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Why Helvetica is not great

Tue May 7, 2013, 11:42 AM


Why Helvetica is not great


Type design is a rather obscure profession but even the typefaces themselves don’t get too much attention by the general public. Most people could only name a few typefaces, but among those few are always Times New Roman, Arial and Helvetica. Well-known and popular or not, in this article I will show you why Helvetica is not the great typeface people perceive it to be.

Helvetica by MartinSilvertant
Figure 1

The designer
Arial is often frowned upon due to its history, but what most people don’t know is that Helvetica has a very similar history. A bit different, but as far as I’m concerned it’s just as dubious and embarrassing. As most people who are interested in typefaces might know, Max Miedinger is the designer of Helvetica. However, what most people probably don’t know is that Max Miedinger was not a type designer. Miedinger studied typesetting between 1926 and 1930 and later became a typographer for Globus department store’s advertising studio in Zürich. As a typographer he obviously saw a lot of type, and he became a customer counselor and typeface sales representative for the Haas’sche Schriftgießerei (Haas Type Foundry), so without a doubt he had expertise in type. However, this is very different from being a type designer, and this tends to show.

Haas-ProArte- by MartinSilvertant
Figure 2


In 1954 at around age 44 he designed his first typeface, called Pro Arte (figure 2). It’s a condensed Egyptian (slab serif) like many of its contemporaries. In general Pro Arte is quite nice, but the letters K, Q and the ampersand (&) show he isn’t quite the master type designer people nowadays may perceive him to be when they think of Helvetica. To humor you, this is what I perceive to be wrong with Pro Arte:

K – The slab serif on the arm and leg are positioned too far to the left. Or, if Miedinger would insist on keeping the gaps in between the slab serifs consistent with the gaps in H/U/V/W/X/Y, he would have to change the angle of the arm and leg a bit. It’s an easy fix, but it’s a bad mistake to make in the first place.
Q – I have to say, I find this swash-like tail of Q quite attractive, but then I would expect some elements of the same stroke weight somewhere else in the typeface. The tail is simply not heavy enough.
& – The ampersand looks like it belongs to a completely different typeface; the top isn’t heavy enough, the thin stroke should go more gradually from thin to thick (a bit more weight in the curves), the curves look wobbly and for some reason the ampersand features quite thin and elegant serifs. The glyph is simply more refined than all the other letters. Also, the fact that the glyph is slightly flattened at the left and top left and right sides makes it consistent with the large vertical parts of the slab serifs in other letters, but it makes the ampersand look quite awkward. I don’t know what the solution should be for this, but sufficed to say the current ampersand is seriously flawed.

Plagiarism?
Alright, so Miedinger didn’t do a perfect job with Pro Arte. That shouldn’t deter any type designer from making more typefaces. Eduard Hoffmann—who was director of Haas Type Foundry by the time Miedinger joined—recognized Miedinger’s talent and commissioned a new typeface. Not just any typeface, but a very specific design. At the time the typeface Akzidenz Grotesk (bottom line of figure 3)—released by Berthold Type Foundry in 1896 under the name Accidenz Grotesk—was hugely popular, and Haas Type Foundry became alerted to the fact that they were missing sales because all Swiss designers were specifying Akzidenz Grotesk from Germany. The Swiss wanted some of that market share, and so Haas Type Foundry requested a typeface like Akzidenz Grotesk.

Akzidenz by MartinSilvertant
Figure 3

Akzidenz Grotesk was based on Scheltersche Grotesk (released by Schelter & Giesecke Foundry in 1880) and both these typefaces served as models for Helvetica. In fact, if you compare Helvetica with Akzidenz Grotesk, you might notice the general proportions are exactly the same. Conscious decisions were made to keep the proportions the same so it was possible to substitute one typeface for another without having to re-set the whole text. This is also why Arial was designed with the same proportions as Helvetica. Arial was based on Grotesque 215 but redrawn to match Helvetica in weight and proportions.

In figure 4 you can see the authentic documents showing the working process of plagiarizing (or at the very least being greatly influenced by) Akzidenz Grotesk. The top lines on the right are Helvetica in progress and each second line is Akzidenz Grotesk. Image provided by Nick Shinn (type designer and founder of Shinntype).

