Both have double names, though of different meanings and origins.* Both are sans-serif typefaces, though of different design philosophies. Both have been system fonts on Macintosh OS X, though one in the past and one in the present. Both have system and non-system variants, though their character sets vary.
There are measurable differences between Lucida Grande and Helvetica Neue in letter forms, letter spacing, letter widths, and other metrics. There are qualitative differences in aesthetics, graphical origins, and design classification. There are apparent differences in readability. depending on context and text size. We discuss these in the sections that follow.
In OS X version 10.10, two families of Helvetica Neue can be found, a standard family and a special system or “desk interface” family. When we talk here about Helvetica Neue, we generally mean the OS X desk interface or system versions unless we explicitly say otherwise. A difference between the standard and OS X “system” versions of Helvetica Neue is that the latter have been metrically tweaked to render slightly larger than the standard versions. The difference is only around 1.5%, but the slight size increase brings Helvetica Neue closer to the x-height and width metrics of Lucida Grande. Hence, although Lucida Grande is no longer the default system font family, it nevertheless influences the metrics of its replacement, like the ghosts of departed quantities.
When we talk about Lucida Grande regular and bold weights, we usually mean the versions that were used as OS X system fonts and are still found in the font repertoire of OS X. However, when discussing italics and other weights that were not shipped with OS X, we refer instead to extant Lucida Grande styles and weights found on B&H’s web site.
Occasionally we refer also to Lucida Sans weights and styles, also on the B&H web site. Lucida Sans is nearly identical to Lucida Grande, except for character sets, kerning, and a small amount of character modifications.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN LUCIDA GRANDE and HELVETICA NEUE
The x-heights of Lucida Grande and Helvetica Neue “desk interface” regular are nearly identical. The standard Helvetica Neue regular x-height is slightly shorter than that of Lucida Grande, but metric tweaking of Helvetica Neue desk interface (system) font increases just enough that its x-height on screen renders a tiny bit larger than that of Lucida Grande.
The difference is likely to be unnoticeable to all but the most meticulous screen font scrutinizers. The x-heights don’t differ by more than a pixel until the combination of size and resolution reaches 150 pixels per em, which is nearly 50 points on a 15 inch MacBook 220 pixel per inch Retina display.
For comparison, here they are at 100 points.
Lucida Grande Regular stem widths are approximately 10% heavier in weight than those of Helvetica Neue system. The vertical stem thickness of Lucida Grande is 1/5.5 or 18% of x-height, whereas the stems of Helvetica Neue are approximately 16.4% of x-height. The weight of Lucida Grande regular was intended to compensate for “erosion” on illuminated screen backgrounds as well as on white writing printers.
Helvetica Neue Regular has a stem to x-height ratio of approximately 1:6, numerically lighter than Lucida Grande’s 1:5.5 ratio, but Helvetica Neue letters are more tightly packed, so its lower-case weight in a text string, if averaged as a gray tone, is 23% (black pixels) a little bit darker than the gray tone of Lucida Grande lower-case, which is 22%. At a distance, the tonal difference is nearly undetectable. These gray tone percentages are derived from the number of black pixels divided by the total number of pixels in a defined text area (the remainder of pixels usually being white). The percentage measures don’t include word spaces or added line spacing.
Lucida Grande Helvetica Neue
Typographic “contrast” is the ratio between thin-to-thick strokes in a typeface design. Lucida Grande has higher contrast than Helvetica Neue. In Lucida Grande, most thin strokes are approximately 75% to 70% of the thickness of the thick strokes (ratios ≈ 1:1.33 to 1:1.43). In Helvetica Neue, most thin strokes are roughly 87% to 83% of the thick strokes (ratios ≈ 1.2 to 1.14). Lucida Grande’s higher contrast gives the face a more lively look. Helvetica Neue’s lower contrast gives the face a more stolid look, as it is closer to, but not quite, monoline.
