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  • Adrian Frutiger

    makes an unlikely

    design star.

  • He is too serious and straight forward about his work to be capable of personality flashing. He listens to questions, answers them, and then stops speaking. But he enjoys the challenge of explanation, and has a realistic awareness of the powers of the few companies that now dominate type production, and their need to present the people behind the typefaces. By now, just reaching sixty, he has a secure and privileged niche: a wool-knitted exemption in a world of sharp suits.

  • He was born in Interlaken, speaking Swiss-German, and still feels slightly distant from formal German, as well as from his now everyday environment of French. One supposes that this distance may help him to see his material more clearly: and his concern has been very much with material. His father was hand-waver, who at first contemplated a patisserie apprenticeship for his son, then felt that was not quite appropriate. So Adrian Frutiger became a printing compositor’s apprentice, rounding this off with three years at the Zurich Kunstgewerbeschule.

    (Robin Kinroos "Unjustified texts")
  • The fact that Univers, Helvetica and Folio were released practically at the same time demonstrates that there was a real need for a modern sans serif face. Univers, unlike Helvetica and Folio, was conceived of and developed as a large family right from the beginning. All three typefaces have


    characters to traditional 19th century sans serif face.

    The closed shape of the curves, which is unlike other existing sans serifs, is a typical feature, as are the consistently balanced character widths and ascenders reduced to the cap height throughout the typeface. The x-height of Univers is halfway between that of Helvetica and Folio, although all three have rather tall x-heights. Helvetica regular is slightly heavier than Univers, whereas Folio is lighter. The fact that there is no Folio roman weight has to be taken into account. In the example shown Folio light is used. That Univers has something lively about it in spite of its static appearance is due to its stroke width contrast, which is highly pronounced. On the whole, Univers is the most balanced typeface of the three, due not only to its optimal black and white relationship, but also to its clear shapes free of excess elements, most clearly visible in G K a and y.

  • Folio, Mercator and Neue Haas Grotesk (which was taken over by D. Stempel AG in 1961 and named Helvetica) were released at the same time as Univers in 1957. Recta followed in 1958 and Permanent in 1962.

    All of these typefaces have horizontally cut curve ends in common.

    All of these typefaces have horizontally cut curve ends in common


    A Univers-like face called Mazima was released in East Germany in 1970, Univers was also one of the starting points for Haas Unica, a reconceived version of Helvetica in 1980. Helvetica was sold especially in North America (more widely than Univers). Helvetica retained an air of the reliable but ungainly work-horse while Univers aspired rather to the race-horse.

    (Adrian Frutiger "The Complete Works")
  • In the years of economic expansion – past the aftermath of the 1945 – the leading model of modern typography derived from Switzerland: the phenomenon that has become known simply as ‘Swiss typography’. For some explanation of the character and strengths of this typography, one may look to its beginnings in the years between the wars and to a salient factor in its development: Switzerland’s neutrality in the Second World War.

  • The fundamentally esthetic approach of Swiss typography, lying behind its claim to functional effectiveness, becomes evident enough when viewed historically. Its functional aspirations might be further doubted by pointing to the fact that several of its leading figures were also professional abstract artists (notably Bill, Lohse, Gerstner) and also to the abstract-art basis of Swiss graphic design education: thus one might imply that

    Swiss typography was simply art in the guise of useful design.

  • In the year of publication of Die neue Graphik – 1959 – another declaration of principles of Swiss typography appeared : a special number of Typographische Monatsblätter, with the general rubric of ‘Integrale Typographie’. This was also the title of Karl Gerstner’s extended contribution to the issue. In this text he reaffirmed the thesis of Max Bill in ‘Über Typograpfie’, that the new and valid typography was ‘functional or organic’, without the strain or quasi-decorative effects of the earlier modernist ‘elementary’ typography.

  • Other essential features of Swiss typography came in for attack: the refusal to indent first lines of paragraphs (another piece of formalism at the expense of meaning ); asymmetrically placed text in book design; DIN paper sizes (lacking in esthetic quality as well as unpractical 0; the limitation to a single size of type (leading to a failure to articulate the text); the predilection for large expanses of pure color or harsh white paper. Above all, Tschichold suggested, this new typography lacked grace (‘Anmut’). By this he meant not prettiness, let alone kitsch, but the quality that follows from work done with love and attention to the smallest details.

