typeface with a very extensive weight range with a typface that includes so few weights?

  • For a typeface to be taken on, it needs to be given away… or at least one of the weights, with a EULA license allowing it to be used with Cufon within web pages, it would then spread like wildfire.

  • Turlough

    Wow, put yourself in a tight one here Bruno, brave move though. I prefur Akzidenz Grotesk to Helvetica myself. Frutiger is nice and open too.. Clearer I feel

  • David McCarthy

    Bruno – you will have to make it free to kill off Helvetica. I notice a couple of other people said this … and you haven’t commented!

  • Maybe I misunderstood what Maag was saying above, but Vignelli didn’t use Helvetica on the NYC subway system signage – only the map. It was Akzidenz Grotesk (aka Standard) up until the official switch in 1989.

  • Ilona

    Excellent great work. A vision seen through.

  • YEAY, this is sexy as hell. Next can you please design the Times killer?

  • So many comments and yet nobody has addressed the comparisons head on. I don’t really get Univers but love Helvetica. The lovely sweep and subtlly modulating thicknesses of the lowercase Helvetica “a” is much more interesting (and distinctive) than the cramped Univers affair. I would also cite (in no particular order) the Helvetica “k,” “e,” “G,” and “Q” as head and (“slightly” square) shoulders above Univers alternatives. All Helvetica’s numerals are better than those in Univers, especially the swan necked “2” and the sprung “7” but also, less obviously, the sensitive proportions of the “3.” Even the ampersand and asterisk are superior in Helvetica…

    If Mr. Maag prefers Univers to Helvetica why does his new typeface look more like the latter than the former? (The “k,” the “Q,” the tentative bend in the “7”) Why, if all Swiss designers use Univers, did Muller-Brockmann specify Akzidenz Grotesk in most of his projects? Why did Celestino Piatti use Akzidenz on his epoch-making Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag (DTV) paperbacks? Maag associates Helvetica with American advertising of the 60s. I don’t. I think of the Germano Facetti era Penguin Covers when Helvetica replaced Intertype Standard in Romek Marber’s iconic grid from 1962 – a year after (as almost no-one seems to have noticed) Piatti took charge of the design at DTV.

    I’m seriously struggling with the idea that this project is not just a huge p*ss take… the ironic(?) 8vo homage, the banal line of questioning (“Can you design a typeface in opposition to something?”), the undermining layouts (see the hilarious “How can you use it wrongly?” spread). What a pointless, if not pitiable, exercise! If I was looking for a sleek alternative to Helvetica I would look at Galaxie Polaris, not this hateful wannabe.

  • Having heard Brunos passionate views on helvetica and univers myself it makes me glad that there are people like Bruno who really care about typography and strive to create something better. You may not agree with the end product or process but you have to admire the passion.

  • Hamranhansenhansen

    I wish Helvetica were the most popular typeface on the Web but that is Verdana and Arial which I’m worn out on. The Microsoft fonts are a much worse problem than Helvetica.

  • MLA

    Great post.
    Great interview.
    Great typeface? No. It’s an amazing tyeface! The details are exquisite. Congrats.

    Also nice to see Bruno taking the time to respond to comments.

  • This topic always creates conversation. “I have nothing to say, I may as well say something about Helvetica.”

    There’s a few other typefaces that I’d rather see in place of the much beloved H. I feel sorry for Bruno Maag has spent so many years in frustration! Also nice to exploit such a fine company as GF Smith as a channel to express one’s opinion. Kudos to SEA.

    This just creates more attention toward it, continuing to make it the default favourite for another fifty years.

  • James

    8V0 anyone!?

  • Looking forward to seeing Aktiv at close quarters. For me, Helvetica has a great tone of voice – I actually think it’s superb for signage, though now over-familiar – but screws up the details. Univers is not only cold, it feels like something that was designed as an academic exercise, not to be read. To attempt a face with the best of both makes perfect sense.

    At first glance, the lower-case “k” jumps straight out of the page – it looks like it needs a good meal and some tips on posture. But that’s just my opinion, and there’s always going to be one character you don’t like :)

  • To me Bruno’s attack on Helvetica is an attack on the laziness and complacency of designers. Helvetica has come to represent the safe option, as the man himself says; “People just use Helvetica because they have heard of it, it’s on everyone’s computer and everyone else uses it.”

