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Helvetica: Old and Neue

by Ilene Strizver

The Helvetica® design can be seen virtually everywhere: in print, on the web, in the news and even in the movies (Helvetica, the film, is a must see!). Since its release in 1957, Helvetica has steadily been one of the most popular typefaces.

The history of Helvetica includes a number of twists and turns. There are, in fact, two versions of Helvetica. The first one is the original design, which was created by Max Miedinger and released by Linotype in 1957. And secondly, in 1983, D. Stempel AG, Linotype’s daughter company, released the Neue Helvetica® design, which was a re-working of the 1957 original. In addition, Linotype released the Neue Helvetica Pro design in 2004, which is an OpenType version with expanded foreign language support.

So why was this classic redesigned in 1983? Since its original launch, Helvetica had been worked on by a variety of designers to adapt it for successive methods of composition, from hot metal to photocomposition to digital. In addition, given the technical limitations of some methods, the character weights, widths and spacing were inconsistent and compromised. As technologies improved, these limitations were removed, allowing total design freedom.

It was these changes that led to the reworking of this very popular workhorse in 1983, when the complete Helvetica family was carefully redrawn and expanded. The outcome was the Neue Helvetica design, a synthesis of aesthetic and technical refinements and modifications that resulted in improved appearance, legibility and usefulness.

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