NickShinn-shows-how-Miedinger-rippedoff-AkzidenzGr by MartinSilvertant
Figure 4

Neutrality
While the antique grotesque typefaces were warm, Helvetica was designed to be neutral; compared to Akzidenz Grotesk, Helvetica is rather cold. This neutrality was exactly what the world of design needed at the time. Suddenly a lot of big companies got rid of their hand-lettered, decorative type and replaced it with this new typeface called Neue Haas Grotesk—which would later be called Helvetica so it would be easier to market internationally. While the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements were all about minimalist modernism, the post-war mentality abandoned austerity and embraced midcentury modernism; neutrality and impact were the new modern style—something which Helvetica (and the contemporary Univers) provided. As such Helvetica became a hugely popular typeface, and during the 60’s it had major impact on the advertising industry and on corporate branding. Not only was the typeface supposed to be neutral, but as Helvetica became synonymous with modern design, it also neutralized the whole design industry and impacted modern consumerism in a major way. It set some of the aesthetics we still cherish today, and Apple played a major role in that by using Helvetica as a system default typeface. Look at figure 5 for a comparison between a Coca Cola advertisement from the 60's (left) and the 70's (right) where Helvetica is used. It's still looking clumsy compared to contemporary marketing, but for the time this was a major improvement, and a big step towards commercialism as we know it today.

Ad by MartinSilvertant
Figure 5

Helvetica may have been neutral in the 60’s, but ironically enough Helvetica is definitely not a neutral typeface. It’s quite cold, but not neutral. In fact Helvetica is highly prolific. In that sense—and only in that sense—Helvetica is like Eurostile; cold in design but highly prolific as a typeface. A typeface like Franklin Gothic is what I would consider more neutral. If you can recognize the typeface straight away, it’s obviously not a neutral design. As such, it's definitely not a typeface to use for any and every project. Every project should be treated individually, and so it seems unlikely that Helvetica would be the optimal choice for each project. In fact, Helvetica isn’t an optimal choice at all, but more about that later.

Modernism
So Helvetica isn’t in fact neutral. Is it modern? Certainly it’s mid-century modernism, but since Helvetica is based on the same model as typefaces from the late 19th century, you can’t really consider that modern as in, contemporary. The design of ‘a’ with the curve going from the top of the belly to the stem is an antique design, stemming from the Egyptians (slab serif typefaces) from the early 19th century. So next time you’re selecting a modern typeface for your project, consider if you want genuine modernism or 19th century modernism. There is nothing at all wrong with 19th century modernism, but it has to fit the context. Although, for me personally I can imagine a typeface working well even if it doesn't fit the context. For example, to create contrast. So I guess fundamentally what concerns me more is the fact that people choose typefaces based on ignorance. Just like all other aspects of a design—such as composition, use of color, symbolism, symbology etc.—the choice of typeface is very important and needs to be carefully considered. I have to admit though, even as a type designer and typography, selecting the right typefaces can be very challenging. Partially because there are so many things to consider, but also because design is subjective anyway. First you need to know the facts though. How you may deviate from certain facts or design principles is your responsibility and possibly your obligation as a designer; to consider all aspects and bend it according to what you think fits the product best. It's partially an intuitive process, but with knowledge and logic at its base.

Clarendon by MartinSilvertant
Figure 6

A default typeface
Have you heard the phrase ‘When in doubt, use Helvetica?’. If you have, forget it immediately. As I explained, every project needs to be treated individually, and so when you’re in doubt you should either do more research on typography and branding, or do more market research on your product. Simply selecting Helvetica when in doubt is lazy, and you’re not much of a designer by doing so. In fact, Helvetica has become so prolific that although it’s still considered a designer typeface, it’s actually increasingly becoming the amateur designer’s typeface. It comes with OS X by default and for a Windows user it’s also very easy to get, and the problem with these kind of default fonts is always that everyone has already seen them, and any amateur has access to it and will likely misuse the typeface—which further stigmatizes the typeface just like it did with Comic Sans. Besides, Helvetica is absolutely everywhere on the streets, and I simply tire from seeing it. Many designers still cling to Helvetica, but a truly professional designer won't limit himself to one typeface, or select a typeface for a project because it's his favorite. A type designer or typographer may not even want to use Helvetica at all, both because they recognize there are better typefaces around or because they want to avoid using a system default font to avoid any negative connotations.

