I had never loved Helvetica

I had never loved Helvetica. Despite of being an omnipresent typeface, I really noticed and used her first in the form of the bland system font on a Mac Classic for my very first piece of typesetting as a design student. Although I can’t blame my unrefined typography solely on the crude font, I avoided her ever since. Besides that, it was the early 1990’s when humanist sans-serifs were the type to use and Meta had taken over as “the Helvetica of the nineties” (quote not by Robin Kinross as often stated). A time when it was the order of the day to “hate” Helvetica. Some colleagues never got over this.

I practiced a policy of peaceful indifference and our paths never crossed again. Until in 2007 when I was asked to research the history and development of Helvetica for a book and exhibition project on the occasion of the typeface’s 50th birthday. It was a timid approximation at first, but the more I learned about the genesis of the family, the background, the people and techniques involved, and above all saw the original drawings, proofs and corrections, there was a certain fondness growing inside of me. Meanwhile I find myself coming to Helvetica’s defense every once in a while, because she wasn’t meant to be as bland and unrefined as most of us digital natives got to know her. In fact, Neue Haas-Grotesk, as the foundry type version of Helvetica was called upon release in 1957, is a rather beautiful and soulful design.

Although being credited mostly to Max Miedinger alone, the development of the original Neue Haas-Grotesk in the mid 1950s owes just as much to Eduard Hoffmann, then president of the Haas typefoundry in Münchenstein near Basel. By the mid 1950s he recognized a decrease in sales and appreciation for the sans-serif typefaces in their program: Französische Grotesk and Normal Grotesk. Both designs, originally from 1890 and 1909 respectively, looked rather dated in the eyes of the leading Swiss typographers who preferred the more rigorous Akzidenz-Grotesk by Berthold instead. Hoffmann had planned to issue a new sans-serif since 1950 but hesitated facing the expenses. Now with the conspicuous rise of the “Swiss Typography” and the “International Style” the time had come.

Hoffmann commissioned graphic designer Max Miedinger, a former salesmen at Haas, to develop the new sans-serif which should be based on Haas’s reworking of Normal-Grotesk from 1954. Through his dialogue with customers, Miedinger had a good insight into the market’s demands and what makes a successful typeface. Work began in early fall of 1956 with the medium weight (Stempel’s official translation of Halbfett was Medium whereas other places may refer to it as the bold style). The new design was aimed to be presented at the Graphic 57 trade expo in June the following year. From very early on – even before the actual development began – Hoffmann consulted with prominent Swiss graphic designers and the weighty advertising departments of Basel’s chemical companies Geigy and Ciba. It was clear to him that the success of a new grotesk would largely depend on winning over the influential designers, because that meant the large printing offices would most certainly purchase the new typeface.

Over the following months a sedulous exchange of correspondence, drawings, and proofs between Miedinger and Hoffmann took place. Hoffmann elaborately documented the whole development process in a notebook. The new design was continually compared to samples of the competitor Akzidenz-Grotesk as well as Haas’s “old” grotesks. Its most unique new features were the consistently horizontal terminals, the large x-height, and the extremely narrow sidebearings. Never before were designers able to set type this tight. These features result in the typical dense, vigorous color of Neue Haas-Grotesk. The two men didn’t always agree. Many details were discussed over weeks and modifications would continue until late autumn. Miedinger in particular was not satisfied with the capital R and considered forms with a more diagonal leg than the vertical “Schelter R” tail that we now recognize as “typical Helvetica”. Also, the characteristic “a” with its drop-shaped bowl got its final form only after the inaugural presentation at the trade show.

The response to the new typeface was positive throughout and Neue Haas-Grotesk became an immediate success. Miedinger promptly took up work on additional weights. However, the competitors didn’t sleep either. Also in 1957, Adrian Frutiger’s Univers was issued by Deberny & Peignot and the German Bauer foundry published their Folio, both for hand-composition. For machine composition, the Monotype system was prevalent in Switzerland and with it Monotype Grotesque.