    I love that the debate on this thread has covered the intricacies of letter-forms, but I think we (designers) should be looking beyond that. Helvetica has become a comfortable standard that we should all be pushing away from it, not because it’s a good or bad typeface, but because anything that is so ubiquitous inevitably becomes stale and boring. Then again people have been saying that for years.

    It’s great that both sides have such strong and passionate views but sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling ‘if it ain’t broke’ is the kind of attitude that leaves you lagging behind the curve, webfonts are a great example of this. Elliot Jay Stocks argues that it’s the pushing and playing with new features like CSS3 and Typekit that maybe only 10% of users will see, that will raise the bar overall.

  • There’s a great comparison of Univers, Helvetica and Aktiv here – and Aktiv wins hands-down IMHO. True that the “s” is slightly suspect, but within blocks of text it looks fine. Very nice even colour.

  • As with some of the other comments, on the face of it (unintentional pun), it does look pretty much the same. It does look very well created and well-considered though. I do think, although very popular, that there was always still plenty of room for improvement with the design of the Helvetica font – general letter spacing etc.

    Anyway, thanks Bruno! I will take a look and consider using it in our future Threerooms design work. It will be hard to wrench away from the incumbent tho!

  • Nice font, but it really looks like Frutiger without any character… I really hope you fixed the numbers in your new creation, Helvetica numbers are far too similar in shape in most cases.

  • poctave

    Nice work, I cant wait to see this as I love print. I heard it was printed by Fulmar Colour and their work is always top notch. Anyone know how I can get my hands on a sample.

  • @Kilian – Fixed the numbers? Are you serious? Helvetica’s numbers are great! Compare Helvetica with Univers. Look at the “7” the “2” and the “5,” they’re horribly mechanical in Univers and only slightly better in Aktiv Grotesk (actually the “2” is worse even than Univers). Meanwhile the Aktiv Grotesk “8” looks like it’s attempting a timid version of Eurostile – I’m exaggerating, of course, but seems that’s the order of the day.

  • @Kilian – Fixed the numbers? Are you serious? Helvetica’s numbers are great! Compare Helvetica with Univers. Look at the “7” the “2” and the “5,” they’re horribly mechanical in Univers and only slightly better in Aktiv Grotesk (actually the “2” is worse even than Univers). Meanwhile the Aktiv Grotesk “8” looks like it’s attempting a timid version of Eurostile – I’m exaggerating, of course, but seems that’s the order of the day.

  • While I always have felt that Univers was far superior to Helvetica in every way, I never felt the need to “kill it”. The truth is, the more we complain about Helvetica, the more well known it becomes. We don’t need to REPLACE Helvetica, we just need to move on and let it become just another face in history. We don’t need a typeface that does what Helvetica DOES, we are better served by designing one that does what Helvetica DOES NOT do.

  • Bruno spoke at one of our Design Talks events earlier this year. He stayed up talking type with us until the early hours too – his passion and attention to detail are pretty impressive. We’ve posted his Helvetica-related thoughts on Vimeo, if you want to see him in action:

  • Bruno, you know I love you, but I kind of love Helvetica too – with all it’s flaws (especially the uppercase R, Ref. Red Herring, Grafik 171)… but positioning Activ as a Helvetica killer, in my opinion, is a wrong move. Why not just another wonderful ‘Dalton Maag production’. I remember meeting you to get advise on which typeface to use for my book, ‘Sizes May Vary’ – I remember suggesting Helvetica – and I remember the look of surprise on your face and the words that you said :D. I am glad that you persuaded me other wise. Your typeface (Tondo) was a pleasure to work with and helped to give the book its own unique identity. Which kind of leads back to my first point. Activ is not a ‘Helvetica killer’ – it is a new typeface – one with its own identity – and one that I look forward to using.

  • PS

    I can’t stand Univers.

  • [Comment deleted by moderator]

  • Whilst I could easily express my view about which I think is better (ok I will, I am a Helvetica hater), I believe this article and it’s responses show how passionate we are in the industry.

    I suppose it will always come down to beauty being in the eye of the Mac user (or PC user), in the same way that some people prefer blondes to brunettes. One thing I truly respect more than anything is the time that Bruno Maag has spent in order to express his viewpoint and his attempt to create a typeface which betters Helvetica (whether you agree or not is another matter). Whilst many may not agree with the new typeface (Aktiv Grotesk) I believe it is healthy for our industry and great for everyone who doesn’t like Helvetica to have another alternative.