Helvetica-Warning by MartinSilvertant
Figure 7

Better typefaces

Helvetica is by no means a bad design. It could easily be improved (have you noticed the weak design of the belly of ‘a’?), but it was a wonderful typeface in the 60’s and 70’s and it’s still a nice typeface today. But have you seen other sans serif typefaces lately? I strongly suspect that if Helvetica is your favorite typeface, you simply haven’t seen a lot of professional typefaces. Typefaces like Trivia Grotesk, Voice, Bulo, Sixta, Adelle Sans, Argumentum, Supria Sans and Air Soft are certainly not for every project, but they’re very attractive grotesque typefaces. Grotesque isn’t my personal favorite style though (but personal preference shouldn’t matter much when considering a typeface for a project); I’m very fond of humanist sans typefaces and typefaces with some quirks. Typefaces like Winco, Ideal Sans, Sonus, Tabac Sans (Figure 8), Andes, Uniman and Karmina Sans are absolutely amazing to me. Speaking of quirks, I still admire the classic Gill Sans. Interestingly though, I initially hated the typeface for being so awkward and "imperfect", but as I learned more about typefaces and type design, I came to admire the typeface for the reasons I started out hating it. This makes me think sometimes typefaces are a bit like an insiders joke; only few people will truly understand what the typeface is about. This can be rather frustrating for type designers because our main target audience are graphic designers, who generally know quite a bit about typography but not about typefaces. At the same time though, that's the type designer's challenge and tool, to play with such differences in our perceptions of design. This is also why there are never enough typefaces and there will always remain a gap in the market. You would think every style and concept has been done already when it comes to typefaces, but once you really study it, you become aware to how many gaps there are yet to fill, and how many highly unique typefaces are being released each year.

52464 by MartinSilvertant
Figure 8

Better alternatives to Helvetica
If you’re simply in love with Helvetica’s aesthetic though, there are still plenty of better alternatives and even better renditions of the Helvetica model (like Aktiv Grotesk [bottom line of figure 9], Vaud or Haas Unica for example). If you enjoy the general style of Helvetica [top line of figure 9] but you want something less antique, Univers is a great alternative. It should also be said that Helvetica is nice as a display type, but it’s very bad in long texts; it tires the eye easily. On the web Helvetica is off even worse, as it renders horribly on Windows. For the web I would much rather use Arial than Helvetica because the hinting is better, so it renders better on screen. I believe Helvetica Neue renders better on the web, but most companies seem to use Helvetica rather than Helvetica Neue.

Aktiv by MartinSilvertant
Figure 9

Choose objectively
By the way, is it not strange that Arial is frowned upon for being a copy of Helvetica, while Helvetica is a copy of Akzidenz Grotesk and Akzidenz Grotesk is a copy of Scheltersche Grotesk? When people seem to speak from authority, we tend to listen to what they have to say, but in the design field a lot of opinions are often mistaken for facts, and a lot of these opinions are often based on ignorance. Arial is not the horrible typeface people make it out to be, and Helvetica is not the great typeface people make it out to be. Neither one is absolutely amazing to me, but they're both good typefaces. The reason for writing this article is not to mock Helvetica, its history or its designer, but rather to offer perspective from a professional type designer, and so you might reconsider whether to use Helvetica for your next project. Not because it's a bad typeface, but because we've seen it far too often for over 50 years, there are an impressive amount of other professional typefaces to choose from, and no typeface is perfect for each and every project. It’s nice to have a favorite typeface, but it doesn’t speak of a good designer to use a typeface because it's your favorite. Choose your typefaces as objectively as possible.


I will continue with the type design article series in the next Community Week. I thought for now I would write a "short" article on "why Helvetica is not great".
Add a Comment:
 
:iconrotane:
rotane Featured By Owner Oct 16, 2014  Professional
Somehow Apple didn't get the memo :|
Reply
:iconadridu59:
adridu59 Featured By Owner Apr 30, 2014
In light of [Neue Haas Grotesk](www.fontbureau.com/nhg/); it looks like the part which is criticizing Helvetica at its origins is at least partly wrong: Haas Grotesk is a remaster of the original Helvetica which got dumbed down during various typesetting technology transitions at Linotype.