Meanwhile the rivalry among the different Swiss design schools and influential protagonists of the Swiss Typography in Basel and Zürich was is full swing and grew into a rivalry of the new typefaces Neue Haas-Grotesk and Univers. Competing for the favour of the influential designers, Haas countered Emil Ruder’s bias for Univers in Basel by commissioning leading Zürich designers like Josef Müller-Brockmann for work. The success of Neue Haas-Grotesk has to be thanked to effective marketing from day one. Articles, ads and supplements were placed in all relevant magazines, and extensive specimens designed by Hans Neuburg and Josef Müller-Brockmann. Most notably Haas issued a costly binder called “Satzklebebuch” with dummy texts in all styles and sizes, making it very convenient for typographers to lay-out pages. But Hoffmann knew that for truly challenging the competition, it was important to make Neue Haas-Grotesk available for machine composition.

In June 1959 Hoffmann took up negotiations with D. Stempel AG in Frankfurt, Germany, who held 51% of Haas’s shares. Besides producing foundry type, Stempel also manufactured the matrices for Linotype composing machines. The Germans were skeptical. Only five years earlier, in 1954, had they adapted Haas’s Normal-Grotesk for the Linotype which did not sell very well. Also the taste for sans-serif typefaces was considerably different across the border in Germany at that time. With a list of 62 potentially interested Swiss printers, Hoffmann was able to win Stempel over. The name “Neue Haas-Grotesk” however was deemed not suitable for an international market. Heinz Eul, sales manager at Stempel, suggested “Helvetia”, Latin for “Switzerland” but Hoffmann was not convinced, especially since a sewing machines manufacturer and an insurance company already carried that name. Instead he suggested “Helvetica” — the Swiss.

In the beginning only the Linotype version, issued in 1960, was called Helvetica. The type for hand composition was continued to be sold under its old name for several years (later at Stempel as “Helvetica A”). This made sense because the design had to be altered significantly to meet the requirements of the Linotype system. The Linotype machine casts one line of type at a time from a row of individual matrices which are assembled automatically by typing the text on a keyboard. One matrix holds two forms of the same character, usually either regular and italic, or regular and bold. As such, both forms on a matrix have to be exactly the same width. This “duplexing” inevitably leads to compromises: italics often appear to be too wide, bold styles on the other hand too narrow. Kerns – parts of a letter that extend onto the following sort – were not possible, which resulted in the typical narrow f’s in Linotype fonts.

In the case of Neue Haas-Grotesk the size of each glyph on the body had to be slightly reduced to accommodate uppercase accents. The italic was completely redrawn by Stempel, as Haas’s version was regarded “not good enough”. The Medium was made slightly bolder, and the spacing of all styles was adjusted, making the Regular “lighter in flow” and the Medium more dense. It was not a premiss that the two typefaces had to be fully compatible since they were usually not used together at the same size. Hoffmann had no qualms about the changes as long as the overall design and proportions were maintained.

The immediate success of Neue Haas-Grotesk and Helvetica put pressure on both Haas and Stempel to issue additional weights and styles as quickly as possible. Styles of older typefaces were hastily tweaked and renamed “Helvetica” to meet the demand for a larger family, leading to many inconsistencies in design and proportions between the various fonts. The bold expanded style of Normal-Grotesk for instance was cast more tightly and adopted as “Helvetica Bold Expanded”. Similarly, Commercial-Grotesk — a sans derived from an Egyptian called Superba by cutting off the serifs — was respaced and adopted as Helvetica Medium Condensed, Bold Condensed and Compact (two years later, in 1966, revised by Matthew Carter and Hans Jürg Hunziker as Helvetica Compressed). Only the italic weights were fully original drawings. This stands in great contrast to Univers, which was planned as a systematic family right from the outset.

From the late 1960s on, further development of Helvetica was entirely taken over by Stempel in Frankfurt. They reworked Haas’s ad-hoc-additions of condensed and expanded styles, and added a Light and Light Italic. Hoffmann was right. The availability for the Linotype and the international distribution contributed enormously to Helvetica’s success, especially in the United States where the Linotype was the prevalent composing machine. Albeit not very systematic at first, the family grew into a large, versatile series of various widths. It was available in sizes as small as 5 pt, cast from extra hard alloy, up to the striking, large Poster styles — my personal favourite — in wood, aluminum or plastic. There were also several alternate characters available, most notably a capital ‘R’ with diagonal leg. Upon customer request Stempel provided a third form of ‘R’, in the so called “Futura-form”, an ‘A’ with round top (uh!), a single story ‘a’ or a ‘y’ with a straight descender.