(Typographic “contrast” does not mean luminance contrast of dark figure to light ground; that depends on screen display or media characteristics and perceptual mechanisms.)
Contrast differences can be detected at large display sizes in individual letter comparisons. At text sizes en masse, slight contrast differences are usually not perceptible and instead merge into textural differences.
Lucida Grande is derived from Renaissance humanist typefaces that reflect the asymmetric path of a calligrapher’s pen. In a letter like ’n’, the arch of the counter (the internal shape) is not bilaterally symmetrical; the peak of the arch is to the right of center. In the letters ‘b’ and ‘p’, the internal counter is also not bilaterally symmetrical; it is rounded on the right but flat on the left where the curves intersect the vertical stroke. In the letters ‘d’ and ‘q’, the counter form is reversed, also following humanist handwriting.
Helvetica Neue is based on constructive principles derived from Neoclassical 19th century typefaces in which vertical, bilateral symmetry and repetition of formal features were preferred. In Helvetica Neue, the arched counters of ’n’ and similar letters have nearly bilateral symmetry, and the symmetry of oval internal counters of ‘b’ ‘p’ is also nearly bilateral, with little difference between the counters of ‘b’ and ‘q’. These repetitive symmetries make the letters look less dynamic but more stable.
ASSIMILATION AND GROUPING OF LETTER WIDTHS
Capitals. The capitals of Lucida Grande are derived from old Roman inscriptional capitals and interpretations by Renaissance scribes and type designers. Lucida Grande capitals aggregate into different width groups: CDGHNOQ are rather wide; BEFLPS are rather narrow; AKRTUVXYZ range in the middle; MW are widest, IJ are narrowest. The Lucida Grande width groups are not quite the same as those of classical inscriptional capitals because Lucida capitals were narrowed so that acronyms and words in all capitals, common in computing and technical texts, would not be obtrusive or commandeer up too much horizontal space.
The widths of Helvetica Neue Capitals are more assimilated and tend toward monospacing, although I is still narrow and MW still wide. Helvetica Neue capital widths are somewhat wider but more tightly spaced than Lucida Grande capitals, making the Helvetica capitals only 4% to 5% wider overall. Compare both kinds of capitals in a common phrase in Roman Inscriptions.
Most Lucida Grande lower-case letters are narrower than the corresponding letters of Helvetica Neue, except for the widest letters ’m’ and ‘w’, which are slightly narrower in Helvetica Neue than in Lucida Grande. There is slightly more differentiation in the letter widths of Lucida Grande lower-case, with ‘a’ being narrower and ‘m’ being wider in Lucida than in Helvetica. Overall, there is more assimilation of letter widths in Helvetica Neue than in Lucida Grande.
Lucida Grande lower-case letter forms are narrower than the respective Helvetica Neue letter forms, but the Lucida Grande letters are more widely spaced. The wider letter forms but tighter spacing of Helvetica Neue, versus the narrower letters but wider spacing of Lucida Grande make the two typefaces clearly different in pattern and texture but moderately similar in overall width. Helvetica Neue text, even with scale tweaking, takes up less space on average than Lucida Grande.
FORM, PATTERN & TEXTURE
In an essay entitled “Form, Pattern & Texture in the Typographic Image”, published in the journal Fine Print in 1989, Charles Bigelow analyzed different levels of type size. Texture denotes the emergent qualities of small sizes at which most continuous text is read. Texture is the realm where most reading gets done, and where book designers are the masters of subtle tones and emergent features, balancing the needs of publishing economy against the optimization of easy, fluent reading. Pattern refers to the display sizes used for headlines, titling, packaging, and posters, where the arrangements of a few words or short lines serve to attract the eyes of readers, consumers, and passers-by. Form is the largest size range, where individual shapes of letters can easily be seen as abstractions, like two-dimensional sculptures of positive and negative space. Forms are not for reading but for appreciating.
