Designer Tips: A Beginners Guide to Helvetica

intro: I love design. I am still/always will be learning, but I've decided to start doing some designer's tips posts. I'm not sure if these are actually going to interest people, so let me know what you think or if there is anything specific you would like to learn about. 

During the course of my print publishing class I not only wrote a paper on the history of helvetica, but also watched a full-length documentary on the font and wrote a paper on the film. So, I guess you could say I know my helvetica.

I feel like this beauty of a font has taken some hating lately due to things like this, but I am here to convince you that it is the best thing to have happened to man kind.

How helvetica changed the face of design

Helvetica literally changed the way the world thought about design. Before its birth in 1957, this is what advertisements looked like:

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How difficult is that to look at? Where do your eyes go first? What is the flow? What is with all the fonts? Where is the hierarchy? Why is there a comic strip in this ad? These ads come from the 40s/early 50s.

Now let's take a look at how ads looked in the 60s:


So. Much. Better. Clear hierarchy, alignment, proximity, etc. While none of these ads actually use helvetica, the clean and professional design of helvetica inspired the new face of design that came about shortly after its creation. If only everyone understood the meaning of clean design . . . seen a billboard lately, anyone? But that is a vent for another day.

You see helvetica every day, at least 40 times a day. 

You think I'm joking, or at least exaggerating. Not a crazy assumption, but I am being 100% true right now. Have you seen a Jeep today? What about a McDonald's? Maybe you looked at your Motorola or Panasonic device. Do you have an iPhone 4? What about an iPod? Surely you've been on Facebook, maybe even Pinterest. Did you walk past a Verizon store? Take the subway? Step into a Target? Fly American Airlines or shop American Apparel? Covet a BMW? Or maybe you dealt with some official U.S. government paperwork, like tax forms. 

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I could go on for hours, but instead I will show you a few examples of the places helvetica shows up:


Posers.

Don't be fooled, there are many fake helveticas out there, and you may be tempted to use them. Be warned, each time you use Arial a designer will make fun of you. It's fine, I didn't know this either until a few months ago, but I have repented.


The thing is that helvetica is perfect, and Arial just, isn't. The issue is that they look really similar, but a professional who is looking at your work will spot the difference. Basically Arial is a knock-off of helvetica made because there was a copyright on helvetica or something, so they tried to make it look similar, but it has oddities and imperfections.

Here is a text sample of helvetica: 
abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ

And here is Arial:
abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ

 What? I'm crazy? They're exactly the same? Let's take a closer look:

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To get a better idea of how different these fonts look when they are in use, you can go here and see major brand names that use helvetica changed into Arial. The difference is pretty obvious: helvetica is professional, Arial is not.

In short, when in doubt, use helvetica. It is such a versatile font and it can never go wrong in a design. If you have a brilliant design with sloppy font that doesn't quite fit your concept, the whole thing will be shot. Helvetica would never do that to you.

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7 comments:

  1. k, I love this. like I learned so much and it was interesting! haha

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  2. I have to say... that I completely disagree. Sorry! It is, in my "wrong" opinion, COMPLETELY a matter of personal preference. In every single one of those examples I honestly thought the Ariel looked better and more professional. So not everyone out there thinks this, no matter how "real" it is.

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  3. Huh. I had no idea people were passionate about fonts. Although, I admit a partiality to Times New Roman. The writer in me coming out, I suppose. :)

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  4. Helvitica falls more easily into the visual golden triangle (see fibunacci sequence), which, by nature, the human eye is naturally drawn to. Whether it was planned it not by it's designers, it's lettering was designed to be in the ratio of god/nature/golden/perfect. I LOVE the fibunacci sequence, the golden ratio, and all that it encompasses (which, as it turns out, is pretty much everything in the universe, including helvitica, the shape of your credit card, the length of your fingers and limbs in respect to the length of your torso....) Anyway, for that reason alone, helvitica is thought to be "perfect." Or so I have been told anyway.

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