Helvetica, serendipity, and Max Miedinger by Nicholas Fabian.
Helvetica, serendipity, and
Max Miedinger, Type Designer

by Nicholas Fabian

Max Miedinger was born on December 24, 1910 in Zürich, Switzerland. Initially, he trained as a typesetter during 1926-1930 and after becoming a journeyman he continued his education by taking evening courses at the Zürich "Kunstgewerbeschule" (Arts & Crafts School). From 1936-1946 Miedinger was a typographer for the Globus department store's advertising studio. For the next ten years, he toiled away as a customer service and sales representative for the Haas Type Foundry in Münchenstein, located near Basle. Finally, at age fourty six, he became a freelance graphic artist in Zürich. Miedinger was now prepapred to meet his destiny.

Max Miedinger was a former employee of the Haas Foundry, when in 1956 Edouard Hoffmann of Haas asked Max to modernise the style of one of the sans-serif faces owned by the firm. The typeface was 'Haas Grotesk'. Hoffman and Miedinger never realized that simple request would catapult them into typographical history.

Max Miedinger designed 'Neue Haas Grotesk' in 1956 and the typeface was introduced commercially in 1957. The design of 'Neue Haas Grotesk' was based on the existing Haas Grotesk which in turn was rooted in Berthold's Akzidenz Grotesk model from the end of the 19th century. From 1957 until 1961 the typeface carried the original name, "Neue Haas Grotesk", and it's design classification was neo-grotesk. Shortly after Neue Haas Grotesk's introduction the Stempel Foundry from Germany purchased the rights to the original designs, developed a full series of weights, renamed the typeface to "Helvetica", and introduced the new commercial package in 1961. In the 1960's Mergenthaler Linotype adopted the Stempel series and further developed it by adding several new members to the Helvetica typeface family. Triggered by the introduction of personal computers, desktop publishing, and some obscure historical serendipity factor, Helvetica became one of the best known and most widely used typeface in recorded history. (The other one being Times Roman).

Helvetica Bold Helvetica Bold

Helvetica Bold Rounded Helvetica Bold Rounded

Helvetica is an unassuming and efficient typeface for everyday use. The design may not tickle the fancy some of the self-appointed armchair experts, but no one can dispute the global success it has achieved. The design works. Professional typographers using Helvetica can produce superbly coherent and pleasing visual results which project great clarity and refinement. Even poorly conceived layouts with an amateur markup will remain legible right to the bitter end of oblivion. It takes some colossal typographical distortion to make Helvetica illegible, which is not a trivial design achievement, to be sure. Forty years after its introduction, Linotype-Hell lists an astonishing 115 fonts for the family, with Helvetica Rounded being probably the least known 'typeface-twin' ever produced for the commercial market. Max Miedinger died on March 8, 1980 in Zürich, Switzerland.

Type specimen1 Sample text set in "Pro Arte," a condensed American Western typeface designed by Max Miedinger and introduced commercially in 1954 by the Haas Foundry.

Type specimen 2 Sample text set in "Horizontal," an expanded bold sans serif display typeface designed by Max Miedinger and introduced in 1964 by the Haas Foundry.

The typefaces Max Miedinger designed are:

Pro Arte (1954), Helvetica (1956/57), .Helvetica Rounded (1956/57), Horizontal (1964). All the designs were produced for the Haas Foundry in Basel, Switzerland.

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