Here at Helveticahaus, we spend a lot of time talking about – you guessed it – Helvetica. But today, we’re going to take a step back and look at a font whose form and philosophy greatly inspired our Miedinger and Hoffman: Akzidenz Grotesk.
So, sans serif typefaces are pretty common. Look around this site. I dare you to find a single serif. That probably has something to do with our mission statement, but the point stands that the sans serif is here to stay. But it didn’t used to be like that. The sans serif typeface wasn’t invented until the late 1800s, and even then their production was erratic and often incomplete. They reserved mainly for headlines and large signage, typesetters preferring to stick to seriffed typefaces for body copy.
And then there came Akzidenz Grotesk. Akzidenz meaning “display face” and Grotesk meaning “sans-serif” (auf Deutsch, natürlich). Designed in 1896 and published by Berthold Type Foundry, Akzidenz Grotesk was the first serious sans serif typeface, and thought it was originally designed as a display face, its use soon extended to body copy because of its readable lowercase and versatile weights. Favored for its simplicity and loved for its ability to read as both modern and expressive, Akzidenz Grotesk soon grew in popularity and usage.
When Eduard Hoffman decided to create a new typeface in 1950 (spoiler: it was Helvetica), sans serif typefaces had reached a new high in popularity. By this time, Akzidenz Grotesk had become the most popular sans serif typeface in Switzerland. So when Hoffman and his chosen typeface designer Max Miedinger sat down to build a new typeface, Akzidenz was a huge influence. In fact, Miedinger and Hoffman compare Neue Haas to Akzidenz constantly throughout their design process. Looking at the above comparison of the two fonts, the influence is clear. There are a few stylistic differences, but the fundamental philosophies of the two fonts clearly align.
And this is what I find so cool about Akzidenz Grotesk. While Helvetica improved upon an existing trend in typeface design, Akzidenz revolutionized it. It bridged the gap between serifs of the 1800s and the resulting sans serif explosion of the early/mid 1900s. Akzidenz Grotesk truly changed the way we design type. And that’s pretty cool.