Neue Haas Grotesk is a revival that seems to have the favors of type designers/typographers (e.g., Matthew Butterick).
Reply
:iconrafa6222:
rafa6222 Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2013
What's your take on Akkurat by Laurenz Brenner?
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Oct 7, 2013  Professional General Artist
Judging from the text previews it's a very neat Swiss style typeface. I haven't used it so I couldn't say how it performs in print or on the web, but at least in the previews it seems to be a better alternative to Helvetica.
Reply
:icontymime:
tymime Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I actually prefer Arial over Helvetica. It's friendlier somehow.
Reply
:iconplures:
Plures Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2013   Interface Designer
This is an extremely insightful article—and criticism of Helvetica. While I think that Helvetica has its place, I agree with you that it's hardly appropriate for every project out there, and it's tiresome to see Helvetica used as though it's a placeholder for other fonts. I'd rather see it than Arial (my objection to Arial is less because it's a "Helvetica copy," and more because I consider it qualitatively unattractive), but it's certainly not the pinnacle of typographic perfection that some might think it is. I'm quite fond of Ideal Sans, Gill Sans, and Gotham myself, and would prefer seeing any of them over Helvetica (although Gotham is starting to approach Helvetica's ubiquity, at least among professional designers in the United States).

—J.
Reply
:icondesouza-ramiro:
desouza-ramiro Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I study next to the design school, and I'm really tempted to walk inside with this: [link]
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2013  Professional General Artist
Haha do you think people will notice? Perhaps it's even better if they don't notice it. That proves a point in itself.
Reply
:icondesouza-ramiro:
desouza-ramiro Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I case they don't notice it, there is a version of "Helvetica" in Comic Sans: [link]

But I prefere the Arial version because it's much more subtle,
and they are one of the most famous duo in the world of typefaces.
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2013  Professional General Artist
Hehe I can imagine many people believe Comic Sans is Helvetica if they saw that shirt.
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:iconwurdbendur:
WurdBendur Featured By Owner Jun 2, 2013
Helvetica is probably overused, and you've made a few valid points, but honestly I suspect you just dislike it because it's popular. I can't see what's really wrong with it.
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2013  Professional General Artist
Why do you suspect that?

With this article I mostly focused on the history of Helvetica and why it came to its popularity and why it has had its time and there are better alternatives to consider now. I can also do an article on why Helvetica as a typeface is mediocre, but I'm afraid the people of dA won't understand many of my reasons because they're just not well versed in type. I know you do work with type so you might understand me, but at the same time you will probably say many of my reasons are subjective. I suppose they are, but many if not most professional type designers don't think of Helvetica as a work of wonder. Also, you say I dislike Helvetica, which is not strictly true. I actually like it as a typeface, but I don't like its overuse. When I say I like it as a typeface though, I mean I admire the skill which went into it. That doesn't mean I can't easily do the same and even better; I can easily improve Helvetica, but what's the point with so many good alternatives of the Akzidens Grotesk model?. I think that's what gets me. The way the belly curves into the stem for example is a design decision which seems to stem from ignorance. Now, this is subjective, but I just don't see that rounded curve back anywhere else in the typeface. That's also why I improved the McDonalds logo (check my gallery) because the 'a' needs to be more consistent with the general texture of the typeface. Helvetica also doesn't perform as well as other sans serif typefaces at text size, and I already mentioned in the article it doesn't render well in browsers on Windows, which has to do with the hinting of the typeface. Having said all that, I think I have justified reasons for thinking Helvetica is not the great typeface people think it is. That was the point of the article, and to urge people not to avoid Helvetica, but to acknowledge that there are many other typefaces to choose from; typefaces which may perform better than Helvetica depending on the context. If I have to name a typeface I truly dislike, it would be something like Bauhaus, not Helvetica.
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:iconmasklin8:
Masklin8 Featured By Owner May 29, 2013  Professional Filmographer
Very VERY interesting. Thank you!
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:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thanks for reading!
Reply
:iconpica-ae:
pica-ae Featured By Owner May 28, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
It's nice to read up a bit on the history of Helvetica (and Arial is sort of its extended history, since it was created to "fit into" Helvetica). I guess Steve Jobs/apple is to blame for it being available on every Mac OS :D And Bill Gates/Microsoft for Arial :giggle:

I think the most important point you make is that to have anything "default" when it comes to design is a bad habit. :) The same thing that happens to Helvetica is just what happens with Comic Sans imo. It boils both down to the same lack in understanding design.

