I recently re-watched Gary Hustwit’s film Helvetica and I always enjoy listening to the segment with the German typographer/designer Erik Spiekermann. He talks about Helvetica as the default typeface of today, specifically because of the ubiquitous nature of personal computing. Helvetica was the default for Apple, and Arial, a Helvetica clone, became the default for Windows. He is not thrilled about this, but he finishes the segment conceding, “it’s air. It’s just there. There’s no choice. You have to breathe, so you have to use Helvetica.” While many designers may dislike Helvetica because of how ubiquitous it has become, it cannot be ignored precisely because it is everywhere. Because of this, I thought it would be interesting to look at these popular defaults side-by-side to try to highlight their differences.
To do this, I put both words, “Helvetica” & “Arial”, back-to-back in both typefaces, Helvetica & Arial. The result lets you quickly see the subtle differences between the two fonts. It also seems ever so rebellious to purposefully write the name of a font in a deceptively similar font. These fonts may be seen as the typeface equivalent of air, but it’s still good to know what kind of air you are breathing in.