  • Iain, that video is brilliant. Are you going to put the rest of it up, I would love to see it.

  • Jemaleddin

    Seeing how upset people get at some criticisms of Helvetica — Helvetica! — is crazy. If you like it, don’t worry: Bruno isn’t going to come take it off your machines, no matter how much he might want to.

    Aktiv Grotesk looks quite promising, and I’ll reserve judgment until I can give it the time it deserves.

  • “No! No! Helvetica is anything but Modernist, Clearly it has its roots in Akzidenz Grotesk and that was designed in 1899, which is Victorian as far as I am concerned.”

    I would argue that claim. Modernism is widely regarded as having beginnings as far back as the 1870s. Certain historians place roots even further back. The cursory overview of Modernism found on wikipedia will tell you as much. With the ‘explosion’ of modernism being only a decade after the release of Akzidenz, I would find it hard not to assert at least modernist tendencies to Helvetica — as well as Akzidenz. I would find it equally hard, even ludicrous, to refer to Helvetica as Victorian, which seems to be what Bruno is implying in this quote.

  • You can’t spell Fun without F U

    Kill Comic Sans and burn all GIFs!

  • Friends, the real enemy is Arial.

  • G. Abramowitz

    Sans-serif is for heads, serif for body text. In print and onscreen.

  • mzs

    I use Akzidenz and Neuzeit. Aktik looks nice although the italic just looks like a slanted version of the regular which, if true, kinda undoes his attempt

  • Great to read someone being so passionate about typography.

    I would say I was a fan of Helvetica, and I couldn’t recall ever using Univers in fact. I just had a little revisit of Univers, and I can see why. Helvetica is much more warmer than Univers for sure. Univers is too angley and generally a bit ugly in my opinion!

    And just a quick reference on the Arial vs Helvetica thing – has anyone checked this CR website on a PC? Using Helvetica instead of Arial means it’s all fairly unreadable and horrible on a PC…

  • @Luke Cheers Luke. Yep, we’re uploading the rest of Bruno’s talk today and posting more information about it on our blog (or you can just go to Vimeo, of course).

  • kwyjibo

    I like the look. The clipped terminations, makes it a bit more human than Helvetica.

    Not that I don’t like Helvetica, but this is a nice new addition to the font family.

  • I hope Bruno appreciates the irony of us all reading this in…

  • MBGB

    Bruno Maag said font choice is an emotional decision, but often it is not… Most of my (CI) clients ask for Arial or Helvetica because then they don’t have any font management issues when sharing files between offices and customers. It always takes a lot of effort to change this viewpoint as admittedly it is a lot easier for them to use free and pre-installed fonts. I like Aktiv Grotesk a lot but its just not different enough to the free system fonts (i.e Helvetica, Arial) and showing a client what appears to them two identical fonts and saying this one is free and already on every machine and that one (Aktiv) is $X,XXX,XX to install on all your machines – when extra money and logistics are involved they tend not care about the subtle curve differences and nor do their customers – I wouldn’t even bother to try to sell this font unless the client had a genuine interest in teh finer points of design and typography. The reality often is not a designers laziness that opts for Helvetica (or Arial) it is the clients pragmatism.

  • The orthogonal terminals of Helvetica proper is a great feature. Activ just looks messy. It looks like Akzidenz or Arial. Helvetica Bold is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. “The figure/ground relationship executed perfectly.” It’s like one of Escher’s best.

    I use Nimbus Sans L which is a beautiful enough typeface but I don’t have to touch Linotype.

  • mark Batley

    You can’t kill a font

  • I can understand the frustration.
    Look-just treat typefaces like character actors, (pardon the pun), and typecast them for the right role in copy or graphics.

  • Razor

    There’s a reason why Helvetica rules the world . . . . . . . IT ROCKS!!!!

    Nice article though.

  • MLA

    ‘It`’s a non-cursive italic’ Bruno Maag

  • Pete

    Are Mark Holt, Hamish Muir and Paul Winter working at SEA now?

  • Um…it’s a typeface. You and about twelve other people in the world give a damn. Others don’t care…at all. We read the content, not the typeface of the content.

