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.


  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.

  18. Carlos

    Even some Linux distros have better fonts now for the UI than OS X Yosemite. I’m not an expert on typography, but what I know is that on a MacBook Air after a long period of time I just have to stop. It’s very hard on the eyes to look at 10-11pt Helvetica on brights, low contrast window frames. Also it’s sad that the only argument I’m seeing pro-Helvetica is that Retina displays are the future. Well, Apple still sells non-Retina displays, so it’ll take a while until Retina displays are the norm.

    Besides that, they’re overusing it. It’s just lazy to rely on Helvetica that much.

  19. The fact that Helvetica is still so widely used today speaks volumes for the success of the font and it’s versatility.

    Yes there are better alternatives, but that’s down to the choices made by the designer, a great designer will still create great design even if they use Helvetica.

    There’s no way Apple would choose to use Helvetica in Yosemite if it was not for a good reason. It would have gone through all kinds of rigorous UX testing to ensure it was the best possible choice not just now but also going forwards.

    Yes, Retina displays are the future and of course not everyone is going to have one right away. But if Apple design for the lowest common denominator their products would not be the design leaders they are today.

    1. erik

      Why did Apple change to San Francisco? Obviously because Helvetica wasn’t suitable anymore

  20. I know Helvetica could be looks overused but it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad font. It’s just a good font with plenty of roles: digital and print. Hate it’s not good, even talking about fonts. A good designer should have his/her pocket with just a few fonts and for sure Helvetica might be there. When I heard to Erick exprexing himself in that way, it’s like he has a task to do on earth: to kill the Helvetica legacy.
    It’s not the font, as everything, it is Who are using it? Someone have used in a good way, others, in a wrong way, creating all kind of reactions. Is good to recognize when something is going wrong, To accept it is part of the good intention of Apple. Substitution goes with the recognition of a bad funtionality and in hand with the new digital purposes. No more Hate, please!

    1. erik

      I never said it was a bad typeface, nor did I ever say I hated it. I’ve simply criticized its use for the wrong applications and its general overuse by people too lazy to look for alternatives. Helvetica has become the white bread of typography. Harmless, agreeable, but neither healthy nor nourishing.

      1. Before to “suck” anything, I will recommend you to change the size of comment section in your website, Sir.

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