The visual assault of Hellvetica is both obvious and subtle. The words look right, until they don’t. Letters run into one another as if pressed together in a crowded subway car. Staring at a sentence in Hellvetica is dizzying and disorienting, as if trying to read while drunk.“Sweet Jesus, this is unsettling,” someone wrote on Twitter. Another called it “a short-form horror story for graphic designers.”Like any good scary story, Hellvetica takes something familiar and innocuous and turns it into something to fear. Helvetica—as in, the original font—is among the most popular typefaces in the world. It has been found everywhere from the signage on the New York City Subway, to the branding for American Airlines and American Apparel, to the text on income tax forms. Until 2015, it was the default font across the iPhone operating system. NASA uses it extensively, both in space and on earth.
So when Helvetica gets distorted, it’s unsettling. Last year, developer Tim Holman used this concept to create Smelvetica, a Helvetica-inspired font “for your worst enemies.” The spaces between the letters, or kerning, was “specially altered, to be, well, bad, terrible, awful and painful,” Holman wrote on Github. (Smelvetica later received a takedown notice from Monotype, the company that owns the licensing rights to Helvetica. Monotype did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Hellvetica.)Similar to Smelvetica, Woodward says he only made one adjustment to the original font: the kerning. “It’s crazy how really small adjustments to each kerning of each character really screws up visually how nice it once was,” he says. “You look at it and you’re like, ‘My font is broken.’”