  • David W.

    nice enough, but no great leap. can’t see many paying to have this over helvetica which eliminates any notion of killing it.

    i’ll be sticking with univers

  • Brad Rickman

    “Although to experienced typographers and graphic designers Aktiv is obviously a far more considered and well designed typeface…”

    As an experienced typographer and designer, I can’t agree with this. I appreciate Maag’s passion and care — I’d love to see more of it in the world; people who don’t take what they do seriously are a waste of time — and Aktiv is a lovely face. I also appreciate the general distase of ubiquity and thoughtlessness that inspires him. I reserve a similar hatred for Arial, which *is* a face popularized in the post-digital era, and which *is* sloppily designed and almost impossible to implement with grace. I would also agree that nearly any dumbed-down version of a face that appears in default software installs is a degradation of typography by its very nature, and that the ubiquity of such degradations is misleading to the public, polluting of the visual field, and insulting to typographers and type designers.

    That said, my own considered opinion is that no face I’ve come across, Aktiv included, achieves the almost perfect balance between abstract form and signification that Helvetica does. It sits more firmly than any other communicative device I know between geometry as organic concept/experience and language/meaning. I would contend that it is exactly this balance that has driven Helvetica’s success among thoughtful typographers through the last half century. You can argue — as Maag might — that balance is not in and of itself the highest virtue in a face. True, and also not true. That’s a matter of individual aesthetic — dare I say artistic? — priority.

    A last consideration: the tension between space, form, balance and expressiveness is at the heart of typography. Letters are art in highest sense (as manifestations of form, color, space and line) and in the lowest (as mere utilitarian bearers of information). Digital homogeneity released a perversely enormous creative outburst in the ’90s. Not all of it was good, but it was provocative, and it was productive in its challenge to thoughtless acceptance of existing norms. It’s always right to interrogate received wisdom and thoughtlessness, as Maag does; it’s just not helpful to do it thoughtlessly, as some seem to.

  • richard parry

    Interesting to read and digest, but had a look at your font at Dalton Maag, shame about the kerning on the “The five boxing wiz…” text string sample the “b” is out on its’ own the the “e” from “The” is attempting to break away too, though this could be my browser…

  • Dear Commentators,

    It has been interesting to read your thoughts and postings on Naturalis x7.
    I would like to extend GFSmith’s thanks to Bruno for personally participating in the postings and answering some of your comments.

    While the debate rages on, I know many of you have asked how you can see the actual printed piece.
    As with all current GFSmith / Naturalis promotions the print is limited to 2000 copies.

    These will be hand presented by our sales team across the country, no postal mailings will take place.
    If you would like to arrange a presentation please contact your local representative.

  • Dr. Kenneth Noisewater
  • yawning audibly

    Hi –

    You’re delusional if you think this is *significantly* different from Helvetica aside from a few odd quirks to the point that using this is letting Helvetica go.

    There is no debate aside from that. People claiming one form is “more stable” or even “more correct” than another is subject to whatever science you’d like to throw to it, but you cannot argue the similarities. You also cannot argue that using a face that is in the same spirit as another is not letting the first face go.

    Specifically: this typeface’s lower case a looks bizarre to my eye, a bit out of place.

    There is a reason that vanilla works. It’s vanilla. You can’t add almonds to vanilla and claim we should let vanilla go.

  • Jay Marley

    your ripoff of Helvetica is pretty good, and imma let you finish, but Comic Sans is the best font ever…

  • Aleks

    I find it funny how cyclical the love hate relationship with helvetica is. There is a period of bliss and love with designers. Then come the reactionaries. “Oh im so different! Im not like you sods! I hate Helvetica! I am so unique!” Then Helvetica dissapears! Only to start the cycle all over again. A cycle we are all a part of. I am guilty of this myself.

    I also Find it funny how Bruno does not consider Helvetica a modernist font for the reason that it was based off of Akzidenze Grotesque. He admits that Aktiv is based off of helvetica. So by his rationale that should disqualify his Aktiv font as a modernist font as well no? Further more if you compare Helvetica to Akzidenze Grotesque it is a heck of a lot more different then Aktiv is from Helvetica.

    Having established that. which font was more successful in regards to modernizing? which font is more of an individual. Compare Akzidenze to helvetica and then compare Aktiv to Helvetica.

    I think the answer is rather obvious.