Because of its wide spread, Helvetica was always among the first typefaces transferred into a new technology. However, almost all changes came with sacrifices to the original design, for instance the switch from metal to photo-typesetting in the late 1960s. For metal type, separate matrices were created to cast each size of a typeface. This allowed the design to be adjusted for the different sizes, optimizing spacing, proportions, and weight as needed. Photo-typesetting on the other hand enabled the infinite scaling of just one master design. To preserve at least some of the adjustments traditionally made for different sizes, foundries provided up to four sets of masters to be used for different size ranges. Another problem was the undesirable rounding of sharp edges in the photographic process. To work against this, the letter forms were drawn with exaggeratedly pointed corners and notches. Also, the width and spacing of all characters had to be reworked. While Linotype hot-metal machines justify the lines by means of mechanically expanding wedges — the “space bands” — phototype systems, as well as the Monotype machine, have to calculate the line-length and wordspaces from the width of the characters. Because computing unlimited spacing variations was not possible back then, the width of all characters had to follow a rather coarse 18-unit system (later 54 units). This again implied that all styles had to be redrawn.

When Helvetica was adapted as one of the first typefaces for digital typesetting — initially as bitmap fonts in the 1970s, later as outline fonts included in the first version of PostScript — many of the design limitations from analog systems were carried over to the digital realm. The version of Helvetica that comes with Macintosh’s operating systems today still retains the 18-unit width system from the phototype era. Many of the curves lack finesse and the italic was created by automatically slanting the roman. The adjustments for different size ranges were given up for a one-size-fits-all master drawing and spacing. In 1982 Linotype set out to revise and systematize the hodgepodge of fonts Helvetica had become over the years. Adopting the numeric naming system from the former competitor Univers, styles and weights were coordinated and complemented. The height of all capitals and lowercases were aligned throughout the family. Yet the wish for regularization and cohesiveness led to new compromises: condensed and expanded styles required squarer forms in the normal widths, again sacrificing some of the personality of the rounder original.

In 2004 designer Christian Schwartz was commissioned by a British newspaper to digitize Neue Haas-Grotesk. He calls it a “restoration”. With “as much fidelity to the original shapes and spacing as possible”, he carefully redrew the typeface to match Miedinger’s original forms. The series is comprised of two families: a display version retaining the characteristically tight spacing of the original’s larger sizes, and a text version which is slightly sturdier and more loosely spaced for smaller sizes. Furthermore, he incorporated the alternative glyphs for “a”, the straight-legged R and the original ç, as well as additional numerals and other amenities, but the essence of Neue Haas-Grotesk was preserved throughout.

Alfred Hoffmann, son of Eduard Hoffmann and former CEO of the Haas foundry, witnessed the development of Neue Haas-Grotesk and Helvetica for over 50 years. Upon seeing proofs of Schwartz’s new Neue Haas-Grotesk he was delighted: “There can be no greater present for the founding fathers. Almost better than the original”, he said.

I agree.


A selection of related images in my Flickr stream.



Alastair Johnston rants about Helvetica

This isn’t a Blue Pencil (could never challenge master Shaw), just a lazy, quick TextEdit. Alastair Johnston wrote an article on Helvetica posted on Smashing Magazine yesterday. I don’t want to comment on his strong opinion and cut out most of his subjective ranting. But some facts seem to have gotten a bit wonky.

He writes:

The other day someone sent me a link to a website with the preposterous title of “The 100 Best Typefaces of All Time”. Topping the chart was Helvetica, and that stirred my ire. I dismissed the list because it was based on marketing figures from one source, FontShop, coupled with the opinions of half a dozen Berlin-based typographers, but I was still incensed.

This was a survey done by FontShop Germany in 2006, and included more than just Berlin-based typographers. Said FontShop website has precise info on the jury and criteria:

Roger Black, Danilo Black, Inc., USA
Stephen Coles, Typographica, USA
Jan Middendorp, Publicist, Berlin
Veronika Elsner, Elsner + Flake, Hamburg
Bertram Schmidt-Friderichs, TDC / Hermann Schmidt, Mainz
Ralf Herrmann, TypoForum, Weimar
Claudia Guminski, FontShop, Marketing, Berlin

Criteria of the ranking:
Sales figures: 40%
Historical significance: 30%
Aesthetic quality: 30%

The ranking does not include free fonts or components from operating systems or software (Arial, Verdana, etc.), but focuses exclusively on licensable printers’ typefaces. Types which, over the centuries, have been interpreted individually by several different foundries (Bodoni, Garamond, Futura and so on) were judged collectively and included as a single entry.