Personally I like Helvetica, especially the a :P
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2013  Professional General Artist
I think the /a of Helvetica isn't consistent with the general texture of the typeface. That's just one issue I have with Helvetica. I can easily improve it to perform much better at text size for example. I can't do hinting, but if someone were to do proper hinting, Helvetica would also render well in browsers in Windows. Those are a few reasons for why I think Helvetica is not the great typeface people think it is. Having said that, I don't dislike Helvetica. I dislike something like Bauhaus. It's crafted well as far as I can tell without inspecting the outlines, but the design is just so ugly to me. I suppose I would be proud to design Helvetica in the 60's, but now I aspire to something greater. I suppose that's also why I focus more on serif typefaces, because you have even more possibilities. Anyway, I consider someone like Eric Gill to be a far greater type designer than Max Miedinger. Helvetica is a good typeface, but it would be wrong to aspire to it in 2013, when there are so many far more impressive typefaces around. That's just my opinion of course, although it is a fact that type designers have become much more original and experimental with type design due to new technologies, and so nowadays you see typefaces which simply surpass the classics in terms of detail and use of angles. What Miedinger did back then without a computer is still admirable, even if he took Akzidenz Grotesk as a model. I wouldn't have wanted to grow up in a world without Helvetica. I just don't want people to use it blindly, because they heard somewhere it's what the designers use. And that's the point of my articles, to educate the general public about type.

Apology for the long message, and thanks for the comment!
Reply
:iconpica-ae:
pica-ae Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
I agree, people need to make conscious decisions when using fonts. Not just use "the one that always works". And yes, move on and use contemporary fonts for contemporary designs.

I saw the documentary "Helvetica" which was really inspiring and was definitely worth watching even if you don't like the font :)
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2013  Professional General Artist
The documentary was indeed interesting, although I thought it wasn't objective enough. I would rather hear more from designers like Erik Spiekermann. That's a man who truly knows type. There were a few graphic designers in the documentary who never even studied graphic design or type design. I think it's rather strange they gave them so much time to talk about Helvetica because they could only talk subjectively about the typeface. I already know how much people love Helvetica. The point of a documentary should be to inform and show all sides, but I think the documentary was very one-sided. They clearly made a selection of the people with something nice to say, otherwise Bruno Maag would likely have appeared in the documentary as well. I guess I was just expecting more objectivity. Ahh well, I'm glad I got to see Spiekermann. Very interesting documentary, but rather one-sided.

Again though, I do like the typeface.
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:iconeowyn831:
Eowyn831 Featured By Owner May 24, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I'm not a graphic designer or typographer, but I sincerely enjoyed your article. I still like Helvetica, but will look at it now in a more critical light. I see now that it has been "overdone."
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2013  Professional General Artist
There's nothing wrong with Helvetica. Not much, anyway. It really doesn't render well at text size, but every typeface has its own application and restrictions. Thank you for the comment.
Reply
:iconjurajchrastina:
JurajChrastina Featured By Owner May 24, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
Very nice article Martin, thank you. My attitude towards Helvetica is positive and I love it, but you're right it's overused and a good designer should think about other fonts. Even a great face if seen everywhere becomes boring.
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2013  Professional General Artist
Indeed, even a great typeface becomes boring through overuse. At this point I'm not sure if I will ever use Helvetica anymore though, regardless of its overuse. Some of the alternatives (of the Akzidenz Grotesk model) are just much better at text size, and more beautiful at display size. I honestly think the time for Helvetica is over. Let the designers from the 2050's pick it up as an old classic ;)
Reply
:iconxiaolin-kirby-fan:
xiaolin-kirby-fan Featured By Owner May 13, 2013  Student General Artist
Thank you so much for this! I never really thought about the relevance of font to my work before this and I have to say that I have been using Arial fonts like their going out of fashion (which most likely they should be)

I'll start to bear in mind the use of different fonts for my projects in the future. I'd started gaining an interest in typography after seeing the work of Marian Bantjes, but had never considered the effects the fonts have in design...
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2013  Professional General Artist
I don't clearly remember who or what really got me into type. It started as a fondness for classical typography I suppose, and I've always had an eye for detail.

Thank you for the comment. I'm glad my article managed to aspire you.
Reply
:iconwhitekimahri:
WhiteKimahri Featured By Owner May 13, 2013
A very interesting and informative read. Thank you for sharing!

