Haas Unica: The Legend Returns

posted in: Design | 0

The Holy Grail of fonts has emerged from the mists of myth and is ready to help you get your message across (while being much, much cooler than those other accounting firms)!

Designers and font aficionados are in ecstasy. A long lost, magnificent font that had all but disappeared – seemingly forever – has returned in full glory, refined in a way that makes it even more ideal for use by today’s print creators.

Haas Unica was first created in the late 1970s as an improved version of Helvetica. While Helvetica was massively popular then, as it is now, it came with certain limits. It conveyed modernism and smacked of serious business, and was embraced in advertising as well as countless businesses and publications. Helvetica looked great in the headlines and short, eye-catching messages it was designed for.

What it lacked was easy readability and grace in small spaces. Where space was limited or copy ran long, Helvetica wasn’t as attractive or as clear as designers would have preferred, nor was it ideal for the phototypesetting techniques of the time, having been built for earlier styles of hot metal typesetting.

These drawbacks inspired the Haas, the type foundry that had introduced Helvetica, to begin work on an improved variant that would blend its strengths with the best aspects of Univers font. After three years of careful, meticulous work, Team’77, the Swiss design crew, presented their new font – only to have Haas go out of business. At the same time, desktop publishing was exploding onto the scene as Macs and PCs became available to individual buyers. Unica got caught in the middle and virtually vanished into obscurity.

For decades, the new font languished in the dark, only whispered about by serious print devotees and alluded to on obscure typography forums. But in 2012, Dan Rhatigan, type director at typeface giant Monotype, bumped into the original Unica photographic film masters while rummaging in an old office owned by the company. He was thrilled by the discovery and after researching, was elated to find that Monotype did indeed possess the rights to Unica.

He enlisted the aid of Toshi Omagari, a designer at Monotype who recreated the letters based on the original design while tweaking for perfection in the digital print contexts of today. He also expanded the character set significantly and built an entire Unica font family. According to Monotype’s description of the process, “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.”

The result is Neue Haas Unica. It’s obviously Unica to the nuanced eye yet it is specifically drawn so as to be ideal in small, onscreen situations such as digital phones and tablets. “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,” explains Monotype.

Where other fonts like even skinny Helvetica, which Apple defaults to on the iPhone, lose readability in large blocks of text or at tiny sizes, Unica remains beautifully legible, graceful and sophisticated.

From the Monotype website: “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.”

Rhatigan describes the font in glowing terms, saying, “Unica is beautiful, crisp, and modern and rationalized, but it has that humanity in it.” Designers wax poetic when they speak of the revamped font, seemingly in full agreement with Rhatigan.

Unica may well become the standard font for small-screen usage. It offers good looks and easy readability, along with the special status it carries as mythical masterwork. Check it out if you’re looking for something awesome for your next tiny font, or if you really want to impress a typo-geek. You can’t miss.

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Sarah Warlick is responsible for making us and all of our clients sound professional and eloquent as the content director at bbr marketing. In this role, Sarah is in charge of ensuring that all copy is well-written, accurate and free of pesky typos before it heads out the door. Additionally, she is a prolific writer and a frequent contributor to bbr marketing’s blog sites. She spends a good deal of time writing copy for our clients and has a unique way of crawling into our clients’ heads to create ghostwritten copy that sounds as if it came directly from their pen.
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