  • Dave

    how noble of him to sell a cure for what he sees as a design plague. I’ve never heard of anyone designing an “almost Helvetica” font to appear next to Helvetica in the font books…

  • Cédric

    Hello Bruno,

    Do u have such an itch of getting your Warhol ‘s 15 min of fame?
    You have to know your masters and gods. It’s like somebody
    trying to redo Sistine Chapel, or Rothko’s “Red, Orange, Tan, and Purple” …
    Remember Metallica’s “nothing else matter” – “So close no matter how far,
    couldn’t be much more from the heart, forever trusting who we are and
    nothing else matter” … quote

    [Comment deleted by moderator] You don’t make geniuses everyday,
    Frutiger and Rand are of it … your not.

    And yeah to comment 1 – I see no differences ..

  • Irony: wow, who would have tought that the musings of a type designer with Helvetica OCD cause such heated debate. I need to go and wash my hands now… :-)

    Free: no, Aktiv Grotesk is not going to be available for free. It is a commercial product as Helvetica is and the proceeds are not going to be invested in a private Caribbean island but into developing the font family further, for startes expanding it with Greek and Cyrillic, then Arabic and Hebrew. In time we may also add a few more font styles, although I don’t think we need to go as far as Helvetica with its 50-odd font styles. I don’t think that there actually is a need for such super families.

    Cure: Univers is the cure to the disease; it does what it says on the tin. Aktiv Grotesk is the branded pill that relieves the itch and gives you happiness and joy at the same time.

    Modernism: Univers is modernist. The tensile strength of the strokes, the ever so slight contrast make it cool, modernist, in a way that Uma Thurman is cool, and Julia Roberts is not; Samuel L Jackson is, Richard Gere isn’t. But maybe that’s the problem, Univer’s coolness, stark beauty. Helvetica has an antique and homespun charm that smells a touch musky. Just compare the two ‘a’, put them next to each other and you know which one is modern and which is growing mould.

    Descendancy: Helvetica borrows from Akzidenz which was designed in 1899 by Berthold. I like Akzidenz. It is elegant in a stately, regal fashion that is comfortable in many environments. Because Helvetica has Akzidenz in its lineage (look at proprotions and individual charactes – ‘a’) it makes it antique in my book. Aktiv Grotesk is simply a grotesque typeface as is all the others. But because it is of the same genre as the others there are similarities (see below).

    Vanilla ice cream: I love vanilla ice cream – in fact, it’s my favourite. But I reject cheap, nasty vanilla ice cream made of water, substitutes and vegetable fats. My vanilla ice cream has to be full fat, double cream, high cholesterol, vanilla pod ice cream. I am also prepared to pay more for it. I will rather not have ice cream than cheap stuff that leaves you sullied. Fortunately, there is Ben&Jerry’s, and Hagen Dasz is not bad either.

    Gods and masters: There are no gods – they are belief systems. But there are masters and mastery comes with life long practice. Frutiger is a master, Tschichold (Sabon) is a master, Griffo is a master, Plantin is a master, Gill is a master, Matthew Carter is a master, Gerard Unger is a master and there are many more I can list and whom I respect. I don’t think we have yet achieved mastery but I know that what my team at Dalton Maag and I achieve is good quality. We care about what we do and are never satisfied with ‘that will do’. Maybe, one day in the future, someone will say: ‘these guys were masters’. But I will be dead, it won’t bother me.

    Fame (and fortune?): I freely admit that I enjoy recognition as probably most people would. I had the opportunity to voice my personal opinion in a beautifully designed publication supported by GF Smith. Read my opinion or not but enjoy the design and workmanship of the publication. The printing quality is exquisite. As for fortune, see my entry on ‘jealousy’ in an earlier entry.

    Redo: No, there is no point redoing the Sistine Chapel. It is probably as good as it gets. There are numerous instances in art, literature, engineering and other discipllines that don’t need improving. But I would hazard that most things in our lives have room for improvement. Instead of just complaining about Helvetica I have done something about it, like it or not. I am happy with the result.

    Similarity: We have designed Aktiv Grotesk primarily to fill a gap in our library (a pure grotesque) and because I felt an alternative to Helvetica was needed. Helvetica is of a genre (Grotesque or Grotesk). It is therefore clear that Aktiv Grotesk would share many similarities as does Myriad with Frutiger; Garamond with Sabon, Walbaum with Bodoni. If we had designed a font that was very different from Helvetica, Univers, Akzidenz and all the others we would not have this discussion.

