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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