In modernist graphic design, forms and patterns became the major levels of typographic expression. Type forms became abstract art, and type patterns, when tightly packed, created active asymmetry to attract the viewer. In the trendy advertising eras of the 1960s and 1970s, tight letter fitting or “sexy spacing” injected excitement into static, near monoline texts composed in neo-grotesque sans-serifs.
We draw these distinctions between large, medium, and small type sizes because effectiveness at one size is not necessarily true at other sizes. A type design attractive at a large size may not be legible at a small size, because different visual mechanisms come into play as type approaches what vision scientists call the “critical print size”, the smallest size at which text can be read at full speed. Typographers term the creation and use of different designs for different sizes “optical scale”. We discuss this further in “How and Why We Designed Lucida” http://bigelowandholmes.typepad.com
Type size on computer screens has taken on new importance because type is rendered at different resolutions and displayed on different devices that are read at different distances. The size at which type is perceived and read is not simply physical size on screen, but a combination of physical size and reading distance. A 12 point font when read on an iPhone only 12 inches from the eye will seem to be smaller, only 9 point, when read on a tablet or laptop screen at 16 inches, and only 7 point when read on a desktop monitor at 21 inches.
The scholars and scribes of Renaissance Italy developed handwriting styles that were intended to optimize legibility in an era when most readers, including older scholars as well as young students, could not afford eye-glasses, but also when economy of parchment, vellum, and paper was important. One form of Renaissance handwriting gave rise to our roman types, and another, our italic types. Following Renaissance handwriting, Lucida Grande has non-enclosed counters (internal “negative” spaces) in letters like a c e g, whereas in Helvetica Neue, based on constructed forms, the corresponding counters are nearly enclosed, with the terminals curving around and nearly joining, admitting only narrow gaps or “apertures.”
In arched letters like n m u h, Lucida Grande has deeper cuts so that the arch joins the left stem lower than in Helvetica Neue. At small sizes, the deeper cuts slightly increase differentiation between arched letters and rounded.
CAPITAL VS. ASCENDER HEIGHTS
Lucida Grande and Helvetica Neue capital heights are nearly the same in percentage of body size (72.3% for Lucida Grande, 72.5% for Helvetica Neue) but the metric tweaking of Helvetica Neue for system use makes the capitals render slightly taller than those of Lucida Grande). In Lucida Grande, the ascenders of lower-case are slightly taller than capitals. This trait, derived from Renaissance roman typefaces, helps distinguish capital ‘I’ from lower-case ‘l’. Capitals and ascending lower-case make a slightly undulating ridge line in Lucida Grande but a level roof in Helvetica Neue.
Lucida Grande and Helvetica Neue at 24 pt., 12pt., 10 pt.
PHILOSOPHIES OF FORM
Nearly all digital typefaces today are implemented as contours, but Lucida Grande, with its Renaissance handwriting origins, looks more like the trace of a moving pen, whereas Helvetica, with its 19th century constructive origins, looks more like the shadow of a modern sculpture.
These aesthetic distinctions are not only historical; they can also be poetic. Hans Ed. Meier, the Swiss lettering artist and type designer who created Syntax, one of the most beautiful and influential “humanist sans-serifs” of the 20th century, enjoyed quoting a poet friend’s comparison of Syntax to Helvetica:
"Reading a page in Syntax is like walking through a field of flowers.
Reading a page in Helvetica is like walking through a field of stones.”
Meier’s concept of a humanist Sans-serif and its realization in Syntax is explained by a German type scholar and expert, Erich Schulz-Anker, in “Syntax-Antiqua, a Sans Serif on a New Basis”, in Novum Gebrauchsgraphik 7/1970 (also in French and German). An earlier version published in 1969 by the D. Stempel Foundry, in German only, is “Formanalyse und Dokumentation einer serifenlosen Linearschrift auf neuer Basis: Syntax-Antiqua”.