    Arial: I am no friend of Arial either but let’s get this clear: it is not a rip off. It was designed out of a specific need but this is an entirely different blog trail.

    Comic Sans: I like it. It’s a good type face. It was designed for specefic purpose. It’s simply used wrongly but as with Arial this is a different discussion, and Vinnie Connare is far better placed to comment than I am.

    Take it off your computers: Hmm, there is a thought… :-)

    Have I forgotten anything?

  • Basically this is all just a clever publicity stunt to advertise his new typeface, don’t you think?
    Personally I find this discussion rather silly.

    But it’s a good marketing strategy. If I ever publish a typeface or a piece of software or whatever, I’m going to start a big fuss about how shitty the thing is that came before it, trying to enrage as many people as possible :)

  • zs

    this is completely ridiculous.

  • 0_0

    “Comic Sans: I like it. It’s a good type face.”

    … wait. WHAT?!

  • Such discussions are always fun read.

    (I prefer too Univers but today’s versions are not very nice, including various redesign made at Linotype).

    Still as typeface designer, I don’t get the point to design «another» Helvetica when you don’t like it. I have many people who love Helvetica designing their own version, but never the reverse! 😉

    I’m not particularly in love with Helvetica. But rather to design another Helvetica I have designed Parisine to remplace Helvetica tested for the métro in Paris back in 1996.

    So, this new design and attitude is a new marketing method to catch up attention to lovers of Helvetica? Why not? It seems so, good luck with the future success. :)

  • Very enjoyable post, thanks guys! However, I have to say I’m a little disappointed Bruno. Your font designs are beautiful, I love em. But your application of type design on your own website is a sore to my eyes. Just look at this page: — do you really expect me to read that body copy? It’s tiny. It also has really tight leading on a typeface that really needs a lot more leading to be readable.

    The type on this site is just as bad. You folks realize that monitor resolutions suck and larger type is easier to read on screens, right?

    Or take a look at this page: — look at that line length! You’ve got to be joking. 27 some odd words on a single line. Please.

    Your font design is beautiful, but your application of those fonts is horrendous and it really does a disservice to your beautiful font designs. I dare say it even erodes your credibility. I’ve committed my own errors and still do from time to time. Nobody is perfect, but these things are easy to fix. Just adjust your CSS file a bit and you’ll do us all a big favor.

  • CSM

    Great article but I think Bruno should use his energy to kill off Arial as most San Serif fonts being pushed out of a Windows PC are Arial.

    Okay okay, you are thinking ‘its for people who only do word processing’, sure you are correct but there are many billions of these people churning out arial as we speak. They need to stop using Arial now and start using a more suitable font like Helvetica, Univers, Fruitiger, Trade Gothic… oh anything really.

    Arial is wrong on so many levels. I haven’t got all day to explain

    I love Helvetica, just like I love Univers.

  • Ben Atkins

    I find it quite hypocritical for an agency like SEA, known for their broad use of Helvetica, to be associated with this condemnation.

    The problem that seems to frustrate most about Helvetica is not the typeface itself, it’s the prolific use of it. Attempting to solve this ‘problem’ with such a subtle alternative seems futile.
    Gurtler’s Haas Unica offered a point of difference in the 80’s. Did that kill Helvetica? No.

    Laurenz Brunner’s Akkurat is a example of a true alternative, Distinctive, practical and beautiful. This is the sort of typeface you would expect to be born out of Mr. Maag’s zealous disdain for the prosaic Helvetica.

  • Ben Atkins

    I find it quite hypocritical for an agency like SEA, known for their broad use of Helvetica, to be associated with this condemnation.

    The problem that seems to frustrate most about Helvetica is not the typeface itself, it’s the prolific use of it. Attempting to solve this ‘problem’ with such a subtle alternative seems futile.
    Gurtler’s Haas Unica offered a point of difference in the 80’s. Did that kill Helvetica? No.

    Laurenz Brunner’s Akkurat is a example of a true alternative, Distinctive, practical and beautiful. This is the sort of typeface you would expect to be born out of Mr. Maag’s zealous disdain for the prosaic Helvetica.

  • thats the first time ive ever heard anyone compare helvetica to comic sans! great reading tho, very interesting!

  • Great read. Very interesting.
    It would of been interesting to see how Aktiv would of tackled the more ambiguous characters such as the confusion between the upercase I and lowercase l in signage. But these characters continue to have the same traits as Helvetica – not great for signage but perhaps that’s not its intention.