  • Univers represented an attempt to provide a sans serif that improved both on the nineteenth century grotesques and on the more geometrically designed sans serifs from between the wars (Futura, Erbar). Of the former category, Bethold Akzidenz Grotesk, available for hand-setting and line-composition machines, was then still the standard in German-speaking countries. The most distinct feature of


    Univers 21 weights


    was that

    it comprised a family of twenty-one variants.

  • This was conceived at the outset, and the typeface was designed within a program that was demonstrated by a matrix presentation, each variant bearing an index number. If all this gave off an air of scientificity, attractive to typographers interested in the possibilities of logically determined design, the considerable sophistication of Univers depended on old-fashioned drawing skills and patient small adjustments: it was an exemplary product of the Swiss craft tradition. Thought it anticipated the possibilities of computer-aided typeface design, this was done quite innocently.

  • Although Univers was designed initially for photocomposition, neither this technology in general, nor Lumitype in particular, had made much commercial impact in Europe at the time. An important boost was thus given to the typeface when the Monotype Corporation bought rights to adapt it for their machines.

  • In Switzerland, Emil Ruder led the way in a welcoming this development.

    First in the Neue Grafik, and then in a special issue of Tpographische Monatsblätter, on which the Monotype cutting made its first appearance.

  • Matrices became commerically available at the end of 1961.

  • It was clear to Ruder that with this typefaces, modernist typography at last had the sans serif that it had previously only been able to postulate. And thought the claim was made neither by Ruder, still less by Frutiger (who took care in his writings to resist the dogma), the name given to the typefaces suggested the grandest ambitions. It did certainly have a more realistic claim to being a ‘universal’ typeface than the alphabets attempted by Bayer, Scwitters and other between-the-wars modernists: not least because it was manufactured by companies with world-wide-markets. As to universal features of its design, the publicists explained that different languages set in the typeface produced blocks of text of the same color, because of the relatively small size of its capital letters. Thus, for example, French and German (with its high incidence of capitals) produced the same visual effect when set in parallel columns. This was among the features of the typeface of special attraction, in multilingual Switzerland, to typographers interested in the ‘Satzbild’ : the text-image. In due course, following the success of the typeface in the West, non-Latin equivalents of Univers were produced : Cyrillic and Japanese among them.

    (Robin Kinroos "Modern Typography")
  • Frutiger has said: ‘I believe that Univers-without exaggerating- is a classic typeface. But a classic typeface of the 1950s, as Futura is a classic typeface of the 1930s. There have always been classics that correspond to the spirit of the age. And therefore I stand completely behind Univers, but I also stand completely behind Helvetica. Univers was already a bit more nuanced, maybe a little closer to humanist typefaces, and naturally had the advantage that all of the heights were in agreement. But we have to be clear that every epoch creates its classics.’

    (Adrian Shaughnessy "Graphic design - A User's Manual")
  • The most significant Swiss contribution in France was Adrian Frutiger’s typeface Univers, designed specifically for filmsetting and available in a co-ordinated system of widths and weights. Like Gill Sans earlier Univers did much to help rationalize the typography of technical literature and timetabling. This became another typeface called Frutiger, almost and intermediate design between Univers and Gill. A quite different sans serif preceded Helvetica on the market. This was Univers, produced by the Deberny & Peignot foundry in Paris for its Lumitype filmsetting machine, but which soon became available on the metal typesetting systems. The designer of Univers was Adrian Frutiger. As a former student of Alfred Willimann and Walter Kach in Zurich, Frutiger allowed

    calligraphic traditions

    instructions correct lettering Alfred Wiliams


    to influence his typeface. The result was a more open line of type, less mechanical than Helvetica. The most surprising innovation of Univers, planned at the start, was its number of weights and widths – twenty-one in all, from light extra-condensed to extra bold extended.

