Skip to main content

Helvetica. Which one?

I'm watching a lot of Chris Do / The Futur videos recently — interesting stuff. Their slides and design guide material make heavy use of font Helvetica, both thick and thin, e.g. as can be seen at…

To me, their use of font in general and Helvetica in particular seems excellent so I got interested in Helvetica myself more. With multiple different Helveticas in the top 50 best-selling fonts on MyFonts it didn't take long to get me confused: Helvetica, Helvetica Neue, Helvetica Now, Neue Haas Grotesk — phew! Are they even different? Which one would I want to use?

My Findings

Let me put my findings on available Helveticas on a date-of-publishing timeline:

That's a quite a few. From comparing their looks side by side and researching more I came to these…

Personal Conclusions

  • When someone says "Helvetica" in 2020 they probably don't mean the original Helvetica from the late 50s; they probably refer to a more recent version.

  • When someone says "Neue Haas Grotesk" in 2020 they probably don't mean the original font from the late 50s but "Neue Haas Grotesk Display" or "Neue Haas Grotesk Text" released in 2010.

  • Letters to recognize Helvetica style fonts easily are lower a and e, capital G and the rectangle dots seen with i, j and full stops.

  • Different versions of Helvetica can be distinguished by a closer look at lower letters i, f, t and capital letters P and R.

  • The Futur has been using Helvetica Neue precisely back in 2016.

  • I find recent version of Helvetica to be beautiful; it is obvious to me now why Helvetica has been used so much.

  • Each of these fonts is rather expensive and their licensing rules do not seem "sane" to me; potentially a topic for another post. I hear that IBM has been spending over a million dollars every year to use Helvetica prior to their move to font IBM Plex — wow! I'll explore other legal free options more before putting this much money into a font for personal use as an individual.

  • From comparing different Helveticas side by side, Helvetica Now feels the most natural, balanced and beautiful to me by quite a bit.

  • Monotype's Helvetica Now 2019 marketing seems to ignore Linotype's prior effort with Neue Haas Grotesk Text/Display from 2010 altogether.

Useful Resources

There are some resources I found on the way that I consider worth sharing, in particular:

That's it; enough Helvetica for me today.

Best, Sebastian

Why I recommend Debian over Ubuntu by now

I recently noticed that I would clearly suggest Debian over Ubuntu to someone about to make that choice. A few reasons why:

2017-02-28

  • The Chromium browser lagged so much behind Debian in Ubuntu recently, that payment on AirBnB would fail on Ubuntu (16.10) while working well on Debian; the update/fix took way too long.

  • The corefonts installer is broken (and not hard to fix) in Ubuntu (16.10). I would not recommend any of the workarounds I have seen, the bug is not fixed for two years. Affected a non-IT friend of mine.

  • The shutdown process of a freshly installed Ubuntu 16.04 took ages due to the cups-browsed daemon. Experienced that at a Linux install party.

  • Pycharm freezes soon after start-up on Ubuntu 16.10.

  • Right now Debian has Postgresql 9.6, latest alpha Ubuntu only has Postgresql 9.5 (while we want 9.6 features on the server at work).

  • The Debian community will like you way better if you are not actually on Ubuntu if you end up asking questions in the Debian channel at some point (say you have questions on Debian packaging).

2019-10-10

2020-03-02

  • After more than an hour of trying to convince the Ubuntu installer to do full disk encryption with LVM on a friend's notebook we switched to Debian… and the Debian installer did not only support it, it even made it easy.

  • The liburiparser1 0.8.4-1 package of Ubuntu bionic 18.04.x LTS(!) whose Standard Support with security updates ends 2023-04 — i.e. is still ongoing as of today — lacks patches for four CVEs that are clearly labelled as security fixes in the uriparser changelog. When contacting Ubuntu Security about it, their response was that "[.. s]ince the package referred to in this bug is in universe, it is community maintained. [..]" (emphasis mine). That is in line with what Standard Support is offering, and it was a good eye-opener fow me on how little that actually is.

So much for now.

Valentine's Day 2020: I love Free Software! #ilovefs

Some people care if software is free of cost or if it has the best features. I don't. I care that I can legally dissect its parts, adjust it to my needs, and share my modifications with the community: run, study, redistribute, improve. That's why I happily avoid macOS, Windows, Skype, Photoshop. I love … free software!

If you want to join in speaking your mind about software libre and the #ilovefs campaign, please find related artwork here.