For Helvetica, an explanation of its history helps to explain its longevity. Most typeface designs are the result of fashion or changes in taste; some are technologically driven. When iron printing presses were introduced around 1800, sharper, crisper types such as Bodoni and Didot were created. When laser printers came along in the mid-1980s, with their bitmapped fonts, students in Holland began producing typefaces that reflected the quality of the poor printing. Letters in Studio [sic] (Eindhoven, Lecturis, 1983) shows examples by Jelle Bosma and Petr van Blokland designed on a 40-pixel grid. Emigré, an early digital type foundry, produced Oakland (1985) and other lo-res types for the market.

Laser printers use outline fonts, bitmap fonts were used for screen representation or matrix printers. The name of the Dutch booklet he refers to is “Letters in studie”, meaning “typefaces in the making”, or “in study” or “experiment”.

At that time, two sans-serif types introduced in the late 1920s dominated the market for advertising. These were Monotype Gill Sans and Futura, of the German Stempel foundry.

Futura is a typeface by the Bauer typefoundry.

Suddenly there was a rush to create, imitate or revive sans-serif types. The Berthold foundry of Berlin dusted off the matrices for its Akzidenz Grotesk (1898), while their rivals, the Haas Type Foundry of Basel, decided to rework Schelter Grotesk, which had been issued by the Leipziger Schelter & Giesecke foundry in 1880. This became Neue Haas Grotesk in 1957, which was then picked up by the Stempel foundry in Frankfurt. It wanted to identify the type with the emerging popularity of Swiss graphic design and chose the ancient Roman name of Switzerland, Helvetia, and so Helvetica was reborn in 1961.

This is an incredibly brief summary of 30 years. Or what time does the author talk about when he says “suddenly”. Berthold did not rework Akzidenz-Grotesk until after Helvetica was issued (and became threateningly successful), it had been available ever since 1898, just became very popular in the 1950s. Neue Haas-Grotesk was based on Haas’ Französische Grotesk (which was based on Breite halbfette Grotesk by Schelter & Giesecke) and Haas’ Normal-Grotesk (which was based on Neue Moderne Grotesk by Wagner & Schmidt) with an eye on competing typefaces like AG and Monotype Grotesque. NHG was not “picked up” by Stempel but insistently offered to them by Haas against their initial skepticism.

The reason for the popularity of Gill Sans and Futura was that they turned their back on these Grotesks of the 19th century, which were worn out. Eric Gill took a new approach: pen-made humanist calligraphy was the basis for his type (he had also worked on the drawings for the London Underground alphabet with his mentor, Edward Johnston). These letters made more coherent word shapes and were easier to read than Grotesks. But Gill’s type standardized the distinct curled-tail “l” and shed-roofed figure “1” of Johnston’s design, which led to confusion with the capital “I” (a problem in many sans serifs).

Paul Renner’s Futura was designed to reflect the new machine age, with simple geometric shapes, straight lines and circles that gave it a cool Art Deco elegance. Both types are now imbued with a lot of cultural baggage, so Gill suggests the British Broadcasting Corporation and Futura has become nostalgic shorthand for the era of streamlining.

But in the 1930s, these two types were immensely popular in Europe and North America, and the other founders had to respond quickly. Returning to the 19th century should have been out of the question for the competition, except that the German foundries had been flattened in the Second World War and were slow to retool.

I don’t understand what the author wants to say in that last paragraph. Geometric sans-serifs were popular in the 1930s, yes, and all foundries “had to” issue their own, yes, almost all did, but well before German foundries cut down type production from 1942 on. Also, it never seized completely. Some foundries were destroyed in the war, for instance Klingspor, but others, like e.g. Stempel, not at all. The surge in the use of grotesques such as Akzidenz-Grotesk and – not to forget – Monotype Grotesque is rooting in the 1950s in Switzerland, and later the design of the so called “neo-grotesk” faces. The taste in typefaces was rather different in Germany with Futura, Erbar and Neuzeit still widely used after WW2. Also, the more calligraphy inspired style of Schneidler, Trump and Zapf was very popular.