Schulz-Anker’s arguments in favor of the greater legibility of the humanist sans-serif, exemplified by Syntax, are based on historical evidence and formal analysis. He reasons that the humanist letter forms of Syntax have greater “clarity, distinctness, and … distinguishability” and thus provide greater legibility than the “static” form assimilation of Helvetica (which he calls a “conventional” sans-serif).
(Schulz-Anker’s Syntax essays do not appear to be available on the web, but examples of selected illustrations can be found by web searches.)
In addition to scholarly typographical theory, typo-ideological beliefs, poetry, and unfettered fervent opinion in favor of the humanist sans-serif, there has also been some scientific corroboration of the superior legibility of humanist sans-serif forms compared to a grotesque sans-serif, in particular contexts.
Bryan Reimer and co-authors at MIT and Monotype Corporation compared a humanist sans-serif to a “square grotesque” in automotive displays, and found some legibility advantages for the humanist sans-serif. This study concentrated on automotive displays and compared only two typefaces, neither being Lucida Grande or Helvetica Neue, so additional studies will be needed before the results can be generalized. Nevertheless, the study does suggest possible legibility advantages for humanist sans-serifs compared to grotesques.
[Reference: Bryan Reimer et al. (2014) “Assessing the impact of typeface design in a text-rich automotive user interface”, Ergonomics, 57:11, 1643-1658.]
ITALICS & OBLIQUES
Lucida Grande offers two different forms of slanted companion faces for the roman, italic and oblique.
Lucida Grande Italic is a true, cursive italic based on fast handwriting by humanist scholars of the 15th century. It is closely related to Italian chancery cursive styles of the 16th century, and italic handwriting taught in calligraphy courses and some primary schools today. However, like sans-serif Lucida Grande roman, Lucida Grande Italic has been simplified and stripped of calligraphic details. Its basic shapes are cursive, and it is slanted to approximately 11.3 degrees, which gives a rise-to-run ration of 5:1.
Like the roman, Lucida Grande Italic has slightly narrow letter forms but slightly wide spacing. In text it occupies about the same amount of horizontal space as the roman. Although nearly the same average width, its cursive stroke pattern immediately distinguishes it from the roman and gives it more dynamic action.
In addition to the true italic, B&H also made obliques by slanting the roman font to 11.3 degrees.
The advantages of sloped roman as a proper italic companion were promoted by type expert Stanley Morison in an essay “Towards an Ideal Italic” in The Fleuron V, pags 93-129, 1926. Despite Morison’s clever argument, most designers of seriffed types, including Morison himself when designing Times New Roman, continued to make true cursive italics. Most sans-serif types, however, including the grotesque styles from which Helvetica was derived, used sloped or slanted romans, also called obliques. Eric Gill’s Gill Sans, is an exception, with a cursive italic, and Hans Ed. Meier’s Syntax likewise, although Syntax ‘a’ and ‘g’ are more like slanted versions of roman.
Helvetica Neue Italic
Helvetica Neue Italic is an oblique version of the roman, following the traditional form of “italics” for the “grotesque” style. Helvetica Neue Italic is slanted at approximately 12 degrees but it is not simply an electronic slant. The letter shapes have been subtly adjusted to correct slight weighting imbalances that occur when romans are simply slanted. The differences can be seen in letters like ‘k’ and ‘o’, for example.
Helvetica Neue Italic has the same x-height, stem weight, and nearly the identical width as the roman. Overall, Helvetica Neue Italic takes up less space in text than Lucida Grande Italic or Lucida Grande Oblique
The differences discussed for the regular weights of Lucida Grande and Helvetica Neue mostly apply also to comparisons of the bold weights, except of course, for the matter of weight. How different are the weights?
Here, we use two different measures of weight. One, as described above, is the numerical ratio between x-height and vertical stem thickness. How many stem thicknesses equal the x-height? This is fairly easy and moderately accurate measure for typefaces of normal widths and proportions.
