Helvetica sucks

It really wasn’t designed for small sizes on screens. Words like mil­li­liter can be very dif­fi­cult to deci­pher. If you ever had to read or write a pass­word with 1, i, l or I, you know the prob­lem. That lit­tle com­par­i­son below is also avail­able from the down­load page.

47 comments

  1. Denis

    It is not sur­pris­ing. It was not made for this ))))

  2. Jake

    No, it wasn’t designed for the many small screens of 1957.

  3. I love Hel­vetica in the right con­text, but new faces are required for new applications.

    Thanks for the com­par­i­son chart.

  4. We didn’t used Hel­vetica for along time — I guess since 95. We were bored because every­thing seems to be design around and with the Helv.

    For the web it wasn’t intented to be used and it was tech­ni­cally impos­si­ble. Nowa­days with newer tech­nol­ogy it’s a bit dif­fer­ent. Web fonts are on the way.

    Hel­vetica isn’t a web font. Period.

    Look at the Lufthansa CD. After so many years, it’s still styl­ish. But even Lufthansa uses Arial etc. on their site.

    Guess why.

  5. Tassneam

    In my opin­ion it’s a stan­dard font.. Wasn’t meant for small size..

    Thanks for the clar­i­fi­ca­tion graphics.

  6. Charlie

    This chart demon­strates how the word ‘mil­li­liter’ is prac­ti­cally unread­able in any type­face, on screen, when set to 12pt. It also shows how supe­rior Hel­vetica is at a larger scale to other sans-serif typefaces.

    1. Bhushan

      Type­face must remain immor­tal. That is what exactly hel­vetica is. Tell me some­thing, if it is such a bad font, why does it rank on no.1 on type­face rank chart and meta on 20…and lets not talk about other two as they dont even come in top 100. And the rea­son why it works most of the time is because it doesn’t speak for the mat­ter writ­ten, infact its so trans­par­ent that it allows the mat­ter to speak for itself.

      1. erik

        Hel­vetica has been around for almost 60 years. It works for every­thing, but not every­thing needs to look the same.

  7. Louis

    Maybe not in your image, but small Hel­vetica looks pretty awe­some on my retina dis­play. Just sayin’

  8. uhmwelll...

    Point­less ! Since Hel­vetica wasn’t designed for the screen it makes no sense to com­pare it with type­faces designed for the screen. Also as men­tioned before, retina dis­plays and other high res. solu­tions are on their way that will make things look alot more crisp.

  9. A nice com­par­i­son. As men­tioned, it is a lit­tle out of con­text I guess but it’s great to see.

  10. Lower

    I notice you have Meta and Unit avail­able to you, so I’m curi­ous: as the designer of your fonts, do you still own the copy­right to them? To what extent are you bound by the restric­tions of FSI’s EULA like the rest of us?

  11. mmj

    Since Hel­vetica wasn’t designed for the screen it makes no sense to com­pare it with type­faces designed for the screen”

    None of these fonts were designed for screen. If you’re think­ing Arial was because it was included with Win­dows, look up Arial’s his­tory from before Win­dows existed.

  12. erik

    Arial was not designed for the screen (I do know its his­tory), but it was hinted spe­cially and to the same degree as Geor­gia. While its shapes are not per­fect for small sizes on any sub­strate, the atten­tion paid to its ren­der­ing makes its char­ac­ters appear at least con­sis­tent on most screens.

  13. Justin Bur

    Designed for the screen” doesn’t mean any­thing any more, now that we have close to print-resolution screens. One can like Hel­vetica or not, one can crit­i­cize its read­abil­ity on var­i­ous grounds, but sin­gling out user inter­faces as a poor use case isn’t really credible.

    Web sites that spec­ify Arial are prob­a­bly doing so to get accept­able ren­der­ing on old ver­sions of Win­dows that don’t have mod­ern typo­graph­i­cal engines, on which there is no good Hel­vetica. I would haz­ard a guess that Win­dows 8 does not have a Hel­vetica prob­lem; there is cer­tainly no inher­ent rea­son Arial should be more read­able than Hel­vetica. This sit­u­a­tion is also irrel­e­vant to Apple’s choice of Neue Hel­vetica as the iOS (and now OS X) sys­tem face, using an excel­lent type engine and laser-sharp high-res displays.

  14. geoff

    I’d imag­ine that on retina/hi-DPI screens it becomes a bit more legible.

    1. Martin Winter

      Well, unfor­tu­nately not. This is not about clar­ity of the repro­duc­tion but about the defi­cien­cies of the let­ter­forms. I love Hel­vetica (I own the doc­u­men­tary and a t-shirt and have used it a lot) but it is just abysmal when it comes to UI. I am quite upset that Apple chose it for OS X, and I will def­i­nitely file a bug report about this.

  15. manos

    1 ml <—- looks great :D
    1mL <—- also looks great.

  16. Whether Hel­vetica looks good on a screen or not, doesn’t mat­ter to me. It’s about as unus­able a font as Cooper. It’s an absolute life­less bore to look at. No one gets excited about Hel­vetica. The only way it’s half tol­er­a­ble is in bold and black and white. Amer­i­can Apparel is a good exam­ple. But who the hell wants a logo or brand with such lit­tle flex­i­bil­ity as Hel­vetica can give them. *END RANT*

  17. Alex Santos

    Hel­vetica is beau­ti­fully neu­tral. I find that peo­ple either love it or hate it.

    In its’ pur­suit for neu­tral­ity it has found an ele­gant form all its own.

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