Helvetica became a national brand, an identity for the popular “Swiss style” of typography of Emil Ruder and Armin Hofmann, which quickly spread as their well-indoctrinated students took the new look back to Yale and other American schools.

As Paul Barnes pointed out rightly: “As Ruder & Hofmann were of the Basle school they used Univers/Akzidenz Grotesk not Helvetica”. Fuelling the rivalry between the Swiss “schools”, Zürichers like Hans Neuburg and Josef Müller-Brockmann were advocating Helvetica. The latter designed promotional material for NHG and Helvetica such as the famous Satzklebebuch binder. Only Basel based designer Albert Gromm once designed one of the initial marketing flyers for Helvetica in 1959.

From BMW, Bayer and Lufthansa in Germany, the Helvetica look spread to Bank of America, Knoll, Panasonic, Target, Crate&Barrel, JC Penney, Mattel, American Airlines, Sears, Microsoft and other corporations.


Graffiti protesting Bank of America in Berkeley, California, is chalked in a convincing Helvetica form.

Bank of America does not use Helvetica, their corporate typeface is Franklin Gothic. The chalk artist does’t even try to mimic Helvetica but the bank’s actual typeface.

In the late ’90s Microsoft was selling a million copies of Word each month and gave away 14 fonts with its program. Its knock-off of Helvetica is called Arial. Linotype had taken over Stempel, and then Haas, and so consolidated its ownership of Helvetica and many of the clones.

Stempel had held Haas shares since 1927, first 45%, from 1954 on 51%. Stempel’s majority of shares was owned by Linotype. Haas bought Deberny & Peignot (and thus Univers) in 1972. When Stempel closed in 1985, their Haas shares went to Linotype, who purchased all rights to the Haas foundry in 1989.

After the adoption of the Swiss style internationally, another event caused the persistence of Helvetica: the arrival of the personal computer. Apple could fit only a few types into the memory of its LaserWriter printer driver. Times and Helvetica were decided by executive fiat (based on their popularity at the time); Symbol and Courier were required by the operating system. Then, a team of experts was called in to choose more types: Palatino, Zapf Chancery, Avant Garde, Bookman and Century Schoolbook were picked by committee. One of the committee, Sumner Stone, told me, “In retrospect they seem pretty strange and random. … Times and Helvetica were redrawn, and with Helvetica the narrow and oblique came free because it was just an algorithm.” With only garbage to pick from, there was a visual blight of Times, Helvetica and Palatino in the early days of “desktop publishing,” which lasted well beyond their sell-by date.

My impression is that people hating Helvetica never really looked at the original but are – rightfully – detesting this lousy version that comes with computer operating systems, digitized in a hurry in the early days of PostScript. For a detailed comparison and more information on Helvetica’s history see the Neue Haas Grotesk feature site.

The original design of Neue Haas-Grotesk was not as square as Neue Helvetica. Also, I wouldn’t say that a, s and e in Helvetica “have many  characters that resemble one another”, as he suggest in the following paragraphs, but that rather I, l or rn and m can be confused.

Of course, most lay people can’t tell one sans serif from another. When people say they prefer Helvetica to Arial because the latter is a bad copy, I ask if there’s a difference between a Big Mac and a Whopper, and, more to the point, would you honestly feed either to your kids?

Adrian Frutiger, “Mister Univers” himself, tried to improve on Helvetica with the Univer [sic] series, begun in 1954 (and he succeeded, causing the Helvetians to expand their family of weights in response), but then, in his maturer years, he turned his back on Univers to design the family that bears his own name (Frutiger, 1976).

Frutiger did not try “to improve on Helvetica”. Maybe he tried to improve the grotesque model/genre. Frutiger begun work on Univers much earlier than Haas did with Neue Haas-Grotesk. Both typefaces were released at the same time, with all foundries knowing about the work of the others (also Bauer with Folio, released the same year, 1957). The expansion of Helvetica was not “caused” by Univers.



Comparison of four sans serifs from “My Fonts” [sic]

Everything about Helvetica is repellant: from its uptight aura to its smug, splendid isolation. How it persists in the face of such brilliant alternatives as Frutiger and Syntax defies logic.

It would help if the samples of each typeface showed the same text/characters, which is very easy to do on MyFonts. What a weak image to prove debatable points.

