running words around
design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

Here Comes Aktiv Grotesk

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

International Font Studio Dalton Maag have just released a new typeface called Aktiv Grotesk, designed to replace what their Managing Director and Type Designer Bruno Maag considers to be a 'poorly crafted and overused' design atrocity, namely Helvetica - the world's most popular typeface.

In support of the new typeface, the Dalton Maag website features a nice type tool, where you can write a few words and select the variants of Aktiv Grotesk to see how it looks. Here's Aktiv Grotesk Bold:

Aktiv Grotesk Tool

And in 'Helvetica Killer', an interview with Creative Review's editor Patrick Burgoyne, an infuriated Maag discusses Helvetica's faults, its mis-usage and its mis-quoted heritage. The interview also appears in Naturalis x 7, the latest of GF Smith's promotional booklets for its Naturalis paper range, typeset in Aktiv Grotesk:

Aktiv Grotesk

The new typeface borrows from Helvetica and also from its more erudite cousin, Univers, (itself a re-imagining of Akzidenz Grotesk, created back in the late 1890's).

Maag sees the rise of Helvetica as 'accidental', and cites the big budget backing of Helvetica's Foundry, Linotype, and its overuse during the American advertising scene of the 1960's as the key perpetrators.

Aktiv Grotesk

He also compares Helvetica to Julia Roberts and Vanilla Ice Cream, and has time to criticise Gary Hustwit's film 'Helvetica', in which he is 'galled' to hear none other than Massimo Vignelli describe Helvetica as a 'Modernist Typeface'.

Maag is clearly a purist, and he knows his stuff, but it's all in the name of commerce, and one hopes it's mostly ironic.

Everything that makes its way into the mainstream is always a diluted form of some superior original. Maag admits this but insists that it shouldn't have happened to Typography.

But designers are still in love with Helvetica because it works so well. The shapes, lines and proportions come without the shackles of an inflection or a style.

Helvetica is ubiquitous and commercial, and that's why it's as happy in a car saleroom or on a pizza box as it is on the front cover of Vogue or in an experimental double-page spread about some exhibition at Tate Modern.

In fact, to continue with Maag's analogies, if Helvetica was an actor, it would use the Method - formally trained, hugely versatile, sometimes phoning it in, occasionally sensational, and always imbued with a reliable quality that does what you ask it to do.

So now we know. Helvetica is actually Johnny Depp. Or Vodka.