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6 Tips for Using Helvetica: A Typeface Primer

When I decided that I wanted to write about type, at first I started writing the story of type history. That’s interesting information and yet I wanted to come up with something more practical. So instead, this guide will help you to get those most out of every use of Helvetica.

After all, Helvetica is one of the most ubiquitous typefaces. The unusual name name was a conscious choice by Linotype to sound more marketable than it’s original birthname: “Neue Haas Grotesk”. You’ve probably seen the face a number of times today whether you noticed it or not

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Tip 1: Kerning

Whenever you’re designing headlines and important prominent type, you’ll want to manually kern your text. Manually adjusting the space between each letter is one of the hidden tools that great designers use, that leaves clients not quite able to put their finger on what is working. Awkward spaces in certain words can be diminished. A great face like Helvetica attempts to plan for all of these, yet each word in our language has a unique look and it takes a designer to get the most out of it.

Tip 2: Safety

Helvetica was designed to convey a message of neutrality and legibility. As a design element, Helvetica can be thought of as a way to introduce simplicity into your message. It’ll fit in quite well in a modern, retro, or traditional design. It’s also one of the safest choices. Safety isn’t always the goal with your design work, yet it’s a good option to have in your creative toolkit.

Tip 3: Pairing

Helvetica can be greatly enhanced by pairing it with a second or even third face. Due to it’s neutral nature, you can easily contrast Helvetica with a serif or decorative face. Stay away with faces that are too similar. Contrast is key when pairing type. There are also many variations of Helvetica that can be mixed and matches extensively.

Tip 4: Building Blocks

Due to it’s overall simplicity, Helvetica is also an excellent building block for more complicated designs. If you’re looking to place fancy poster or headline type against a complex pattern, fill it with texture, or distort it then Helvetica is a good choice as your blank slate.

Tip 5: Resumes

If you’re creating a resume or professional business document, then can you guess which face I’d recommend? If you said Times New Roman, you can now select all and change it to Helvetica. It’s a great face for business that few hiring managers will be able to overlook, the way that the generic Times family might.

Tip 6: Use Sparingly

Another thought is to avoid using Helvetica in many cases. It has all of the good points above, it’s popular and looks nice. However it’s popular. If you’re looking for unique branding, you’ll avoid joining the many many many brands that use Helvetica as it’s statement of choice. Use it sparingly and with purpose, perhaps guided by some of the ideas above.