Archive for Haas Type Foundry

Eduard Hoffmann: 1892 – 1980

Posted in People in Media History, Phototypesetting, Print Media, Typography with tags , , , , , on May 11, 2013 by multimediaman
Eduard Hoffmann

Eduard Hoffmann

It is a fact of typographic history that the font Helvetica exists today because of Hamburgers … but not the food “Hamburgers.” Eduard Hoffmann, the creator of the ubiquitous typeface, knew the word “Hamburgers” contained the complete range of character attributes in the alphabet; he knew that from this one word the quality of a typeface design could be evaluated, that the features of its anatomy could be examined.

And so, early on in the design of the precursor to Helvetica—called Neue Haas Grotesk—Eduard Hoffmann of the Swiss-based Haas Type Foundry wrote to his designer and confident Max Miedinger, “But our first priority is the word ‘Hamburgers.’ It is the universal type founders’ word that contains all the varieties of letters.”

Helvetica is probably the most successful typeface in all of history. It is everywhere, all the time and there are reasons for this: Helvetica is neutral and easy to read; its different weights and styles effectively embody almost any meaning or message. Helvetica is plain but it is also modern and timeless.

Helvetica came about when typography and printing technology were moving from the metal casting, mechanical and letterpress era to the electronic phototypesetting, word processing, laser imaging and computer age. It rode atop this transformation and became the first truly international typeface. By the mid-1960s, Helvetica emerged as a global standard for public signage, corporate identity and communications.

Sampling of Helvetica Logos

A sampling of corporate identities that use Helvetica.

Regardless of one’s personal opinion of the esthetics and usefulness of Helvetica today, its creation and development—the people who developed it and how they developed it—is one of the most important accomplishments of twentieth century graphic arts.

Eduard Hoffmann was born on May 26, 1892 in Zurich, Switzerland. As a student, he studied technology and engineering in Zurich, Berlin and Munich with a specific interest in aviation. In 1917, the 25-year-old Hoffmann took a position under the direction of his uncle Max Krayer at Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei (Haas Type Foundry) in Münchenstein, Switzerland and made a commitment to the profession of typography. In 1937, Eduard became co-manager of the company with Krayer, and after his uncle’s death in 1944, became sole manager where he remained until his retirement in 1965.

As early as 1950, Hoffmann made a decision to introduce a new sans serif typeface into the Swiss market that could compete with those coming from the other European countries. The origins of san serif typefaces date back to the late eighteenth century where it was used with an embossing technique to enable the blind to read. The first fully developed sans serif (also known as grotesque or grotesk) made its appearance in Germany around 1825 and a French type founder first used the term sans serif (without decorative extensions) in 1830.

The sans serif types that Hoffmann wanted to compete with originally became popular and successful in the late nineteenth century. This was true of Akzidenz Grotesk of the Berlin-based H. Berthold AG type foundry, for example, which was originally designed in 1896. But there were neo-grotesk faces that had since entered the market, Bauer’s Folio and Frutiger’s Univers for example, that threatened to eclipse Hoffmann’s venture.

In 1956, as grotesk font use was surging in Europe, Hoffmann thought the timing was right to attempt a specifically Swiss variety. He contacted Max Miedinger, who had been a salesman and type designer at the Haas Type Foundry for the previous ten years, and wrote “he was the only man to design a new typeface for Haas.”

Max Miedinger

Max Miedinger

Miedinger’s role in the process was decisive and many credit him more than Hoffmann for the creation of Helvetica. It is true that Miedinger made the original hand-drawn letters of the alphabet. But the esthetic component was only one side of the value that Miedinger brought to Haas. It was his in-depth knowledge and relationship with the customers of the type foundry that made Miedinger indispensible to the success of Neue Haas Grotesk and later Helvetica.

Miedinger had access to some of the most brilliant Swiss graphic artists as well as advertising representatives from major Swiss corporations—the chemical firm J.R. Geigy AG among them—and through a painstaking and collaborative development process headed up by Hoffmann, Neue Haas Grotesk took shape.