    (Richard Hollis "Swiss Graphic Design")
  • Switzerland in the late 1940s: a country and a culture that had come through the battles neutral and intact, gaining a few years ‘start in the post-war economic race. That was the ground from which the phenomenon of ‘Swiss typography’ grew and, in the late 1950s, conquered the Western world. It was fertilized by a strong craft tradition that (unlike the pallid British equivalent) was able to accept technical innovation – and modern design. By this time Frutiger was on Christmas-card terms with Emil Ruder, head of typography at the Basel school and a chief of the movement. Never a paid-up subscriber to their dogmas, he was a respected, rather distant colleague, but one who was to supply Swiss typographers with a trump card.

  • At Zurich, as a student project, Frutiger made a set of wood-engravings showing the development of the Western letterforms. An amazingly assured piece of work, it won a government prize and was printed in an edition of 3,000. Frutiger sent copies to likely employers, eventually getting an invitation to join Deberny & Peignot in Paris, then still a flourishing typefoundry.

  • After some learning jobs, now more or less forgotten, Frutiger’s break came in 1954,

    when Deberny & Peignot started construction of Lumitype machines (called Photon in the USA), which used the then very new technology of photocomposition. As well as adapting classic faces for the machine, he designed two new ones. First, Meridien, a variation on traditional serifed themes, Then, on his own initiative, he began a


    first Monde sketch


    When drawing a typeface, one starts, typically, with a ‘m’ and ‘n’( to establish the verticals), then ‘o’, then combining these’d’. After that all you need are some diagonals. So, with these letters in front of him, Frutiger called it ‘Monde”. Then, trying for a less French-based name, he proposed ‘Univers’. The Monotype version of Univers, released in 1961, was especially important in ensuring the commercial success of the typeface. Since then, Frutiger’s career has unfolded with great solidity and consistency. In 1964, after leaving Deberny & Peignot, he started a consultancy with IBM, working especially on a version of Univers for the IBM Composer.

    (Robin Kinroos "Unjustified texts")
  • As the superimposition experiment suggests, one can better construe Frutiger’s career as showing a recurrent interest in one problem: His sans serif-Hamlet. First, and most brilliantly, as a young man (Univers). Next, Hamlet in strange costume (Serifa, which seems to be Univers with serifs). Then, showing greater maturity (Frutiger). And not there is Avenir: a reworking of the ‘constructivist’ sans serifs of the 1920s. We might take this as the older man’s wistful search for childhood: his own (he was born the year after Futura), and also that of the roman alphabet. He wanted, he says, something of the feeling of the ancient Greek inscriptions, of an even-thickness line scratched into stone. It is doubtful that anyone, not even the most wishful publicity officer, seriously thought of

  • Univers as a universal typeface,

    though it did have more realistic claims to this title than those of the between-the-wars experiments.

  • It was, first of all, a highly refined set of forms: dogmatic adherence to geometry was no longer tenable by the time that Adrian Frutiger started work on the commission in 1954. When it was new, Univers was seen as a break with the clumsy nineteenth –century ‘grotesque’ (its contemporary Helvetica, though a ‘new grotesque’, still suffered from this legacy), but its refinement had further dimensions. Designed from the outset as a family of related weights and variants, it seemed to provide answers to all problems. Different languages set in the typeface would give the same visual impression (thanks to the slight adjusting decrease in the size of its capital letters). And in due course non-Latin versions (including Cyrillic and Japanese) appeared. It thus seemed to be the typeface of that moment, when international agencies and multinational companied were still bathed in a glow of optimism. Univers was nowhere more at home than in the trilingual square-format, persil-white publications that emanated from Switzerland in the 1960s.

    (Robin Kinroos "Unjustified texts")
  • Adrian Frutiger adopted many of the

    the form-giving principles of the so called ‘Swiss Typography’.

    They were instrumental in shaping his canonical forms. He also fell back on his teacher’s knowledge and insight when it came to the optical rules governing his letter shapes, refining them gradually, and culminating in 1953’s Univers.

