How to use Helvetica, properly

Helvetica has been a very controversial typeface within the design community for the past 50 years. Some designers (like myself, see the tattoo) are absolutely in love with Helvetica and find it to be brilliant. While other designers argue that all though it is a well-designed typeface it is extremely overused and boring.

Being that we are still arguing Helvetica’s value 50 years after it has been created is proof that some designers are indeed designing with Helvetica properly.

Here are some key points to make note of when designing with Helvetica

Characters negative space.

Helvetica was designed with the negative space between each character heavily considered. The negative space between each character is very solid (almost grid-like) and when spaced inappropriately words written in Helvetica are no longer uniform. Always consider your kerning when designing with Helvetica.

White space.

(work produced by London based studio, Morse Studio.)

Helvetica needs a lot of white space when being used as a design element. Helvetica is a very round and fat typeface that can stand firm on it’s own. It does not need much to make a statement or convey a message. So when in doubt, simplify. Always remember that there is a very fine line between minimal and boring.


(the original Helvetica brochure. Photo taken from WordRiddens flickr stream)

Helvetica was developed in the modern period as a new and modern typeface for designers to use. Helvetica should be used in the modern environment it was intended for. I think this is one of the greatest points designers fail to consider when designing with this typeface. When Helvetica is taken out of it’s comfort zone it can fail terribly.

Stay original.

Helvetica is a very well-designed typeface. Each character in the Helvetica family was designed to look flawless side-by-side. When possible try to keep Helvetica as untouched as possible. Of course it is always important to experiment with different font weights and kerning, but weights and spacing should be the extent of your Helvetica modification. 90% of the time you should not have to chop up characters and push pixels to make Helvetica fit your design.

Say what you want to say, in Helvetica.

Helvetica is a rational typeface. It is not an expressional typeface. Some designers believe type should show emotion, but Helvetica is a nonjudgmental typeface that can say whatever you want it to say in a very noncontroversial way.

How do you use Helvetica?

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4 Responses to How to use Helvetica, properly

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  3. Brilliantly put together article, I really enjoyed it as a read, and the examples used are some great designs some of which I had seen before.

  4. Thanks for the kind words Jared. By the way, I love your blog. I am definitely a subscriber! :)

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