Download Hellvetica, a Font that Makes the Elegant Spacing of Helvetica Look as Ugly as Possible

Among typog­ra­phy enthu­si­asts, all non-con­trar­i­ans love Hel­veti­ca. Some, like film­mak­er Gary Hus­twit and New York sub­way map cre­ator Mas­si­mo Vignel­li, even made a doc­u­men­tary about it. Cre­at­ed by Swiss graph­ic design­er Max Miedinger with Haas Type Foundry pres­i­dent Eduard Hoff­mann and first intro­duced in 1957, Hel­veti­ca still stands as a visu­al def­i­n­i­tion of not just mod­ernism but moder­ni­ty itself. That owes in part to its clean, unam­bigu­ous lines, and also to its use of space: as all the afore­men­tioned typog­ra­phy enthu­si­asts will have noticed, Hel­veti­ca leaves lit­tle room between its let­ters, which imbues text writ­ten in the font with a cer­tain solid­i­ty. No won­der it so often appears, more than half a cen­tu­ry after its debut, on the sig­nage of pub­lic insti­tu­tions as well as on the pro­mo­tion of prod­ucts that live or die by the osten­si­ble time­less­ness of their designs.

But as times change, so must even near-per­fect fonts: hence Hel­veti­ca Now. “Four years ago, our Ger­man office [was] kick­ing around the idea of cre­at­ing a new ver­sion of Hel­veti­ca,” Charles Nix, type direc­tor at Hel­veti­ca-rights-hold­er Mono­type tells The Verge. “They had iden­ti­fied a short laun­dry list of things that would be bet­ter.” What short­com­ings they found arose from the fact that the font had been designed for an ana­log age of opti­cal print­ing, and “when we went dig­i­tal, a lot of that nuance of opti­cal siz­ing sort of washed away.” Ulti­mate­ly, the project was less about updat­ing Hel­veti­ca than restor­ing char­ac­ters lost in its adap­ta­tion to dig­i­tal, includ­ing “the straight-legged cap­i­tal ‘R,’ sin­gle-sto­ry low­er­case ‘a,’ low­er­case ‘u’ with­out a trail­ing serif, a low­er­case ‘t’ with­out a tail­ing stroke on the bot­tom right, a beard­less ‘g,’ some round­ed punc­tu­a­tion.”

The devel­op­ment of Hel­veti­ca Now also neces­si­tat­ed a close look at all the ver­sions of Hel­veti­ca so far devel­oped (the most notable major revi­sion being Neue Hel­veti­ca, released in 1983) and adapt­ing their best char­ac­ter­is­tics for an age of screens. Few of those char­ac­ter­is­tics demand­ed more atten­tion than the spac­ing — or to use the typo­graph­i­cal term, the kern­ing. But how­ev­er aston­ish­ing a show­case it may be, Hel­veti­ca Now does­n’t dri­ve home the impor­tance of the art of kern­ing in as vis­cer­al a man­ner as anoth­er new type­face: Hel­l­veti­ca, designed by New York cre­ative direc­tors Zack Roif and Matthew Wood­ward. Much painstak­ing labor has also gone into Hel­l­veti­ca’s kern­ing, but not to make it as beau­ti­ful as pos­si­ble: on the con­trary, Roif and Woodard have tak­en Hel­veti­ca and kerned it for max­i­mum ugli­ness.

The Verge’s Jon Porter describes Hel­l­veti­ca as “a self-aware Com­ic Sans with kern­ing that’s some­how much much worse.” If that most hat­ed Win­dows font has­n’t been enough to inflict psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tur­bance on the design­ers in your life, you can head to Hel­l­veti­ca’s offi­cial site and “expe­ri­ence it in all its uneven, gap­py glo­ry.” Roif and Woodard have made Hel­l­veti­ca free to use, some­thing that cer­tain­ly can’t be said of any gen­uine ver­sion of Hel­veti­ca. In fact, the sheer cost of licens­ing that most mod­ern of all fonts has, in recent years, pushed even the for­mer­ly Hel­veti­ca-using likes of Apple, Google, and IBM to come up with their own type­faces instead — all of which, telling­ly, resem­ble Hel­veti­ca. We can con­sid­er them all weapons in the life of a design­er, which, as Vignel­li put it, “is a life of fight. Fight against the ugli­ness.” Hap­py down­load­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Com­ic Sans Turns 25: Graph­ic Design­er Vin­cent Connare Explains Why He Cre­at­ed the Most Hat­ed Font in the World

The His­to­ry of Typog­ra­phy Told in Five Ani­mat­ed Min­utes

Design­er Mas­si­mo Vignel­li Revis­its and Defends His Icon­ic 1972 New York City Sub­way Map

Van Gogh’s Ugli­est Mas­ter­piece: A Break Down of His Late, Great Paint­ing, The Night Café (1888)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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