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NPR Arts & Life

Iconic Helvetica Font Gets First Redesign In Decades

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Helvetica typeface is widely used around the world. Don't tell us you haven't noticed. But Helvetica is being refreshed after 36 years - even a new name, Helvetica Now. But like many changes, some people are skeptical.

CHARLES NIX: Well, if I'm perfectly honest, my first reaction was, do we need another Helvetica?

SIMON: Charles Nix is type director at Monotype, the company responsible for Helvetica Now. The alter-typeface became a trending topic on Twitter. Mitch Goldstein, a design professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, tweeted, saw Helvetica trending and I thought maybe it died? And that got people talking - or, anyhow, typing.

MITCH GOLDSTEIN: Half the people were like, awesome. It's dead, finally. And I'm so glad it's gone. It's the worst. And then the other half of people were like, Helvetica's incredible. You know, it will never die.

SIMON: Graphic designer Sarah Hyndman explains why it's such a polarizing typeface, a phrase I don't believe I've ever used before.

SARAH HYNDMAN: Helvetica is one of those typefaces that you love or hate. You either use it all the time - it's become a staple - or you feel like you've grown out of it, and it's a little bit too ubiquitous.

SIMON: Sarah Hyndman says even if people don't like the new look of the font, many agree Helvetica needed change.

HYNDMAN: There are lots of foibles in Helvetica, like the way the letters space. The L looks too much like a 1.

SIMON: And Charles Nix says Helvetica was not always versatile.

NIX: Helvetica used to not be able to be used for captions and small text because it was a little cramped. We've made it - instead of being sort of micro-challenged, we've made it, like, a micro-champion. So when you set captions in the new version of Helvetica, it really sings.

SIMON: Imagine a singing typeface. Most of the changes may not be apparent at first, but Helvetica Now is expected to make an old typeface more compatible, contemporary and less cramped - the best way to say BJ Leiderman writes our theme music. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.