Throughout 1957 and 1958, the two men collaborated back and forth, fine-tuning each character. The record of the exchange between Hoffmann and Miedinger has been preserved and can be followed in detail in the book, Story of a Typeface: Helvetica forever. The book includes photographic reproductions of the letters the men wrote to each other as well as Hoffmann’s project notebook.

Eduard Hoffmanns Helvetica Notebook

A page from Eduard Hoffmann’s Helvetica notebook dated November 27, 1957.

Hoffmann knew that designing a great typeface was not only about the beauty and logical construction of each individual character, even though this was an important aspect. Each character had to fit together with all the other characters in the various combinations that make letters into words. There was also the technical question of how the typeface would look at different sizes and once it was printed with ink on paper.

As Hoffmann explained in 1957, “praxis has shown that a new typeface cannot be correctly and objectively evaluated until it is in printed form. But even then, it is quite curious to find that a letter might be very satisfactory in a word, while seemingly quite out of place in another context. This makes it necessary to consider its design anew, which usually leads to unavoidable compromises.”

Once they were satisfied with the basic letterforms and had designed enough weights and sizes—at that time, the Haas Type Foundry was punch cutting, engraving and typecasting by hand thousands upon thousands of individual characters in metal—the men took their product to market. With the help of some well-designed promotional brochures and an initial buzz at the Graphic 57 trade fair in Lausanne, Neue Haas Grotesk became a hit. By 1959, about ten percent of the printers in Switzerland were carrying it.

Haas Type Foundry Engraving

The engraving room at the Haas Type Foundry. Lintoype ceased the type casting operations at Haas in 1989.

The Haas Type Foundry was majority-owned by the German firm D. Stempel AG. In turn, Stempel was in a contract with the multinational Linotype Corporation for the production of machine manufactured metal type forms. In order to expand the appeal of Hoffmann and Miedinger’s typeface and to bring it to the world of mass production typography, especially in the US, Linotype’s marketing department pushed for Neue Haas Grotesk to be renamed.

Linotype initially suggested that it simply be named Helvetia (Latin for Switzerland). Hoffmann felt that, although it was distinctly a Swiss product, the typeface could not have the exact same name as the country. He came up with Helvetica, which means “The Swiss Typeface,” and all involved accepted the new name developed by its creator.

Into the 1960s, Helvetica gained spectacular popularity and was adopted as the “in-house typeface” of various international corporations, many of which still use it to this day. Commentary on the significance and social driving force behind the success of Helvetica has often referred to post-war economic expansion. There was a thirst in the 1950s within the creative community for visual clues that conveyed optimism about the future. Designers wanted an excessively modern look that helped to put the bad memories of the first half the twentieth century far behind. For many, Helvetica accomplished this goal.

In 1971, Eduard established a foundation with the aim of creating a museum dedicated to the printing industry. In 1980, in the former Gallician paper mill on the Rhine, the museum opened with Hoffmann’s collection of papers on the history of the Haas Type Foundry as one of its main attractions. Eduard Hoffmann died in Basel, Switzerland on September 17, 1980.

Typography & the content of the message

Posted in Print Media, Typography with tags , , , , on August 20, 2010 by multimediaman

When I was 19-years-old, I decided I wanted to be a graphic artist. It was actually during a drawing class that I became convinced that I needed to be a visual artist. I suppose I could have pursued fine art, but ultimately I was compelled by one thing: typography. Where do these graphic forms come from? Why do we use these iconographic images to communicate? How can typography (and other images) be used best to express the content of the message? These were and are still the most important questions of graphic design!

This brings me to the topic of my post. I just watched the documentary film, Helvetica directed by Gary Hustwit. As described on the film website, it is “a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture.” Although the movie was made on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the modern and ubiquitous typeface family, it is something of a primer for all of us: it helps to connect the desktop, Internet and social media generations with the bigger picture of visual communications history and theory.

Helvetica is indeed everywhere and the movie shows this with its rich visuals of daily life in countries around the world. But the film is very important for its review of the changes in the twentieth century that first led to the creation of Helvetica as an international standard, later saw a movement against it and now, in the age of online communications, has seen something of a renaissance. Perhaps the movie itself is part of the renewed appreciation in the twenty-first century of this breakthrough font.