Lucida Grande Bold (pre-Retina) has an x-height/stem ratio of 3.7:1 . That is, the x-height is 3.7 times the vertical stem width.
Helvetica Neue Bold has an x-height/stem ratio of 3.64:1. That is, the x-height is 3.64 times the vertical stem width.
In comparison, this means that the Bold weights appear to be very similar, but there are a few noteworthy differences.
Lucida Grande Bold (Retina version). In 2013, Apple released a slightly darker version of Lucida Grande Bold for Retina displays. B&H increased the Bold weight by roughly 4%, to better distinguish Bold from regular weight on the high-resolution Retina displays. This increase was roughly one JND (Just Noticeable Difference) or slightly more, and darkened Lucida Grande Bold to a ratio of 3.56:1, which is slightly darker than the Helvetica Neue Bold ratio. However, en masse, Helvetica Neue Bold is still a bit darker than the Retina version of Lucida Grande Bold. The main reason is that the Helvetica Neuw Bold letters are packed more tightly, thus reducing white area by increasing black area within a defined text space. To measure that numerically, we need to find the average tonal value, not just stem weights.
The gray tone of a typeface in text, as described above for the weights of Lucida Grande regular and Helvetica Neue regular, is an average of the total number of black pixels in a defined area (the rest of the pixels being white in typical displays). For lower-case letters, which dominate most texts, tonal weight of of (non-Retina) Lucida Grande Bold is approximately 29% gray tone. The tonal weight of the Retina version is 30%, not a big change, Just a barely noticeable increase.
Helvetica Neue Bold, with its tighter fitting, has a darker average tonal value, approximately a 32% gray tone. This is noticeably more than one JND.
Note that the differences in tonal values between regular and bold weights are less than the differences expressed in x-height/stem ratios. This discrepancy is because the white areas above the x-height and below the baseline do not change much as stem weight increases (although some bold weights, as in Lucida, raise x-heights slightly with increasing weight). When the overall gray tone of a typeface is averaged, the nearly unchanging white areas reduce the effect of additional stem weight.
More important than precise measure of x-height/stem ratio or gray tone value is the visual/psychological function of typeface weight, which is to graphically mark a difference between two forms of characters in order to signify a semantic distinction or expressive nuance.
Using both measures, Lucida Grande’s Bold weight is approximately 1.5 times as bold in terms of x-height/stem ratio, and approximately 1.32 times as bold in tonal value. In comparison, Helvetica Neue Bold is 1.67 times as bold in terms of x-height/stem ratio and 1.39 times as dark in tonal value.
Thus, by both measures of relative boldness - bold weight compared to regular weight - Helvetica Neue Bold is a bolder bold relative to its regular weight than is Lucida Grande Bold relative to its regular weight. This makes Helvetica Neue Bold it stand out more in isolated contexts. Where bold weight occurs in text alongside normal weight, the more restrained Lucida Grande Bold tends to be less obtrusive.
The decision of how bold a bold should be - whether more or less emphatic, more or less obtrusive - depends on context, intention, and the discrimination or visual taste of the typographer. We have discussed these matters separately under the titles of “Visual and Semantic Functions of Typeface Weight” [link] and “How much bolder should a “bold” be to be bold?” [link]
When a more emphatic distinction is desired, a bolder bold can chosen. When a less obtrusive distinction is desired, a less bolder bold can be chosen. Traditional typeface families seldom provide subtle nuances of boldness, so typographers and user interface designers have limited means to adjust bolds.
Some typeface families provide intermediate weights between normal and bold, sometimes designated “medium”, as well as weights bolder than bold, sometimes designated Extra Bold, Heavy, or Black. We discuss the problems with these somewhat vague descriptive names in “Lucida Basic Font Weights” [link], where we combine verbal with numerical designations to more closely denote the gradations of weight is a typeface suite.