    Or is that just my misunderstanding?

  • Chris Loudenslager

    This feels like the Mac vs Pc debate. In the end both sides have a very good argument but people are going to use what they want to use. That is the law of the world. One can try and try and try to convince someone to do something but eventually that person has to make the decision for themselves. People will use the font they want to use based on a million different variables. This war of which font to use will go on forever. All we can do is not get so worked up about it and just continue to create great work.

  • Whilst Aktiv does look nice and a slight improvement over Helvetica, I’m afraid to say that Bruno’s whole point is moot when the differences are so minor. To anyone but graphic designers and typographers it would be hard to tell the differences between the two. As a result his argument borders into pretentiousness, which hardly helps an industry that – in the eyes of clients at least – suffers far too much from that affliction.

  • As a recent graduate who studied under the hype of Helvetica’s exposure, I have resultantly never been able to use it.

    For me the argument is this: how can a cult typeface exude neutrality and be discreet in my design choices? For this reasons I can never use it. There are so many other options and I am confident a lot of other graduates would feel the same way.

    Being overly decisive about using Helvetica it should only result in declining.

  • To hell with helvetica!

  • Ryan Simpson

    jesus.. grow up! use what one desires..

  • Tim Foster

    I can remember teaching Bruno – in his youth he had no idea about type – every project was set in 12 point Helvetica, because it was the Apple default. He got such bad marks and negative feedback in crits – We must have marked him for life.

    I am looking forward to discovering what happens when you hold down the ‘shiift’ and the ‘alt’ key together.

    Bruno, you still owe me for lunch in Soho – you tight wadd!

  • Comic Sans FTW

  • evan

    The only typeface is Baskerville.

  • Long Live Helvetica!

  • For someone that has expressed so much strong dislike for a typeface to then go and create another that is so similar is a contradiction. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

  • Nonnu

    Well I think he’s made a pretty good point about Helvetica and Univers for that matter.
    I always felt it that Helvetica was like a Franknstein of typefaces. Sure I think it’s rather beautiful but i find it ridiculously difficult to tame, on and of screen.

  • Today in the tram I passed a sign saying ‘Life is too short to be taken seriously’ set in Helvetica. It made me smile. Might as well have well been set in Aktiv Grotesk.

  • Eric S

    “Gods and masters: There are no gods – they are belief systems. But there are masters and mastery comes with life long practice. Frutiger is a master, Tschichold (Sabon) is a master, Griffo is a master, Plantin is a master, Gill is a master, Matthew Carter is a master, Gerard Unger is a master and there are many more I can list and whom I respect. I don’t think we have yet achieved mastery but I know that what my team at Dalton Maag and I achieve is good quality. We care about what we do and are never satisfied with ‘that will do’. Maybe, one day in the future, someone will say: ‘these guys were masters’. But I will be dead, it won’t bother me.”

    I just threw up in my mouth a little.

  • pfiffikus

    it only looks like a mixture of univers, helvetica and akzidenz grotesk.

  • Thomas

    Aktiv Grotesk looks awkward and unfinished.

  • Sam

    hmmmmm Bruno I think you’re typeface is just a rip off of Helvetica. Its a half decent attempt at marketing though I must say…. but then if someone makes stupid statements they will get noticed.

    Typographers and designers may spot the nuances in your helvetica (or as you call it typeface) but the masses will see no difference so there will be no drive to change.

    No wonder some people think graphic designers have their head up their backside, when there’s creatives like you slamming helvetica and pretendiing to offer a solution that is frankly a duplicate.

    Your argument and solution are fundamentally a contradiction, and as for the “oh I’m getting up off my backside and doing something about it”, thats completely flawed too. Work as a designer doesn’t involve plagiarism.

    Your argument is the equivalent of claiming distain for cake and presenting a cake as the solution. I can’t help but laugh.

    I understand your dislike for Helvetica, so why not prove yourself, put some effort in and offer a genuine alternative?

    This is the opinion of a real person.