Can’t bring myself to quote the rest of the article, read on over at Smashing mag.


Life wasn’t easy in phototype days

While I more or less have a notion of how metal type and measurement works, I’m at a loss reading through specimen and instructions from film-setting days. Yes, I know there have been A, B, C and sometimes D masters to cover different ranges of size (instead of having only one scaled to all sizes), but this sounds complicated:

Specimen for Helvetica Compressed by Mergenthaler Linotype


Monotype Newsletter 92 on the occasion of Helvetica being licensed for Monotype’s hot-metal and photo composition machines, 1972


Die tollsten Schriften des Jahres* (Teil 2)

* und andere (persönliche) typografische Ereignisse

Das weitere Frühjahr stand im Zeichen der TypoBerlin, die alles in allem großartig war und die ich zum ersten Mal als Moderator erlebte, u.a. durfte ich z.B. Mitja Miklavcic ansagen, dessen FF Tisa zwar schon letztes Jahr erschienen ist, die ich aber trotzdem sehr gerne mag.

Fontshop Deutschland veröffentlichte zeitgleich eine eigene Schrift von Erik Spiekermann + friends (also keinen FontFont von FSI, sondern einen Fontshop-Font) mit einem interessanten Marketingkonzept: die Axel kostete vier Wochen lang nur 9,90 Euro (danach 79,00).
Sie ist sehr sehr schmal, für die Verwendung in excel-Tabellen ausgelegt und dennoch gut lesbar. Mein bester ehemaliger Student Frank Grießhammer, damals noch bei FSI in der Lehre, hat eine Büro-Soap dazu gedreht.

Axel (Bild Fontblog)

Ich weiss nicht warum, aber ich hab’s irgendwie nicht geschafft, sie zu kaufen. Zwar finde ich das Konzept und die Schrift gut, aber ich arbeite fast gar nicht mit spreadsheets und wenn nur mit google docs. Es würde mich aber interessieren, ob Fontshop durch mehr Verkäufe zu einem günstigeren Preis nicht auf den gleichen Schnitt gekommen sind. Sollten Schriften günstiger werden?

Ebenfalls auf der TypoBerlin wurde die neue Website von Fontshop Deutschland vorgestellt – leider kein so großer Wurf in meinen Augen, wirkt immer noch irgendwie Beta. Da könnte sich Fontshop Deutschland ein, zwei Scheiben von der amerikanischen Website abschneiden. Die ist super und erfindet alle paar Monate ein neues nützliches feature wie die fontlists und staff-picks, über die ich schon so manche vergessene Alternative gefunden habe, tolle Schriftmuster, gute Navigation und einen lesenswerten newsletter/blog haben sie auch.

Die Typo veränderte ziemlich viel. Ich knickte ein und meldete mich bei twitter an, was die internationale Kommunikations und Vernetzung irre beschleunigte und die Post-Typo-Insomnia noch verstärkte. Aufgrund von akutem „typographic conference withdrawl“ riefen Leidensgenosse Dan Reynolds und ich den type meet-ups calendar ins Leben und wir reisten auf Typostammtische quer durch die Republik. Die Ankündigung setzte Dan aus seiner preisgekrönten Reading-Abschluss-Schrift Malabar. Die möchte ich gerne mal für eine Zeitung verwenden.


Leider sind nicht alle Linotype-Neuerscheinungen so erfreulich, wie die Malabar oder z.B. die ITC Chino von Hannes van Döhren und Livius Dietzel. Dort schießen die »Next«, »New«, »Nova« »Better« und »Really« Schriften schneller aus dem Boden, als man die Pilze essen kann, besonders geärgert habe ich mich dieses Jahr aber über die Aeonis von Erik Faulhaber. Ich kann diese Dax-Verschnitte einfach nicht. mehr. sehen!


Vor wenigen Tagen wurde die Helvetica Arabic von Linotype veröffentlicht. Mich erinnert sie in der Anmutung mit ihren runden Punkten, winkligen Strichenden und weichen Kurven eher an Frutiger. Aber ich verstehe nicht viel von arabischer Typografie (nur von Helvetica).