The Lucida Grande family includes a Black weight in addition to Bold, although in the event of the first release of OS X the Black weight was not included. In stem ratio, Lucida Grande Black is twice the weight of the regular Lucida Grande face. In gray tone, it is 35.3%, or 1.6 times bolder than the regular weight.
The Helvetica Neue family includes a “Heavy” weight that in stem ratio is also twice the weight of regular Helvetica Neue. It’s gray tone is 35.7%, or 1.55 times bolder than the regular weight. Because of its slightly larger x-height and slightly narrower width, Lucida Grande Black looks slightly darker than Helvetica Neue Heavy, but in stem weights and gray tones, Lucida Grande Black and Helvetica Neue Heavy are very close in terms of their relative weights compared to their regular weights.
Lucida Grande Light, Regular, Bold and Black
Helvetica Neue Light, Regular, Bold and Heavy
Typographers sometimes desire more and finer gradations of weight. B&H provided this in the Retina screen adaptation of Lucida Grande Bold for Apple, and have also developed additional gradations in the Lucida Sans family, which is essentially identical to Lucida Grande, except for character sets and minor tweaks.
An aspect of the Lucida Sans family, not found in Helvetica Neue, is a series of fine gradations in the “normal” weight range, between 300 Light and 500 Dark. These fine gradations are for tuning a basic text weight to different screen display characteristics.
In the Helvetica Neue OS X system family, there are UltraLight, Thin, Light, and Medium weights. The Lucida Grande family does not currently include weights comparable to the lighter Helvetica Neue weights and the Medium weight.
However, weights nearly equivalent to those of Helvetica Neue are found in the Lucida Sans family distributed directly by Bigelow & Holmes. The weight spectra of the different families were developed independently with different concepts of weight progression and gradation, so they do not match exactly, but there is fairly close agreement on most weights.
Lucida Sans 100UltraThin, 200Thin, 250ExtraLight, 300Light, 350Book, 400Normal, 500Dark. 600Bold, 700UltraBold, 800Black, 900ExtraBlack
Lucida Sans 100 UltraThin is nearly the same weight as Helvetica Neue UltraLight. Lucida Sans 150 ExtraThin is slightly lighter than Helvetica Neue Thin. Lucida Sans 250 ExtraLite is slightly lighter than Helvetica Neue Light, and Lucida Sans 300 Lite and Lucida Grande Light are the same weight and slightly darker than Helvetica Neue Light, as discussed above. Lucida Sans 500 Dark is nearly the same weight as Helvetica Neue Medium. Lucida Sans 600 and Lucida Grande Bold are the same weight and slightly lighter than Helvetica Neue Bold as discussed above. Lucida Sans 800 Black is the same weight as Lucida Grande Black and is nearly the same weight as Helvetica Neue Heavy, as discussed above.
Lucida Grande fonts in OS X have approximately 3,000 characters per font, encompassing many Unicode character blocks: ASCII, Latin-1, Latin Extended-A, Latin Extended-B, Latin Extended Additional, International Phonetic Alphabet Extensions, Spacing Modifier Letters, Combining Diacritical Marks, Greek and Coptic, Greek Extended, Cyrillic, Cyrillic Supplement, Hebrew, Arabic, Arabic Presentation Forms-B, Thai, Phonetic Extensions, General Punctuation, Superscripts and Subscripts, Currency Symbols, Letterlike Symbols, Number Forms, assorted Arrows and Miscellaneous Technical symbols, and various symbols and graphical characters requested by Apple for system font usage. Of minor note for technical aficionados are alternate forms of capital ‘I’ with serifs to better distinguish it from lower-case ‘l’ and variant forms of zero with slash or dot, to better distinguish it from capital ‘O’. A discussion of the history and implementations of these characters for technical use is an essay by Charles Bigelow, “Oh, oh zero!”, in TUGboat, the journal of the TeX Society, vol 34, no. 2, 2013. At some point, Apple disabled the encoding of the Lucida Grande Arabic and Thai characters, switching to other fonts, but the glyphs remain in the fonts, although inaccessible in normal word processing applications.
