We are proud and honoured to release Unica77, created by Christian Mengelt of Team’77, the original designers of Haas Unica. Some see Unica as the pinnacle of modernist type design, arguably the most modern and the most Swiss typeface: the idea of a «pure medium»,
Only the registered members can see the download links/content. please Register to gain full access.
a «neutral carrier». Unica was the typeface that finally delivered what Helvetica had only promised, at a moment when, in a bizarre twist
of fate, no-one was looking. And released for a fading technology at
a time of transition, it was soon relegated to undeserved obscurity.
The tragic story of Haas Unica is one of technological progress, economic pressure, corporate powerplay, bad timing, and unfortunate coincidences. It’s the dark side of Helvetica’s bright success story.
In 1973, after 15 frustrating years of embargo on producing Helvetica for phototypesetting systems, Alfred Hoffmann of the Haas type foundry finally had enough. Helvetica had been secretly developed at Haas in the mid-1950s, against the will of their majority stakeholder; now they were denied a share of its global success. Hoffmann commissioned the prolific type designers André Gürtler, Christian Mengelt, and Erich Gschwind to investigate improving Helvetica for phototypesetting, and to propose a new typeface optimised for the dominant technology of the day. Their thorough analysis of four formally related typefaces (Akzidenz Grotesk, Univers, Neue Haas Grotesk and Helvetica), later published in the document «From Helvetica to Haas Unica», served as foundation for the synthesis of the brilliant new typeface, its name an amalgam of Univers and Helvetica.
But by the time Bobst (for their Eurocat system) and Linotype (for their Linotronic range) came out with Haas Unica, the days for phototype-setting were numbered. The personal computer was on its way to radically alter the design and printing professions, and in 1984 the Apple Macintosh promised a new dawn for type design. Haas Unica fell into the gap of this transitional period. It had taken six years from commissioning to foundry release, and when it came out, the world was ready to move on.
The shift from analogue to digital turned the industry upside down. In rapid succession, companies went bankrupt, were taken over, stripped of their assets, and sold down the river. Four years after launching Haas Unica, Haas’ business partner Stempel was sold to Linotype. Haas, one of the world’s oldest foundries with a back catalogue of sheer excellence, was taken over and terminated in 1989. Haas Unica disappeared, and no appeals to Linotype for a digital reissue bore any fruit. It remained buried, but it was not forgotten.
As avid users of type, we often wondered why Haas Unica wasn't available on the market. In 2004, Berlin-based designer and Lineto partner Stephan Müller came across a digital version in a Scangraphic specimen book. As it wasn’t available to buy, he sourced a black market copy, made minimal changes to it and discreetly used it for an artist book. This made waves and before long, Unica became a revered tool of choice for keen designers, among them Norm, Cornel Windlin, Laurent Benner, Jon Hares, and Gregor Huber & Ivan Sterzinger, to name but a few.
The years passed, and in 2012, there still was no legitimate version of Haas Unica around. Could they not see it, or did they just not care? In the meantime, we got in touch with Team’77 to express our gratitude and respect. And when Christian Mengelt told us the whole Unica saga, we were awestruck. Talking to him, we also realised that the version of Unica we had grown to appreciate as a quietly obedient servant was an unauthorised version, resolutely rejected by its original designers. According to Mengelt, its more monolinear drawing and its spacing and kerning bore little resemblance to the more subtle and refined original.
We decided right there and then to collaborate, in a mission to re-issue Unica in its true form and original state. Christian Mengelt dug out the original drawings and went to work, carefully redrawing each of the 8 original cuts. Maurice Göldner closely collaborated with Mengelt to adapt character sets, build features and extend the family with three new weights (Thin, Semibold, and Extra Black, coming soon). The rest is history, as they say.