In 1957, a Swiss designer created what would become the most popular typeface in history. But like Starbucks many decades later, the shortcomings of Helvetica were only made apparent by its ubiquity. The clean lines of the sans serif font were the darling of mid-century modern design, and it was used everywhere.
The New York City subway uses it for signs. American Apparel, 3M, General Motors, J.C. Penney, Nestlé, Panasonic, Skype, Target, Texaco, Tupperware and Verizon all used it for their logos. The letters of "NASA" on the space shuttle are written in Helvetica.
But it is a product of its times. It doesn’t render well in many digital applications, and for years, graphic designers have had to hack it to make it look better at different sizes. Tech companies began developing their own look-alike typefaces, and Apple moved iOS away from it in 2015.
To address these issues, Helvetica’s license holder Monotype commissioned a new version of the typeface, the biggest update since 1983. Helvetica Now come in multiple versions—Micro for small text like photo captions, Display for large format and Text for everyday use. Each version is now more legible on modern screens and devices, but the update also brings back some of the quaint affectations designers originally liked about Helvetica, like a lowercase “a” formed around a single open space.
Fans of the update can license it, like many other fonts, to use wherever they want.