Helvetica is the quintessential modern, sans serif typeface and it is connected with the strivings of the design community in the 1950s for something new and global in character. As designer Massimo Vignelli explains, “When Helvetica came about we were all ready for it. It just had all the right connotations that we were looking for. For anything that had to spell out loud and clear: Modern.”

Helvetica was developed jointly by Swiss type designers Eduard Hoffman and Max Miedinger at the Haas Type Foundry in Münchenstein, Switzerland in 1957. It was originally called Die Neue Haas Grotesk. Since Haas was owned by Linotype and subject to the marketing interests of the large corporation, the name was later changed to Helvetica. In order to sell the font particularly in America, Hoffman and Miedinger agreed to change the name to an alteration of the Latin word for Switzerland (Helvetia), i.e. Helvetica is literally: The Swiss Typeface. The film includes an interview with Alfred Hoffman, son of Eduard, reviewing the specification sheets and hand written notations from the type design process. Hoffman, although he has gotten less credit for Helvetica than his partner, is revealed in the film as having had a clarity of vision with regard to the appearance and aesthetics of the form.

Several of those interviewed explain that the runaway attraction of Helvetica for the graphic design community, especially for corporate identity in the 1960s, was its simplicity and neutrality. Helvetica is the cameleon of graphic communications; it can be used to embody the identity of almost any concept or organization. It can also be equally used to communicate simple public information and is very often used in directional signage. Soon almost everyone was using Helvetica to transform their look and cast away the remnants of the premodern world. The film then illustrates the impact of the font on US and European corporations; the number of companies that adopted it appears substantial and shocking even for someone like myself who pays attention to such matters.

But, as the movie also clearly shows, Helvetica—and the rules of typography as they had come to be understood—eventually came under attack by notions of postmodernism. This took the form of a rejection of the structure, clarity and rules that were the bedrock of the design of Helvetica. The critics said that typography itself does indeed need to convey something more than the meaning of the words they express; some even said that the type needs to have its own message and the meaning of the words are of little consequence. In the backlash, Helvetica was said to have become identified with safety, conformism and predictability in design. Helvetica and its sense of structure was the dull and conservative background noise that had to be displaced by more expressive forms.

The counter-culture began in the 1970s as the postmodernists circumvented what they perceived as the boredom of Helvetica with things like illustrated typography. Veering in the direction of fine art, type began to take on many different chaotic forms. Experimental works that pushed the limits of legibility were the rage. Postmodernist design was also enabled by the technological revolution of the personal computer, where the structured principles of type design were violated by anyone who felt like it. With that went the business of typography; Adobe, Apple and Microsoft became the bearers of the intellectual property of generations of type designers going back to Gutenberg.

The theory of the postmodernists, or lack thereof, is expressed most clearly in the film by David Carson whose work became popular in the 1980s and world-renowned in the 1990s. Known as the father of “grunge design” Carson says, “I have no formal training in the field. In my case, I never learned all the things I wasn’t supposed to do. I was doing the things that made sense to me. I was just experimenting … I didn’t understand why people were getting so upset … only much later did I learn what the terms ‘modernism’ and this and that.” While the aestheticism Carson represents may be good at conveying visual atmospherics, it is not effective for typographic communications; it is all about impact through anticommunication (if that is even a word).

Fortunately, and I think naturally, the deconstructionist approach could not predominate. With the development of the online publishing and the pixel grid of the computer display, typography has moved back more closely to rationality. While it is certainly possible to find poor typography on the web, there is an awareness and sensitivity among a growing group of us about what is good, effective and appropriate use of type. As is pointed out at the end of the film, social networks are now playing a role in the development of new and innovative approaches to typography. The growth of the networked mobile device will certainly also contribute to this evolution.

I am the last to argue that the history of typography ends with Helvetica. However, it appears that things went off-the-rails for a period and we are now somewhere between 1957 and the next great step in the evolution of typography beyond Helvetica. Perhaps we will see something that dovetails with tiny URLs, texting and 140 character limits.