Helvetica – The Name, the Font and the Movie

One of the most popular sans-serif fonts is Helvetica. It was developed in 1957 by Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann at the Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei (type foundry) in Münchenstein, Switzerland.

The name “Helvetica” comes from Helvetia, the Latin name for Switzerland. Because I live in Switzerland, I am very familiar with the term. Swiss coins are stamped with “Confœderatio Helvetica” which is Latin for “Swiss Confederation”. That is also what the “CH” on Swiss license plates stands for.

Benefits of Helvetica

Helvetica is an excellent font for presentation slides for several reasons:

  • Simple and elegant
  • Easy to read
  • Sans-serif
  • Neutral and not distracting
  • Comes in a variety of weights and is very flexible. Here are 40 well known corporate logos that have been created with Helvetica
  • Works well on slides with lots of “white space” or “negative space”; i.e., unfilled space of any colour)
  • Appropriate for all kinds of presentation situations; from conservative and serious to fun and unconventional

Examples of different Helvetica fontsWhat I did not know about Helvetica is that it is also the subject of a documentary film of the same name by Director Gary Hustwit. My thanks to Jan Schultink for bringing it to my attention. (Be sure to visit Jan’s blog for excellent insights into presentation design.)

The film premiered in 2007 for the 50th anniversary of Helvetica. Here is a description from the film’s website:

Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which celebrated its 50th birthday in 2007) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives. The film is an exploration of urban spaces in major cities and the type that inhabits them, and a fluid discussion with renowned designers about their work, the creative process, and the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type.

Here is the trailer for the film to give you an idea of just how prevalent the font is in our daily lives. Helvetica looks great. (The film and the font.)

So there you have it. A bit of history, a presentation tip and a movie recommendation all rolled into one post about the little font from Switzerland that has gone worldwide.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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7 Responses to Helvetica – The Name, the Font and the Movie

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  5. corporations offshore says:

    As the film illustrates, the typeface has become ubiquitous with modern life.

  6. Diccon Bewes says:

    Thanks for posting this. Isn’t it amazing how widespread the font is now! Great video as well.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks for the comment, Diccon. It is indeed amazing. I wonder if the Swiss creators ever had any inkling just how popular it would become when they first released the finished product? Some more material for your ongoing exploration of Switzerland and the Swiss.


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