It Was A Thing Of Signs To Come!

Chrome Helvetica Alphabet
Chrome Helvetica

I have been creating bespoke signage since 1983. In the early years, most signage was screen-printed. The advent of digital technology, has transformed the signage industry. In fact, the signage industry is one of the most exciting industries on the planet, due to digital technology, printing processes, computerized routing and of course, substrates.

I, like many graphic consultants, sell solutions, far removed, from the halcyon days of artisans, creating screen-printed signs, vinyl lettering and dye transfers.

The one aspect of sign creation, that I have never changed, in thirty years, is my choice of typeface – Helvetica.

Helvetica was developed in 1957 by Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann at the Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei (Haas type foundry) of Münchenstein, Switzerland.

Their main objective was to create a neutral typeface that possessed great clarity, had no intrinsic meaning, in its form, and could be used on a wide variety of signage.

Helvetica is among the most widely used sans-serif typefaces in visual media. Versions exist for the following alphabets and scripts: Latin, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Hindi, Urdu, Khmer and Vietnamese. Chinese faces have been developed to complement Helvetica.

Helvetica is a universal typeface. It is used by BMW, 3M, Kawasaki, Lufthansa, Microsoft, Mitsubishi Electric, Motorola, and Panasonic,

Apple Inc. has used Helvetica widely in iOS (previously iPhone OS), and the iPod. The iPhone 4 uses Neue Helvetica.

Helvetica is widely used by the U.S. government; for example, federal income tax forms, are set in Helvetica and NASA uses the type on the Space Shuttle Orbiter. Helvetica is also used in the United States television rating system.

The New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, (MTA) uses Helvetica, for many of its subway signs. Helvetica was adopted as the official font for signage by the MTA in 1989.

The Nationalized British Rail designed it’s own Helvetica-based Rail Alphabet font. National Health Service and the British Airports Authority later adopted this font.

CNN used Helvetica as its main font for much of its history; they recently switched to Univers. The NBA on TNT used Helvetica from 2002–05; NBA on ABC used the font during the 2003-04 NBA season. CBS Sports programs have been using Helvetica since 2006, particularly during its broadcasts of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament and the NFL. The U.S. adaptation of  The Office uses Helvetica in its graphics.

Helvetica is a beautiful, clean and timeless typeface. Scientists have discovered that decorative fonts interfere with your ability to recognize patterns and decrease your reading speed. The consequence of this is that people apply the feeling, of difficulty, to the meaning of the text itself and may decide the message, is hard to understand. This is not what advertisers want.

The next time you want to create a sign, display or set of graphics that convey a strong message, use a clean, crisp typeface. I always advise Helvetica. If is good enough for some of the worlds great institutions, it is good enough for me.

My name is Steve Howard. You have been reading the Digital Circus.


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