I'm really fond of fonts, but I'm amateur at best and willing to learn more. May I ask you something, if you don't mind? How should a good font for literary projects (such as magazines destined for short stories and novels) look like? Do you have any suggestions for a good free font for that purpose, or otherwise do you know any online article about this topic that I may read?
Thank you again! :thanks:
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner May 14, 2013  Professional General Artist
There is no specific look a typeface should have for magazines and such. Books are set in Garalde typefaces like Caslon because they're most comfortable to read. Sans serif typefaces tend to be too crisp as it were so they're a strain on the eye when reading extended texts in a sans serif typeface. That's why sans serif typefaces are generally only used for short texts. You wouldn't want to set a book or newspaper in Helvetica...

You first need to establish what kind of project you need a typeface for. If it's a magazine about classical composers for example, it wouldn't be strange to see Garamond in use with its classical proportions (relatively low x-height and long ascenders and descenders), but you might also want to consider choosing a contemporary typeface rather than a classical one. For a fashion magazine it's common to use Didot or Bodoni for display use, sometimes mixed with Futura, but perhaps that has been done so often it's time to bring some change to fashion graphic design. I haven't actually payed attention to which typeface is used for the body text, but I can imagine it's either a modern serif typeface, or something like Baskerville, because the structure of Baskerville is quite similar to Didot/Bodoni's but Didot/Bodoni features too much contrast between thick and thin strokes to use for body text. Using Didot for body text will make the text very hard to read. So these are things to consider. When selecting a typeface for a newspaper for example you need a relatively condensed typeface so you can fit a lot of text in a field. For magazines this isn't a consideration, though condensed typefaces do tend to look attractive for titles.

Other than that it's not an exact science. You first need to consider your target audience, and then you select 2 or 3 typefaces which work well together. You can combine typefaces when the x-height is the same, or when the two typefaces come from the same time period, if the details match, or contrarily you can select two typefaces because they contrast so well in style, weight, thick/thin contrast or x-height. It's also very useful to research the different typeface classes and from what time they stem, so you can select your typefaces more consciously and well-reasoned. Here's an article of mine about the different typeface classes.

On Hoefler & Frere-Jones's website you can see examples of how their typefaces could be used, and when you click on a typeface, at the bottom of the page you will see recommendations of which typefaces from H&F-J work well together. This should give you some insight into the possibilities. This article offers some general tips on selecting typefaces, and if you search "type in use" on Google you will probably find several sources with images of typefaces in use, again to get an idea of the possibilities.

Oh and it's also very important that you have a professional typeface. Professional typefaces usually consist of at least 12 fonts (6 weights + italics) and feature proper spacing and all kinds of extra features like ligatures, tabular figures, small-caps and alternates. This is needed for more interesting/varied typography. Ligatures are always useful, and if you want to emphasize a word, but bold looks too dark and capitalizing the word gives too much emphasis, you could either put the word in italics or small-caps. The latter isn generally not used by amateur designers, so making use of such features instantly brings your typography to the next level. Unfortunately most professional typefaces are not for free. I'm afraid I don't have much experience with free fonts. I tend to avoid those because I often can't be sure the typeface is of sufficient quality. Free typefaces sometimes have bad spacing, an incomplete letter set, no OpenType features etc. Google Web Fonts are free and are generally of higher quality than on websites like dafont, so you might want to have a look there. Neuton Font Family by ~brianskywalker is also part of Google Fonts. Adobe's recent Source Sans Pro is also available on Google Fonts (but here is a link to the direct download page of Adobe.

And finally, search for "magazine" and "editorial" on MyFonts to (here's a link to the "magazine" search result) see typefaces which are popular for magazines and such. The search results are not 100% accurate, but you will find a lot of great typefaces. If you don't have the money to purchase typefaces, most of the popular ones are included in font packs on torrent websites. Just download a few packs, put all the fonts in the same folder and then just perform search results on specific typefaces you found on MyFonts. The very popular ones like Helvetica, DIN, Dax, Univers, Akzidenz Grotesk, Frutiger, Gill Sans, Gotham, Avenir, Futura, Scala Sans, Scala, Garamond, Caslon, Didot, Bodoni, Farnham, Baskerville etc. are included for sure.

