Monotype redesigns Helvetica “for the 21st century”

After almost four years of painstaking work, Monotype has created a new version of Helvetica – the ubiquitous typeface used by everyone from Apple to Nestlé and Lufthansa. We talk to Type Director Charles Nix about the challenges of updating a much-loved design

Few typefaces – if any – have had as big an impact on visual culture as Helvetica. Created by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffman in 1957, it has become one of the best known and most popular type designs in the world – appearing in countless brand identities and ad campaigns as well as public signage and even government documents.

The original design was cut in metal and a digital version (licensed by Monotype) was created in 1983. As Charles Nix, Type Director at Monotype points out, this digital version was created in a print-centric world – and a lot has changed since then.

“The screen representation was sort of secondary; how it behaved when you printed it out was the most important thing,” he explains. “Now of course, the way that we use type is completely different. We still do all those print applications that we did before but there’s this entire other vast array of screen-based applications for type.”

After 35 years, Monotype has finally released a new version of Helvetica fit for the 21st century. Helvetica Now is not a revival, says Monotype, but an entirely new typeface, with every letterform and character revised and redrawn for optimum legibility. The typeface includes 48 fonts in three optical sizes – micro, text and display. It also comes with a range of new additions, including new weights (hairline and extra black), special characters (including numbers in circles and a suite of arrows for information design), and a host of alternate letterforms – from a single storey ‘a’ to a straight legged uppercase ‘R’ – which Nix says have given the design “a completely new flavour”.