  • James Green
  • Generally speaking sans serif typefaces look similar… Helvetica has been used for a long time with extraordinary effect. Aktiv Grotesk, to me, seems like a newer, more comfortable version of the almost world dominating typeface Helvetica… This new typeface by DaltonMaag I feel is a more jolly, enthusing and welcoming typeface than the old classic. We must remember that the main point of the ultimate letterform during the past century has been legibility which means a reduction in form and excesses of the letters… Helvetica has become slightly tiresome and I feel this new face could bring about a freshness needed in the 21st century. Helvetica cannot ever be forgotten as it has held its own for so long but I do feel that Aktiv Grotesk is a big step in bringing unflinching charm to the world, where so many sans serif faces just do not stand the test of time or cannot hold design continuity. I am pleased that someone has taken the time to try and refresh the world of typography with a face that literally could stand in Helvetica’s way… I have always admired Univers as a font and the usability of Univers and Helvetica has never been overestimated… This is why, having seen Aktiv Grotesk for the first time today, I am genuinely pleased that a font with this much character can be classified within the same category as these two world domineering faces…

  • Ian

    I’ll keep it simple.
    He hates it for so many reasons – then he copies it.
    I would call that jealousy.

    Whilst Tutti Frutti and Mint and Pistachio will come and go with fashion.
    Vanilla Ice Cream will always be around, like Helvetica.

  • Nic

    harder than it is to say, but would it not have been better to offer an complete alternative rather than something so close to an original that the everyday bod would never tell the difference from?

    If Aktiv Grotesk was in Helveticas place and drawn up those many moons ago, would you have re-drawn Helvetica as an alternative Bruno?

  • Dear Bruno, if you want to kill Helvetica, you have to give your Aktiv for free.
    Otherwise it will remain just an excellent exercise.

  • I’ll keep it simple.
    He hates it for so many reasons – then he copies it.
    I would call that jealousy.

  • As a book designer/page compositor–self-trained not classically educated in the field–I never understood the ubiquitousness of Helvetica, except that it was free on Macintoshes. I came to dislike it when, in my early years as a layout artist setting type for books, the templates clients sent overwhelmingly used Helvetica when they used a sans serif. I can’t claim, tho’, a hatred of it for sound technical reasons. One client, for a series of engineering texts, has designed with Univers, which I agree is more pleasing. But I find the vehemence with which Mr. Maag opposes Helvetica interesting. My own reaction is to think, “Why such excitement? It’s not cancer.” Which leads me to realiziing there would likely have been benefit to my having received a classical education in typography when I was young enough to be pursuing my education.

  • Helvetica has been used for a long time with extraordinary effect. Aktiv Grotesk

  • Who Cares

    All this in response to an individual simply expressing his opinion. I have read this article with interest and a slightly raised eyebrow.
    Like it. Don’t like it…but get a life peeps.

  • Eric Hempshawll

    This guy talks the talk, some valid points are made (which are then invalidated as NEVER HAD, NEVER USED)… And then you have a look at the product… Doesn’t deliver on any front. Terminals are messy, the lower case a just doesn’t fit. It may as well be free. Naff, throwaway, forgetable. And on a personal note, I hate the Arial uppercase G.

  • Jeremie

    Very interesting interview, and that is rare !

  • dav:d

    you don’t like helvetica? well.
    but why Aktiv Grotesk looks so close?
    i personally miss Unica..

  • Those who dislike the font might be amused to know that an anagram of Helvetica is ‘vile cheat’.

    Those who support and employ the font might be amused to know that an anagram of Helvetica is ‘vile cheat’.

    Right, that’s that (un)settled.

  • Type Tweaker

    I’m very happy with Heldustry “the square Helvetica” with my own edits to it, removing the a tail, Q tail only outside, R with straight, width, height nudging. I’ve also experimented with open numbers (no curves turning inside, modern, even futuristic but clean and balanced).

    Fan of Univers but the a has a too high loop.

    I think yours is mostly better than Helvetica but…
    1) The x-height of the original Helvetica is already too high, Akzidenz Grotesk had lower. Perhaps try making a version which has a lower x-height than either, the same x-height as Century Schoolbook.
    2) I don’t like the slanted ends, I want them horizontal; I want absolute steadiness, balance.

  • Helvetica still slive!!

  • Ryan Maelhorn

    Does Aktiv share the same metrics as Helvetica and Arial? I would think if you were trying to replace Helvetica it would be a good sales point for you to say that people can just swap out Helvetica for Aktiv and not have to worry about resetting anything.

  • Just used this font for a client, and as I came across this old post thought I would just say it is great. Nicely done. Picked up the font after seeing it on the ENB blog post