I hope this helps.
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:iconwhitekimahri:
WhiteKimahri Featured By Owner May 20, 2013
Wow! I can't thank you enough for your clear and exhaustive reply! I will surely keep your suggestions into account! Thank you again for taking your time to answer me! :thanks:
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2013  Professional General Artist
You're welcome.
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:iconim-not-sana:
im-not-sana Featured By Owner May 12, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Interesting read :)
Reply
:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner May 12, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thank you!
Reply
:icongillianivy:
GillianIvy Featured By Owner May 10, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I'm amateur at best when it comes to graphical design. Thanks for your informative article and suggestions. I do love delicious fonts.
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:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner May 11, 2013  Professional General Artist
You're welcome. Thanks for reading.
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:icongillianivy:
GillianIvy Featured By Owner May 12, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Watched another interesting video on the subject of the history of fonts (it was on Vimeo), it mentioned Helvetica, but not its nefarious past. It was a cool stop motion paper cut texts video though.
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:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner May 14, 2013  Professional General Artist
Which video was this? It sounds interesting.

I think Bruno Maag's talk about Helvetica is very interesting as well. Interestingly, Arial is much more comfortable to read than Helvetica because Arial differentiates more between characters and the aperture is higher (meaning the letter shapes are more open). The latter is achieved by making the cut of the terminals diagonal while they're horizontal in Helvetica. This is also why Helvetica does look much easier on the eye at bigger sizes though. These diagonal terminal cuts improve the reading experience at body text size, but at display size it looks rather distracting and a bit clumsy when compared to Helvetica. Helvetica is more geometrical and mechanical. I didn't really consciously think about why Arial renders better at body size until I was looking at the typography of my city's government today (they use Arial and a special stencil version of Arial).
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GillianIvy Featured By Owner May 15, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
It is this: [link]

Interesting, I hadn't really thought of the scaling of fonts much, though I do notice in Google WebFonts sometimes there are 'artifacts' or some sort of tick marks on a font that aren't there at other sizes. Which leads me to skip that font. I always wondered if it were my browser (which is Google Chrome, so Google Fonts should look right).

Thanks for the link. Really a lot goes into font creation. Informative :nod:

Okay, I just suddenly became aware of the fact that when commenting, your input text has an entirely different font than the submitted text. I think I noticed this on a subconscious level before, but talking about font variations really made it sound out blaringly.
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:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2013  Professional General Artist
Very cool vide.

I think those artifacts come from bad hinting. I've seen fonts on Font Squirrel show the same artifacts.
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:icongillianivy:
GillianIvy Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I'll just :nod: and pretend I know what hinting means, since I really have no idea when it comes to fonts... I'm guessing miniscule pixel that scaled badly.
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:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2013  Professional General Artist
Yeah it has to do with the way pixels align at small sizes. Without hinting, you will likely get muddy text if you use a small pt size. A properly hinted font has all these rules applied to it so it says where certain pixels will be positioned at a given pt size. Helvetica lacks proper hinting at text size, so some letters cling together in groups instead of contributing to a consistent rhythm in the browser on Windows. On Mac it obviously does render well.

I hardly know anything about hinting, but as far as I can tell I never want to do that. I'm hoping I can find a partner who will do the programming for my fonts anyway. The design is the most fun, of course. I don't really want to do spacing and programming.
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AvSkyggene Featured By Owner May 10, 2013
As someone who makes signs, I can definitely confirm Helvetica gets a lot of use. Perhaps too much.

I try to avoid using it when I can, or only as body type because it's too plain to be used as a header most of the time. The reason it's popular with many signs is it's easy for the mind to digest quickly - for road and warning signs you want someone to be able to read it and understand exactly what the sign says as quickly as possible. For an ad though, it's a not a good choice - it doesn't stand out at all for the same reasons it's popular - you read it, get the information, and forget about the sign. You don't take another closer look at it.

It's not something you can simply dispose of like the wretched Comic Sans because it does serve a purpose well, but it's not an all-purpose font. There is no such thing as an all-purpose font.
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:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner May 11, 2013  Professional General Artist
I think you have it backwards a bit. Helvetica is better to be used for a header than for body text. It's really a strain on the eye in body text. I have to admit though, it's really not a great display typeface, so I have to agree it can look a bit dull in headers.

