Neue Haas Unica

by Toshi Omagari: A subtle reworking of Helvetica

The original purpose behind the creation of the typeface Haas Unica was to provide a sympathetic update of Helvetica. But now the font designer Toshi Omagari has decided to make this typeface his own and has thus significantly supplemented and extended it.

In the late 1970s, at the same time at which hot metal typesetting was being replaced by phototypesetting, the Haas Type Foundry commissioned a group of specialists known as “Team ’77” to adapt Max Miedinger’s font Helvetica®. When drafting their updating proposals, Team ’77 not only took into account the characteristics of the new typesetting technique but also considered the features of other sans serif fonts, among which was the bestselling Univers® by Adrian Frutiger. They decided to christen the sensitively optimized result “Unica” – a combination of parts of the names of its prominent predecessors; Univers and Helvetica. The font was released in four weights, each with corresponding italic, for use in phototypesetting but was never actually subsequently digitalized.

The characters of Haas Unica are somewhat narrower than those of Helvetica so that the larger bowls, such as those of the “b” and “d”, appear more delicate and have a slightly more pleasing effect.

In general, the spacing of Haas Unica was increased to provide for improved kerning and thus enhance the legibility of the typeface in smaller point sizes. Major changes were made to the lowercase “a”, in that the curve of the upper bowl became rounder and its spur was eliminated. The form of the “k” was additionally modified to remove the offset leg so that both diagonals originate from the main stem. The outstroke of the uppercase “J” was also significantly curtailed.

In addition to many minor alterations, such as to the length of the horizontal bars of the “E”, “F” and “G” and to the angle of the tail of the “Q”, the leg of the “R” was extended and made more diagonal.

In the case of the numerals, the upper curve of the “2” was reduced and the lower loops of the “5” and “6” were correspondingly adapted. The sweep of the diagonal of the “7” was also reduced.

Several decades later, Toshi Omagari returned to the original sketches with the objective of reinvigorating this almost totally forgotten typeface. First, however, he needed to revise the drafts prepared by Team ’77 to adapt them for digital typesetting. So Omagari carefully adjusted the proportions of the glyphs, achieving a more uniform overall effect across all line weights and removed details that had become redundant for contemporary typefaces. It was also apparent from the old drafts that it had been the case that the original plan was to create more than the  four weights that were published. Omagari has added five additional styles, giving his Neue Haas Unica™ a total of nine weights, from Ultra Light to Extra Black.

He has also greatly extended the range of glyphs. Providing as it does typographic support for Central and European languages, Greek and Cyrillic texts, Neue Haas Unica is now ready to be used for major international projects. In addition, it has been supplied with small caps
and various sets of numerals

At first glance, Neue Haas Unica may appear to be very similar to Helvetica while none of the modifications can be said to be exactly revolutionary or incisive; in end effect, however, the many tiny changes have resulted in a subtle transformation of the character of the typeface. The discreet borrowings from Univers tone down to some extent the technological rigor and provide a touch more vitality and dynamism, giving Neue Haas Unica a warmer appearance.

With its resolute clarity and excellent typographic support, Neue Haas Unica is suitable for use in a wide range of new contexts. The light and elegant characters can be employed in the large point sizes to create, for example, titling and logos while the very bold styles come into their own where the typography needs to be powerful and expressive. The medium weights can be used anywhere, for setting block text and headlines.