Helvetica: One Font to Rule Them All

Helvetica is everywhere.

In the 2007 documentary “Helvetica,” director Cyrus Highsmith tries to live a single day in New York City without encountering the ubiquitous font. From the tags on his clothes to the maps on the Subway, he is thwarted at every turn. Helvetica is everywhere.

On the streets of New York, Helvetica is like oxygen. You have little choice but to breathe it in. The American Apparel in New York uses more Helvetica per square foot than any other place on Earth. Today the typeface even graces the new U.S. dollar bills.

Pretty good, considering that its creators, Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffman, died virtually penniless.

Helvetica in Union Square

Helvetica has become the One Font to Rule Them All

when it comes to business and branding, Helvetica is The One Font To Rule Them All. Airlines and automakers — from Jeep and Toyota to Harley Davidson — favor the font, which remains legible in motion. Powerhouse brands like Microsoft, Panasonic, and Staples use it in their logos too. “Helvetica is about getting to your meeting on time and getting the deal,” says Ludwig Willisch, President of BMW. “Consumers read the message, not the typeface. All you notice is the brand.” But how did it rise to power?

Target Logo

American Airlines logo



Helvetica is so influential that New York’s Museum of Modern Art recently declared it “the official typeface of the twentieth century.” Why make such a fuss about a font? Because it does its job. “Helvetica delivers a message quickly and efficiently without imposing itself,” said Christian Larsen, curator of the MoMA exhibition “50 Years of Helvetica.”

“When reading it, one hardly notices the letter forms, only the meaning. It’s that well-designed.”

Debates brew about Helvetica’s impact on our lives. Some praise it as an emblem of the modern age. Others blast it as a lowest-common-denominator font, which reflects and perpetuates conformity. But one thing is clear: Helvetica continues to rule.

Maybe it’s the perfect proportions and legibility of the design. Maybe it’s that shapely “R”. Whatever it is, we live in a world where we see this every day. But who’s complaining?

What do you think? Tell us your thoughts on the One Font to Rule Them All @network9 on Twitter — which of course, uses Helvetica too.