  • This harmonization of the proportions can also be found in the sans serifs of the 19th century, such as AkzidenzGrotesk. Walter Kach defined the symmetry of a letter on a grid to be a building principle. Stylistically these were static scripts with square, oval and triangle as their elementary forms. The stroke contrast in the scripts is more pronounced than in the inscriptional letters. As with the uncials-drawn with a shallow pen angle- the curves terminate the letter shape. The curve ending in Kach’s letters are therefore horizontally terminated, which was a novelty in contrast to the majority of the grotesques that existed at the time. It is a characteristic that can also be seen in Adrian Frutiger’s sans serif design, drawn in 1950-51, under Kach’s supervision. In 1953 at Deberny & Peignot in Paris, this design formed the basis for the Univers typeface concept. “In my head, I always had this idea of completeness. And that had already started forming under Kach. Kach had taught us how to think in terms of typeface families.

  • Late in the summer of 1952 Adrian Frutiger started his job as a type designer at Deberny &Peignot, which was at the time, one of the most respected type foundries in Europe. Meriedien, his first major text typeface, was designed between 1954 and 1957 after Initiales President, his first jobbing typeface and several type designs that were never completeted . Meridien was a latin style. Adrian Frutiger first became known internationally with the Univers typeface concept, which beginning in 1953, he had derived from his earlier design for a grotesque. For the first time, a typeface family had been developed at one time. Emil Ruder, the well-known typographer, teacher, and later director of the Allgemeine Gewerbeschule Basel( School of Applied Art) acted as mentor to Adrian Frutiger during this family’s creation. Frutiger had already met him during his further education, in the course of an exchange of ideas and critical appraisals of work and project. Ruder, became for Frutiger another

    mentor and father figure.

  • .”His influence on my work as type designer was decisive. At each one of our meetings, he was my point of reference, ”Frutiger has said. “In appreciation and criticism he was always constructive, encouraging, but always with an eye t what he termed classical. His goal was to always respect the deep humanity of the past, to refrain from overly personal touches, to always work towards the possibility of purity, which still retained something for the future. Emil Ruder knew this and was able to achieve it, and I’m eternally grateful to him for it. It gave me joy and satisfaction when, years after the meetings about my first designs, he brought out all of them in typographical creations in hot metal.”

  • Together with his students in the typography course at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Basel, Emil Ruder


    much to the success of Univers.

    Another contributor was Rudolf Hostettler, the editor of the magazine Typographische Monatsblatter, which was published by the printing union. The typeface concept was comprehensively covered in the Univers Special Edition 1/1961. Beginning with this edition, the Monotype version of Univers was adopted as the sole typeface for TM, and remained so for many years. Emil Ruder’s standard work, Typographie-ein Gestaltungslehrbuch/Typography-A Manual of Design, published in 1967 in three languages was also set using Univers. Frutiger wrote the foreword.

  • In the plain, objective, unembellished world of ‘Swiss Typography’, asymmetrically arranged and set in only a few, constrasting weights and point sizes, the elegance of Univers was especially noticeable.

  • Univers

    brought international fame to Adrian Frutiger. It showed that a great type designer was at work.

  • My first drafts of a sans serif date from this period. As a continuation of these studies I finished the first drawings for Univers in the winter in 1953 with the word ‘monde’ which I sent to Emil Ruder, for his opinion, He suggested minimally widening the characters. He also thought that the letter shapes should be oriented around classical-anitquas. We determined that “in the regular weight, applying the roman principle to the capitals would be desirable, that is narrow letters with two square shapes on top of one another (B E F P R S ) in contrast to the wide shapes that touch on being square ( O C G N H ). Looking to the planned narrow and expanded weights, all letters would have to be more or less evenly balanced”. So I came up with some designed based on Capitalis Monumentalis because even the M with its spread legs wasn’t consistent in the various degrees of width and boldness. The classical double loop shape of the g was rejected for similar reasons, it looks forced in narrow, small and italic weights.

  • During my first visit to Photon Inc. in the USA, who, after Meridien, had also taken on Univers, one of the people responsible for type came up to me and showed me a whole batch of films with Univers letters. He laid them one on top of each other on a light box and confronted me with lots of calculations. He was looking for a mathematical connection between boldness and width and couldn’t figure out how I’d calculated it. Some of his results coincidentally led to a connection with the Golden Section. When I told him that I had worked out the basic type grid by intuition, he was nonplussed, not to say disappointed.