Schriftklassifikation in a nutshell

Meine Einteilung nach Formprinzip habe ich 1998 im DIN-Ausschuss zur Klassifikation der Schriften vorgestellt. Dort lernte ich auch Max Bollwage und Hans Peter Willberg kennen, die später mein Konzept in ihre Büchern übernommen haben.

Hier eine Passage aus meinem Buch Buchstaben kommen selten allein (gekürzt).

Worin unterscheiden sich Schriften?
Am augenscheinlichsten kann man zwischen Serifenschriften und Serifenlosen unterscheiden. Das zweite wichtige Merkmal ist ihr Strichkontrast und dessen Verlauf im Buchstaben. Dabei kann man drei verschiedene Grundprinzipien erkennen:
1. von dem Schreiben mit der Breitfeder ausgehend (Renaissance-Charakter, dynamisches Formprinzip, Translation)
2. von der Spitzfeder herrührend (klassizistischer Charakter, statisches Formprinzip, Expansion)
3. von der Redisfeder inspiriert (konstruierter Charakter, geometrisches Formprinzip, kein Strichkontrast)

dynamisches Formprinzip:
schräge Kontrastachse, offene, runde Formen des a, c und e, zweibäuchiges g, schräger Strichansatz, differenzierte organische Form. Versalien orientieren sich in Form und Proportion an der römischen Kapitalis, gerader diagonalen Abstrich bei R.
Diese Merkmale gelten auch bei Verringerung des Kontrasts und dem Verstärken oder Weglassen der Serifen.
typische Vertreter: Garamond, Barmeno, Syntax, Caecilia, Swift

statisches Formprinzip:
gerade Kontrastachse, hoher Strichkontrast, statische, geschlossene Buchstabenformen sichtbar bei R, a, e und s, regelmäßige, ähnliche Formen z.B. bei b, d, q und p. Versalien sind alle ähnlich breit, Abstrich des R geht gerundet nach unten. Diese Merkmale gelten auch für die Serifenbetonten und Groteskschriften ohne Strichkontrast.
typische Vertreter: Bodoni, Britannica, Helvetica, Boton, Clarendon

geometrisches Formprinzip:
kein Strichkontrast, konstruierte Formen, O und andere Buchstaben sind optisch zirkelrund. Versalien folgen den Proportionen der Kapitalis, R mit diagonalem Abstrich.
typische Vertreter: Futura, Memphis, Tekton, Isonorm

Klassifikation nach Formprinzip
Die hauptsächlichen Unterscheidungsmerkmale von Schriften sind also die Serifen, gefolgt vom sichtbaren Strichstärkenunterschied. Nach diesen Ausstattungsmerkmalen kann man alle Schriften waagerecht in Hauptgruppen unterteilt. In der Senkrechten wird nach den drei Formprinzipien unterschieden, ergänzt um eine Gruppe für dekorative und weniger eindeutige Schriftentwürfe.

Möchte man zwei Schriften mischen, ist es in der Regel gefahrlos, Vertreter eines Formprinzips zu kombinieren (z.B. Garamond + Syntax). In der Übersicht nebeneinander stehende Schriften, also unterschiedlichen Formprinzips, harmonieren dagegen meist nicht so gut miteinander (z.B. Frutiger + Helvetica).

Click to enlarge


Formprinzip oder DIN-Klassifikation?
Die Einteilung nach Formprinzip steht im klaren Kontrast zur amtierenden deutschen DIN-Klassifikation 16518 mit ihrer historischen, teils recht groben Einteilung. International findet man noch weitere unterschiedliche Methoden der Klassifikationen und auch jeder Schriftenhersteller strukturiert seine Bibliothek nach eigenen Kriterien. Sehr verbreitet ist die Einteilung von Maximilian Vox, die in den 1960er Jahren Vorbild für die DIN-Klassifikation war. Die Gruppennamen sind für den normalen Anwender jedoch recht schwer nachzuvollziehen.

Die Klassifikation nach Formprinzip lässt sich in der Tiefe um die historisch gewachsenen Untergruppen erweitern. Zum Vergleich links die Einteilung der DIN und Bezeichnung des Vox-Systems.


Noch ein paar Gedanken zur Klassifikation in englisch/some thoughts on classification in english

In Defense of Helvetica

I just read a fitting comparison of type and food in connection with Helvetica.

