Whilst tackling the Helvetica Arial quizz recently (I scored 19/20, can’t work out if this is good or bad) I was amazed by the similarities between the two fonts. I also noticed that they both bore similar characteristics to both Univerz and Akzidenz-Grotesk in certain characters. That inspired me to look into the history of Helvetica, Akzidenz-Grotesk and Univers and also what the intricate character differences are.
Lest start with the orginial. Akzidenz-Grotesk. Akzidenz-Grotesk was first released in 1898 under the name Accidenz-Grotesk. Grotesk actually means early sans-serif, and it was the first sans-serif font to be widely used.
It was thought to be originally based upon the forms of Walbaum or Didot as it contains similar sizes and ratios once the serifs have been removed. Hermann Berthold took over Theinhardt’s Berlin foundry in 1908, resulting in the popularly named Berthold Akzidenz-Grotesk.
The modern versions we use today were constructed in the 1950s. The face was enlarged whilst retaining the characteristics of the original. He added many versions such as AG Extra, AG Super Italic Bold and Extra Bold Italic. It was released in Open Type Format in 2006.
The differences between Akzidenz-Grotesk and Helvetica or Univers can be seen on the upper and lowercase C and the upper and lowercase G,J,R and Q. The x height was also different with Helvetica slightly taller from the baseline. Akzidenz-Grotesk is generally thought to remain more circular whilst Helvetica and Univers have more consitency in weight.
Univers, alongside Helvetica was one of 3 fonts based upon the Akzidenz-Grotesk model released in 1957. Max Miedinger at the Haas Foundry, was the creator and looked to create the fonts with a geometric order and consistency. Helvetica and Univers figure heavily in the Swiss Modernist style of graphic design. It is known for its clear lines and legibility from distance. This has resulted in popluarity in signs and maps.
The different weights in the font are specified with numbers rather than names. The idea was to design a typeface with many different weights whilst still working along the same design principles and visual aesthetic. A system adopted since by many other fonts. Currently Univers consists of up to 44 faces.
The font was reworked in 1997 by Adrian Frutiger, which added more extreme versions of Ultra Light and Extended Heavy. Frutiger introduced a numbering classification system, which defined the faces weight and width, but its complexity meant it was never consistently applied.
Univers enjoyed massive popluarity in the swiss modernist movement in the 1960s and 1970s, consistently used by such designers as Wim Crouwel. Many brands have used it in their logos and it was originally used by Appleon their keyboards before VAG rounded took Akzidenz Grotesk over completely in 2007. It was also adopted by the Royal Airforce for much of their branding in 2006.
Differences between Univers and the two other fonts include less rounded ‘a’ tail and a fifferent l. Capital G, K, Q and R are different and the top of the t is angled in a similar fashion to arial.
Helvetica was originally named Neue Haas Grotesk and was released in 1957 alongside Univers. It was thought to be influenced by Akzidenz, and was designed to compete with it, but it also took influence from Schelter Grotesk and Haas’ Normal Grotesk. It was designed to be legible and clear with no meaning behind its form so that it could be applied to a variety of literature or any other use.
The name was changed to Helvetica in 1960 for marketing reasons, the name coming from the Latin word for Swiss.
Helvetica Neue is a rework of the original with more a consistent approach to heights and widths. It was developed by Stempel Linotypes daughter company with Erk Spiekermann as the design consultant. Like Univers, Helvetica Neue (or Neue Helvetica) uses a number system to define the variation of widths.
In 1982 Arial was released largely based upon Helvetica, with identical character widths. Differences can be seen on the C, G and R characters. as well as a, e and r lowercase. The strokes on helvetica are more geometric with Arial using diagonal lines in some instances such as on top of the t. This is more similar to the t in univers.
Helvetica is probably about the most used typeface in the world with American Airlines, Orange and M&S just some of the brands who have adopted it. It also used throughout OSX and on the iphone. It took over largely from Akzidenz-Grotesk as the official font of the New York Subway system in 1989.
So thats a brief history for you. Read anything interesting? Please let me now if I got anything wrong and by all means leave a comment. Thank you for reading.