That’s not Helvetica

Osx design font

(Update, June 5: make sure you read this carefully, especially the Addendum.)

I’m still digesting the incredible amount of new things Apple introduced during yesterday’s WWDC 2014 keynote. I like a lot of what I saw, mind you, but I was disappointed by Apple’s decision to use Helvetica Neue as system font in OS X Yosemite. Despite Apple’s claims that now OS X is going to sport a ‘more elegant’ typeface system-wide, I maintain that Helvetica Neue is a poor choice, because, above all, it doesn’t have a great legibility at smaller sizes. (If you want a more informed opinion, here’s a brief post by Erik Spiekermann from two years ago.) 

However something caught my eye while perusing the pictures of OS X Yosemite on Apple’s site. Go to the Design page and scroll down to the section titled Enjoy the view in all your favourite apps. You can flip through various screenshots featuring different system apps. Among these images, there’s this one of the Finder:

Yosemite Finder

I took a closer look at the menubar:

Osx design view finder nh

And I noticed that, while the ‘Finder’ menu is definitely Helvetica, the other menu items (File, Edit, View, Go, Window, Help) are not set in Helvetica. It looks more like a refined version of Lucida Grande. Compare the image above with the other Finder screenshot at the beginning, and you’ll see it’s not the same font (just look at the G in ‘Go’):

Osx design view finder comparison

Now, I don’t want to read too much into this: the Finder screenshot with the different font is the only instance it appears on Apple’s site. It may simply be an image that was prepared before or taken at an earlier development stage of OS X. It may very well be just a little oversight. Still, a part of me hopes that this is the Apple Sans typeface the company is designing in-house for future use. To me it looks way better than Helvetica.

Addendum

Judging by other people’s suggestions and reactions to this post, there has been a bit of a misunderstanding here. I’m not saying that the system font in OS X Yosemite isn’t Helvetica. It’s indeed a custom Helvetica variant made by Apple to make it more readable (I’ve been told over on App.net that Yosemite also dynamically tweaks kerning and spacing).

What I’m saying that’s not Helvetica is the font I’ve spotted in one of the OS X Yosemite screenshots Apple has featured on the OS X Yosemite preview Design page. (See again above.) 

In other words:

Osx design view finder comparison ann

Both those Finder menubars come from OS X Yosemite screenshots on Apple’s site, but show two different fonts. I’m curious about the one that doesn’t look like the ‘custom Helvetica’ that appears in all the other screenshots. That font which is not Helvetica. I hope this clear things up a bit more as to what I mean.

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!