To me Helvetica feels to typography a bit like Japanese white rice feels to traditional Japanese cuisine. That is, on its own it may seem pretty bland to most people. […] Yet, as a balanced complement to all other elements in a washoku meal, rice is truly a delicious and harmonious amplifier of the entire culinary experience. Helvetica is a bit like this in that the typeface is a great complement to other design elements on a page or poster or slide, etc. Helvetica is a great amplifier of clarity without drawing attention to its own form. (source)

The writer may have had the different elements of a layout in mind, but the metaphor fits the task of combining typefaces with Helvetica just as adequately (I don’t know about the last point though) (and his others).

What keeps puzzling me: why do I feel like I have to defend Helvetica since that Helvetica Forever project? Paying attention to mentions like this, continuously giving advice on how to use it. I didn’t even liked H before. Now, as soon as you know so much about a topic, you can’t really hate it anymore …

What typefaces to combine with Helvetica?

Because I was asked this several times in the last months and today this question also appeared on typophile, here are my suggestions (further ideas welcome):

Transitional and Modern Serifs should work quite well with Helvetica, but also Garaldes like Garamond – depends on what kind of atmosphere you aim at. If you are looking for a more human, legible, friendly touch, choose an open typeface from the Garalde subclass like Plantin, Galliard, Swift or Proforma. For more neutrality browse the Transitionals/Baroques like Utopia, Rotation, Farnham. More classy, austere? look in the areas of Modern (bracketed) typefaces. More

frisch von der Buchmesse

Da steht es – Helvetica forever – unser zeitlos gediegenes Nachschlagewerk bei Lars Müller Publishers im Regal. Ab November auch in anderen.

Und wo wir gerade bei Helvetica sind. Ich habe im wunderbaren Bornheim in der Nähe der Schönen Müllerin genächtigt. Am ersten Morgen dachte ich noch, ich hätte einen Äppler-Knick in der Optik, aber den hatte wohl vor mir schon einer.

Neue Helvetica Entdeckung!

Moment … das ist ein echt toller Fund in meinem Haufen:

Ich bin inzwischen bei der Neuen Helvetica angekommen und griff etwas skeptisch zu diesem, naja, sagen wir mal – Kind seiner Zeit (1983) …

innen wird es noch arger …

beim Impressum angelangt musste ich aber trotz schlimmer Heiserkeit und Rippenschmerzen laut prusten.

benjamin hickethier at Wednesday, 29. August 2007, 20:48
hey indra ich finde das sieht grosse klasse aus! und gerade – für 1983… ich meine, stell dir vor wie erik s. damals aussah ;-)

übrigens fand ich deinen kommentar im fntblg super, zur HKW-debatte
und der veriss-routine

ausserdem bin ich auch inzwischen stolzer inhaber eines RGB-kodierten knies
dank einer sandkuhle und meinem fahrrad mit seinen schnellen starken bremsen
dafür, wie mein bein anschließend (nach der ›voll-‹bremsung) mit dem fahrrad verschlungen war, habe ich aber glück gehabt, dass ich mir nicht ein neues bein besorgen musste.
bist du wieder genesen und ordentlich echtfarben-moduliert?

liebe grüße nach… moment mal, da habe ich gerade den überblick verloren,
muss wohl mal im lebens- äh reiseplan schauen

kupfers, Wednesday, 29. August 2007, 21:26
Mensch Benjamin, ich schreibe das hier doch nicht, damit Du das nachbaust! Großes Mitleid!
Leider muss ich Dir sagen, dass die Naturbeinfarbe erst nach ungefähr zwei Wochen langsam wieder rauswächst. Kommt auf die Grundlagenausdauer Deines Bindegewebes an. Bei mir wurden die schlimmsten Rippenschmerzen aber nahtlos von einer RGB-Erkältung abgelöst. Nase außen R, innen G …

Und bezüglich oben hast Du vollkommen recht: lieber einmal mehr Eriks Lebenswerk loben als uns in die Antistimmung einschlägiger blogs einzureihen.
Solch schräge, sich überlagernde Layouts waren da noch nicht lange möglich (und Erik hatte wahrscheinlich noch Haare).

Helvetica forever

Als ich eben aus der Küche kam, war ich schon ein bisschen erschreckt: es sieht aus, als würde ich in Schriftmustern versinken (stimmt auch).
Wie es aussieht, bin ich fast die ganze Woche in D und werde Formen vergleichen.