Helvetica is horrendous for road and warning signs though. The letters just don't differentiate enough from each other. That's why usually countries update their typeface for road signage to typefaces which focus on differentiating between letters, and they're often of a custom design. In the Netherlands we use Interstate, or a typeface based on Interstate. One of the problems with Helvetica is that the capital /I looks exactly like the lowercase /l. The aperture of Helvetica is also not high enough (the openings are too small) and the /R has the same structure as /B. With street signage typefaces it's important to differentiate between the letters as much as possible, and that's exactly what Helvetica was designed to not do; it was all about a more neutral, mechanical design than Akzidenz Grotesk. In recent years I came across a few studies in road signage typefaces. The development of the signage typeface Wayfinding Sans Pro is the only one I remember, but it's very interesting to read.

It's not something you can simply dispose of like the wretched Comic Sans because it does serve a purpose well, but it's not an all-purpose font.
In my opinion it really doesn't serve its purpose well. The reason we can't dispose of it is not because it serves its purpose so well, but rather because it's easy to get, and people have been told it's a "designer typeface"—whatever that is. I think it serves its purpose equally well as Comic Sans actually. Comic Sans is an okay comic book typeface, and Helvetica is an okay grotesque typeface.
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:iconavskyggene:
AvSkyggene Featured By Owner May 11, 2013
I'm going to have to look into it more. What's a good style for sans serif body text then? That's free because my boss can be horribly cheap when it comes to business expenses.
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:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner May 11, 2013  Professional General Artist
Generally humanist sans typefaces perform well in body text. I named a few in the article, though they're not free. For free sans typefaces you will have to check Google Fonts; Droid Sans, Lato, Merriweather Sans, Open Sans and Source Sans Pro are a few popular ones. I haven't tested any of them in print, and I'm not sure if most of those should be used in print anyway, but Source Sans Pro seems to be a really good candidate for both the web and print. It's modern, quite condensed (so you can fit more text in the same space) and it's free. You can get information about the typeface here and you can download the typeface from this page.

By the way, for body text Legato is quite possibly the most optimal sans typeface there is. It's designed with a revolutionary design principle. While sans typefaces are usually quite geometrical in nature, Legato is much more fluid. Each counter has its very distinct shape, so there is no repetition of elements in the typeface, which helps differentiate more between characters. A few years ago I mentioned Legato in an article where I introduced a new type category called "fluid". Humanist typefaces follow calligraphic principles, but Legato went beyond that; it looks quite calligraphic, but the design process is a lot more complex. I'm quite surprised Legato is still the only typeface in its category though. I'm sure one day I will design a fluid typeface, but I will first have to get more experience in type design.
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caminante0 Featured By Owner May 9, 2013  Student Interface Designer
I'm in heaven! I love learning new things about typography, it's essential when it comes to design. And still, in school, they don't teach us as much as they should :raincloud:
So, great article. Thanks for sharing! :D
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:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner May 11, 2013  Professional General Artist
Indeed they don't, but from experience I can say usually people aren't really triggered by typography anyway. I did have some typography classes, but it wasn't until 2 years later that I really started being obsessed with typography. I really don't understand why it took that long to become interested in it. I suppose most people get into graphic design, and there are only a few who really get into typography or even type design. Still, I agree more typography should be taught in schools. It's essential to the graphic designer.

Thanks for reading!
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:iconcaminante0:
caminante0 Featured By Owner May 11, 2013  Student Interface Designer
Yes, it's. Maybe some day I will take some extra classes too ^^
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DorjeJampel Featured By Owner May 9, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Great note, as always
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:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner May 9, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thank you very much.
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:iconsingingflames:
SingingFlames Featured By Owner May 8, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Wow, honestly I never really thought much about the history of typefaces. :O There's a lot that goes into them, and choosing the right one. Excellent, and intriguing, article! Thanks for taking the time to share this! :D
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:iconmartinsilvertant:
MartinSilvertant Featured By Owner May 9, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thank you!
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:iconbloodmoonequinox:
BloodMoonEquinox Featured By Owner May 8, 2013  Student General Artist
:clap: Very well-written article! :D I also don't see why Helvetica is considered to be the one typeface to rule them all, I find it to be rather boring--possibly due to the extensive overuse of it as you have pointed out. I think I've used it probably twice for body copy in my design projects just because I was running out of time and couldn't find anything I liked better. =P Anyway, I never knew the history of Helvetica, and that was very interesting. I also liked that you gave examples of some much nicer typefaces as substitutes; I especially like Sixta and Adelle Sans. I wish I could have them all, but alas, I am but a poor college student. ;P

If you don't mind, I would like to share a link to your article on Facebook on the page of my university's art club, I think it would be a good read for my friends! :D
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