At this year’s WWDC, Apple sparked controversy when they announced that OSX Yosemite would ditch Lucida Grande in favor of iOS 7’s current typeface of choice, Helvetica Neue. Though some folks are quick to point to things like Erik Spiekermann’s bluntly titled “Helvetica Sucks,” which ostensibly proves how poorly Helvetica Neue reads at small point sizes, the choice to make Helvetica Neue the standard across both OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 makes a lot of sense to me.
With iOS 7, Helvetica Neue become Apple’s most recent system-wide typographic change, and losing Lucida Grande for this latest iteration of OS X continues a pattern of incremental forward motion. John Gruber mentioned on his blog leading up to the WWDC that Apple has been working on Apple Sans, a proprietary sans-serif typeface, for some time. If that is indeed the case, it would be just as easy to roll out a proprietary custom typeface now—but it’s likely that Apple Sans is still in the works. And although it may seem like a missed opportunity, it’s also possible that bringing the two operating systems in sync with Helvetica Neue now will help smooth the introduction of their custom typeface ahead of this fall’s consumer release date.
I’ve personally never had any issues with reading Helvetica Neue at smaller point sizes, but I certainly recognize that my experience doesn’t speak for everyone. Going forward, Apple’s updated retina display will help improve legibility (both for Helvetica Neue, and generally speaking) due to the almost doubled pixel density and overall sharpened rendering of content.
That said, it’s still tough to argue against the fact that Helvetica Neue is a robust, versatile typeface that fits Apple’s aesthetic very well.
As it relates to both design and development, typography is all about hierarchy, order and clarity. Helvetica Neue is an updated version of Max Miedinger’s 1957 original Helvetica that carries a modern, clean feel, and is very much in line with Apple’s minimalist brand. The family includes extensive variety, meaning there are many options for establishing clear hierarchy using various weights, styles or combinations of the two.
And structurally speaking, Helvetica Neue fits well in the space used by Lucida Grande at the same point size. This is an important consideration—it ensures that any system-level typography update won’t dramatically impact existing OS X user interfaces.
Using Helvetica Neue in both iOS 7 and OS X makes the overall user experience more consistent, aligning with Yosemite’s push towards more seamless integration of workflows between phone, tablet and laptop/desktop interfaces. Users will be more comfortable and familiar with the UI, and as a result may be more inclined to operate wholly within the Apple ecosystem as they move through their daily lives.