When Apple unveiled OS X Yosemite at this years WWDC, I was pleasantly surprised with the design changes. They were practical yet refreshing and more inline with iOS 7.
However, after spending some time with Yosemite there is one item that I have yet to warm up to: Helvetica Neue. Changing the system font is a tall order, especially one that has proven itself over its long span.
Well known typeface designer Tobias Frere-Jones claims:
Despite its grand reputation, Helvetica can’t do everything. It works well in big sizes, but it can be really weak in small sizes. Shapes like ‘C’ and ‘S’ curl back into themselves, leaving tight “apertures”–the channels of white between a letter’s interior and exterior. So each shape halts the eye again and again, rather than ushering it along the line. The lowercase ‘e,’ the most common letter in English and many other languages, takes an especially unobliging form. These and other letters can be a pixel away from being some other letter, and we’re left to deal with flickers of doubt as we read.
Lucida Grande presents open apertures, inviting the eye to move along sideways through the text. It has worked really well–for years, and for good reason. For any text, but particularly in interfaces, our eyes need typefaces that cooperate rather than resist. A super-sharp Retina Display might help, but the real issue is the human eye, and I haven’t heard of any upgrades on the way.
Even if Retina Displays help, they are really not common yet for Macs. Let’s take a look at Apple’s current (July 2014) Mac lineup:
Only one of the above five have an Apple Retina Display. Granted the Macbook Pro w/Retina Display is probably one of the best selling in the lineup. Still, Retina Macs are simply not pervasive. I suppose we could see new Retina Macbook Airs and iMacs, along with a new Retina Thunderbolt display this year and that would cover the whole line up, but that’s hoping for a lot.
It will take time for Helvetica in OS X to sink in and prove itself.