The character set of Lucida Grande built upon the set B&H originally did for Lucida Sans Unicode, which is explained in a 1993 paper by Bigelow & Holmes, “The Design of a Unicode Font”, the first TrueType font to include an extensive non-Latin and symbol character set.
Lucida Grande fonts from the B&H Lucida Store contain the WGL character set, which contains around 660 characters for the principal European and Euro-American languages, in Unicode blocks of ASCII, Latin-1, Latin Extended-A, Greek, Cyrillic (partial), and assorted arrows, mathematical operators, graphical Box Drawing and Block Elements, and miscellaneous symbols and ligatures.
Helvetica Neue fonts for the OS X system contain a character set different from either the Lucida Grande OS X fonts or the WGL set. The Unicode blocks include:
ASCII, Latin-1, Latin Extended-A, Latin Extended-B (mostly), Latin Extended Additional, Latin Extended-C, International Phonetic Alphabet Extensions (mostly), Spacing Modifier Letters, Combining Diacritical Marks, Greek and Coptic, Greek Extended, Cyrillic (mostly), Cyrillic Supplement (partial), Georgian (partial), Cherokee, Phonetic Extensions (partial), General Punctuation, Superscripts and Subscripts, Currency Symbols, Letterlike Symbols, Number Forms, assorted Arrows, Miscellaneous Technical symbols, graphical Box Drawing graphics, Supplemental Punctuation, Modifier Tone Letters, and various symbols and ligatures.
With today’s font technology, it is no longer as important to have all characters in a single font, because they can be swapped in from other fonts as needed. Hence, fonts may not need to contain super-large characters sets, but often, design harmonization is lost.
* Footnote on names.
The names of typefaces are often chosen for symbolic, evocative, and allusive as well as descriptive reasons. Lucida is a Latin adjective meaning “clear” or “bright”. It is derived from “Lux”, the Latin word for light, because the design was developed for light-emitting screen displays and laser light printers. Its original meanings continue in the Romance languages descended from Latin. In Spanish, “clear, lucid” or “”splendid, brilliant” (depending on which syllable is stressed). In Italian, “clear, lucid, polished”. “Grande” means “big, grand” in Italian, Spanish, and French. The ‘grande” adjective was suggested by Apple because the special version that B&H developed for OS X had a bigger character set than most fonts of its time.
Thus, Lucida Grande is a Romance name, vaguely echoing the clarity of ancient Roman inscriptions, the legible handwriting of Renaissance Italy, and the brilliance ofimperial Spain, and overall, the sunny warmth of the Mediterranean lands where, as the poet Goethe romantically wrote, “the lemon trees bloom, the gold orange glows amid dark leaves, a soft wind drifts from blue heaven, and fragrant myrtles and laurels grow tall.”
Helvetica is an adjective meaning “Swiss”, derived from the old Latin name for an ancient Gallic warrior confederation, the Helvetii, who fought wars against Julius Caesar and later Romans, and settled in what is now Switzerland. The neo-Latin name of the modern Swiss confederation, “Confoederatio Helvetica” uses the Latin adjectival form of the Helvetii tribal name. “Neue” is the standard German adjective for “New”.
“Grotesque” is the name of a 19th century English sans-serif face from the Thorowgood type foundry, and the name was later adopted by other English typefounders. “Akzidenz Grotesk” is the Germanized name of a late 19th century sans-serif from the German Berthold foundry. Neo-Grotesques including “Univers” from the Deberny & Peignot foundry in Paris and “Haas Neue Grotesk” from the Haus foundry in Switzerland were released in the mid-1950s. For marketing reasons, the name “Haas Neue Grotesk” was changed to “Helvetica” when the design was adapted and re-released by the German Stempel type foundry and Linotype. “Helvetica Neue” is thus a new, new grotesque, its name a combination of neo-Latin and German, literally meaning “New Swiss”.