The History Behind Monotype’s Neue Haas Unica
Monotype announced the release of Neue Haas Unica, a contemporary and digital-friendly revival of the typeface Unica.
Created in 1980 by Team ’77 for the Haas Type Foundry, Unica represented a marriage of Helvetica and Univers. The typeface was meant to be less formal than Univers and less mannered than Helvetica—yet still as clean and versatile as both.
Unfortunately, the Unica faded from use in the late ’80s as the world transitioned to desktop publishing and phototypesetting became obsolete. While its parent typefaces prospered, Unica was not adapted for digital use, and the original phototypesetting files were lost—until now.
The font family was resurrected for the digital realm by Monotype’s Toshi Omagari, who gave it a facelift and added more weights, languages and letters.
I was fortunate enough to speak with Monotype’s Dan Rhatigan, who discovered the lost Unica phototypesetting files and is well-versed in its history.
Rhatigan already knew about Unica’s original release by the Swiss foundry Haas in 1980, and about the ambiguous rights that had played a part in limiting its prior adaptation for digital.
At that time, “Haas was partially controlled by another foundry called Stempel, which did a lot of production work for Haas and Linotype through the chain of commercial interest of a lot of type foundries in the 20th Century,” Rhatigan said. “Stempel controlled a lot of Haas, Haas controlled a lot of Stempel. And as these companies went out of business, the rights transferred to the surviving companies.”
The original version of Unica had also been digitized once before and released by the company Scangraphic, but because it was created without the original phototypesetting files, Scangraphic’s adaptation was limited.
Rhatigan had learned this history in online discussion threads about Unica, and he had scans of the original analysis documents that Team ’77 had prepared.
“I had been really impressed with the design process of the original appearance and its comparisons that showed how well it sat in between Helvetica and Univers,” he said. “But I had only seen a couple of examples of it ever in use, and what everyone pretty much understood was that there was a sort of murkiness about the rights because it had been prepared by a succession of companies that went out of business.”
However, when Rhatigan went to Monotype’s German offices—which were owned by Linotype before Monotype’s 2006 acquisition of the company—in search of material for Monotype’s 2012 Pencil to Pixel exhibition, he made a surprising discovery.
“I was going through their archives… and I discovered the original production materials from Unica,” Rhatigan said. He had found “the big original pattern drawings and the film negatives that had so much more clarity and detail and form than any of the scans of text sizes that I had seen.”
Even better, the rights to work with these files had transferred down to Monotype, meaning that the company was free to begin reviving and reworking it.
Omagari drew the typeface from scratch after looking through the original artwork.
“The artwork as it was drawn—the 10-inch high letters drawn in pencil on tracing paper, which the films were cut and negatives made from—had a lot of adjustments to deal with,” Rhatigan said. In particular, Omagari had to deal with “the way things tended to sort of round off and clog up with photographic reproduction.”
But Omagari met the challenge, sharpening the details of the original pattern drawings to capture what the final printed effect of the original design was intended to look like so that Unica would render clearly on screen.
“The act of designing this version of Unica was not to just slavishly recreate the original artwork that we found,” Rhatigan said, “but to really look deeply at what the design intention was of the original artwork and design it in a way that is crisper, because we wouldn’t expect it to go through so much distortion in reproduction now.”
Omagari was aided by Hamish Muir, one of the designers who worked on the typography journal Octavo in the early ‘90s. The original Unica had appeared throughout the eight issues of Octavo, so Muir and his partner Paul McNeil were happy to return to Unica with their agency MuirMcNeil
“We were lucky to work with someone who worked with the original very extensively, to put the new stuff through its paces,” Rhatigan said.
Omagari was particularly passionate about ensuring that the Neue Haas Unica font family included multilingual versions.
“Toshi has a real interest in drawing these other scripts,” Rhatigan said. “He really wanted to explore designing them all together rather than thinking of the additional languages as bolt-ons that he may not be involved in if they came later. He wanted them to be conceived of all at the same time and really put the investment in because we knew that the context was likely to be multilingual.”
Neue Haas Unica includes support for Pan-European languages, including Cyrillic and Greek. Omagari added several language-specific characters, including Dutch, Bulgarian, and Serbian letters, a new solution for the middle dot of Catalan, and a special apostrophe for French and Italian elisions. He also added ligatures, fractions, small caps and old style figures.
“I’m really happy that we’re finally able to bring this back into the world and add something new to it,” Rhatigan said. “It’s very important to us that it not just be blowing the dust off it, but that we’ve added something new to this design that had a real legacy already. I’m eager to see what designers today will make of it because they’ll really be able to pick up on this difference in tone and personality that it has from its two models, Helvetica and Univers.”
Read what renowned designers think of Neue Haas Helvetica at HOWDesign.com.
More About Neue Haas Unica
Neue Haas Unica may be licensed as either desktop fonts or Web fonts from MyFonts, Fonts.com, Linotype.com or FontShop.com. All subscribers to Fonts.com Web Fonts paid plans also have access to the new fonts as Web fonts, while Pro, Master and desktop add-on subscribers can also use the family as desktop fonts as part of their subscription.
More About Monotype
Monotype is a leading global provider of typefaces, technology and expertise that enable the best user experience and ensure brand integrity. Headquartered in Woburn, Mass., Monotype provides customers worldwide with typeface solutions for a broad range of creative applications and consumer devices. The company’s libraries and e-commerce sites are home to many of the most widely used typefaces – including the Helvetica®, Frutiger® and Univers® families – as well as the next generation of type designs. Further information is available at www.monotype.com. Follow Monotype on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
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