Helvetica & Arial alternativesNeutral need not mean dull

Crit­i­ciz­ing Hel­vetica is one of the fa­vorite pas­times of ty­pog­ra­phers: It’s bland. It’s overused. It’s in­apt for most projects. All true statements.

Yet they sort of miss the point. It’s like crit­i­ciz­ing Star Wars be­cause the vi­sual ef­fects are un­re­al­is­tic. Or be­cause the di­a­logue is wooden. Or be­cause the plot is pinched from The Hid­den Fortress. All true state­ments. But so what? It’s still Star Wars. And like Star Wars, Hel­vetica will be with us for the fore­see­able future.

Should you use Hel­vetica? Look, I like Hel­vetica. Though mostly in the rear-view mir­ror. To­day, we have bet­ter op­tions. For Hel­vetica diehards, there is Neue Haas Grotesk, a lovely re­vival of the orig­i­nal Hel­vetica de­sign. Oth­ers can try a font that’s neu­tral with­out be­ing dull, like my own Con­course, or the ex­cel­lent new At­las. Even good old Frutiger would be an improvement.

And don’t worry—no mat­ter which al­ter­na­tive you choose, Hel­vetica will still be with us.

by the way
  • As I men­tioned in sys­tem fonts, Ar­ial was de­signed as a clone of Hel­vetica. Hel­vetica has earned its place in ty­po­graphic his­tory hon­estly. But Ar­ial, only by Mi­crosoft im­pos­ing it upon us for 20+ years as the main user-in­ter­face font in Win­dows. That’s the only rea­son you’ve heard of it. That’s the only rea­son you might con­sider us­ing it. That’s a ter­ri­ble rea­son. I try to keep the lit­mus tests to a min­i­mum, but this must be one: you can­not cre­ate good ty­pog­ra­phy with Arial.