Neutraface is the new Helvetica

Anybody who knows me well will know that I have a major soft spot for House Industries, designers and purveyors of some of the finest typefaces and associated graphic-designery merchandise out there.

Back in 2002, House released Christian Schwartz’s Neutraface, a family of fonts based on the architectural lettering specified by Richard Neutra in his gorgeous, modern architectural designs. It was epic. The type appeals to me on so many levels. In fact, architectural lettering was one of the factors most exciting to me about moving to Los Angeles several years ago. I even put together a small “photo essay” (I’m so pretentious) of local apartment building lettering examples.

“I am surprised that Neutraface has become so ubiquitous. I can’t leave my apartment without running into an ad for a new condo development using it, or a restaurant, or a new cookbook.”

—Christian Schwartz, Neutraface’s designer

So let’s get one thing straight—I’m not knocking Neutraface.

But it occurred to me yesterday when looking at my junk mail (the physical kind that arrives in your mail box) that Neutraface is now everywhere. It’s an epidemic. It’s managed to find its way into all sorts of unlikely and inappropriate places—in my opinion, it’s somehow jumped the gap from highbrow to lowbrow better than any of House’s fonts that were intended to be lowbrow, like their Street Van, bowling-inspired, and punk rock Flyer Fonts, among others. I find myself pointing and saying “there’s Neutraface!” several times a day to whomever may be beside me. I’ve even trained Don, my future father-in-law and three steps ahead account manager, to spot it on his own—and he sees it all over the place.

I’m tempted to put together a comprehensive exhibit of examples, both bad and good, but I do have projects to work on, so here’s a short list of the first few real-world examples I could think of offhand:

  • All of the environmental signage at the new section of the Del Amo Fashion Center here in Torrance, California (1, 2, 3)*
  • Wendy’s website/advertising (mostly uses the italic face, but plenty of other weights too; see the embedded video for further detail)

  • The identity for 007 film The Quantum of Solace

As I say, it’s not always a bad thing to use Neutraface. There are plenty of great examples of Neutraface in use on House’s website. I just feel like it’s becoming a bit indiscriminately used, like Helvetica. I wouldn’t even be surprised if the film Helvetica is partially responsible for Neutra’s more recent propagation—once you see just how populist a typeface has become, it’s almost embarassing to perpetuate it. But such is the case with all trends. When the bubble bursts, and enough time passes, and everybody else has moved on, it will again be cool to use Neutraface. And I’ll be waiting in vain for the moment to arrive.

Am I just living in a Southern California Neutraface bubble, or are you also seeing it often in your neck of the woods? Feel free to comment.

*Thank you to the unwitting Flickr folks I’ve quoted for taking these photos.

Tags: , , , , , ,

15 Responses to “Neutraface is the new Helvetica”

  1. Mark September 10, 2009 at 10:43 am #

    What are some of your favourite fonts right now?

  2. Josh Korwin September 10, 2009 at 10:50 am #

    Wow, good question. I’m all over the map, really! Depends on the situation and usage, I guess. Don’t get me wrong, though, I love Neutraface. It’s just everywhere. But lately I’m exploring a lot of more ’60s-ish stuff; been heavily inspired by the Photo-Lettering, Inc. Alphabet Thesaurus (see Recommended Reading on the sidebar), and the work of Erik Nitsche. I’ve posted about both of those elsewhere on this blog. I love Sudtipos’ Bluemlein scripts. And I think my favorites in general are sturdy-looking, hard-working Gothics. They’re so timeless and everyday, but they can be beautiful in a utilitarian way.

    As I say, all over the map.

  3. Abdullah February 14, 2011 at 3:06 am #

    I recently used it for a company’s identity.

  4. zach April 30, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    So I’m in Utah and they’re usually a little late on the take from the coasts, but for what It’s worth, in the last 6 months. It’s everywhere here: some national stuff like village inn, but also like billboards for the local mall, candles, flyers, etc. Etc. Etc. I love the front and It’s getting pretty played out…It’s making me sad inside.

  5. dusk187 May 15, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    same here in berlin. seems to be used on every second poster. kind of sad.

  6. Nate June 21, 2012 at 12:46 am #

    My church started using Neutraface as our main font, and it was the first time I had seen, but now it really is everywhere. I hate it because i feel like it detracts from our branding (we DID have it first). Much like you say here, i see it multiple times a day. Strip malls, and restaurants are the main places i have seen it used. I can speak for Indiana and Washington – it is everywhere.

  7. Catbus January 1, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    I adopted Neutraface No. 2 as an alternative to Futura because that typeface had become so ubiquitous. Joke was on me, I guess.

  8. Fletch February 19, 2014 at 10:55 pm #

    It’s EVERYWHERE here in New Zealand at the moment. In TV stations idents, every second TV ad, movie posters. It’s annoying because I like it so much and wish other people wouldn’t use it so much 🙂

    Even the newer seasons of Downton Abbey are using it on their DVD covers.


  1. Marineland | three steps ahead — perspectives - March 29, 2009

    […] Speaking of Helvetica—I was at the Point Vicente lighthouse yesterday and stumbled across an awe-inspiring, dilapidated sign/map that used to belong to Marineland of the Pacific, a sort of 1950s Sea World that used to inhabit the Palos Verdes peninsula. The park was apparently designed by William L. Pereira, a very notable modernist architect who later went on to design the Transamerica building in San Francisco, and was one of the designers responsible for the ridiculously cool, “Googie” style “Theme Building” at LAX airport. It’s difficult to be sure exactly when this sign panel was created, since Marineland was open from 1954 to 1987. But with Helvetica being born (as Die Neue Haas Grotesk) in 1957, the illustration style, and the level of decay, I’d imagine that this was probably crafted during the typeface’s early 1960s heyday. [View with PicLens] […]

  2. Ode to Neutraface / Lady Gaga (Just for fun) User Experience (UX) - Expert heuristic evaluations, website coaching, & usability testing - Normal Modes Normal Modes - December 2, 2009

    […] Neutraface is the new Helvetica (Three Steps Ahead) […]

  3. Am I right, or am I right… | three steps ahead — perspectives - December 2, 2009

    […] Nevermind the comedians’ unenlightened pronunciation1; it certainly proves that Neutraface has ascended to a cult status almost comparable to that of Helvetica. […]

  4. The Ludlow: Typographic Influence, 1931–1962 | three steps ahead — perspectives - November 15, 2011

    […] Responding to the need for a versatile geometric sans serif family with a true italic, House Industries published Christian Schwartz’s Neutraface in 2002. Neutraface’s italic, while unique, was influenced in large part by Tempo’s italic. Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ Verlag, published in 2006, seems to have been created in part due to the incredible commercial success of Neutraface (which I’ve commented on earlier). […]

  5. Even if it’s bold italic | WilliamsWrite - June 10, 2012

    […] read recently that “Neutraface is the new Helvetica“, meaning that it’s becoming ubiquitous, standard, overused, clichéd. As a relative […]

  6. Font-tastic | LunarLincoln - July 4, 2013

    […] similar to Pokemon, I feel, I’ve “gotta collect them all”. 52 body styles of Neutra? Bring it on! 100 different “handwriting fonts”? Why not? Fonts based purely on […]

  7. LunarLincolnFont-tastic - LunarLincoln - October 2, 2014

    […] similar to Pokemon, I feel, I’ve “gotta collect them all”. 52 body styles of Neutra? Bring it on! 100 different “handwriting fonts”? Why not? Fonts based purely on […]

Leave a Reply