  • I constructed Univers on a horizontal-vertical axis. That was my starting point. All the different weights of width and boldness came from this cross, even the terminals fit inside in.

    Univers has horizontal terminals at the ends of the curves like uncials. I was aware that in the regular weight a diagonal, classic curved end would have been nicer, but I wanted to make 21 weights and I couldn’t cut the narrow weights diagonally, it just didn’t look good. The horizontal ending was a matter of consistency for me, with respect to the whole font family. The t is an exception. The t arc ends vertically rather than horizontally. All letters with a tight radius have this ending, that’s f j r and t. The slanted cut of the t demonstrates my respect for writing with a pen. I never liked it horizontal, a t is not a cross. I didn’t do a slanted cut in the ampersand, because to me that character is composed of two capitals, E and T.

  • I found it interesting to define what

    regular weigh

    is. I laid a grid over the letters of classic typefaces and could later see exactly what relationship there was between both parts. I now had the means to apply this ratio to a sans serif typeface. Converted into a grid with units it gives a lowercase n with the stoke width of one unit a counter width of three units and one unit each for left and right side bearing. A whole letter is then five units wide, with a relation of five and a half units in height.

  • I determined the regular weight of Univers together with Emil Ruder. He was a great help to me. We looked at it in the reduction and discussed it for a long time, how the width should be in relation to height and white space. He’d written his corrections, like opening the counters, on card in the final artwork. That’s how Univers was made, after many constructive discussions with Emil Ruder. Univers 55 is my most successful ‘Medium’.

  • The choice of name was important commercially.

    It was talked about early on, when the project was first laid on the table and journalists started to write about it. By 1956 it couldn’t simply be called the ‘the new sans serif by Deberny & Peignot’ any longer. General director Stanislas Boyer, Charles and Remy Peignot and I chose the name. We started with my test word ‘monde’ – after Europe we were anxious to branch out further than Europe – I was sure that ‘monde’ wouldn’t work, because it would be understood as ‘Mond’ ( moon) in German. Boyer suggested ‘Galaxy’, and Remy came up with ‘Universal’. If we were talking large dimensions, then why not go all the way? So Charles Peignot tuned it into ‘Univers’, French for the universe.To represent the 21 weights of the Univers font family I used uppercase H and E and the world ‘monde’ in my diagram. I would show the regular weight first and put the four bold weights next to each other. At the bottom I put the narrower weights and right at the very bottom I added the wide ones. I quickly realized that the wide weights belonged at the top instead. Then I mirrored the whole diagram and tuned it 90 degrees, so that the bolds were at the bottom, the lights at the top and the wides on the left with the narrows on the right. That’s how the weights were numbered in ascending order.

  • As already mentioned in the

    ‘Caracteres Lumitype’

    Chapter, there was trouble in naming the weights.

    I had already introduced a numbering system for Lumitype fonts in order to make ordering easier. That served as the basis for the Univers numbering, the first digit stands for the stroke width and the last digit is width and slope. Uneven last digits are upright weights, evens are italics. Univers is constructed like a star. “55 was the starting point; its black-white relation is meant for book setting. Its neighbours to the left and right (all the fifties ) have exactly the same stroke thickness. What changes are the inner spaces and side-bearings, which result in the narrow and compressed weights.

  • Initially Univers was

    intended for Lumitype.

    Nevertheless I did my final artwork independently of photosetting methods, on Bristol board with opaque white pain. For me the only way was to deliver drawings ready for cutting and casting. At that time I already had colleagues to help with the final artwork. My best helper was Lucette Girard. I finished all the regular weights with her, based on the drawings stuck together, which Emil Ruder had reviewed. Ladislas Mandel tackled the wide weights. He introduced new working methods, scraperboards and stencils for drawing curves. Albert Boton, who was new in the studio, did the narrow weights, which were slightly easier to draw. Only once the final artwork was ready were the optical corrections for photosetting addressed. The regular weight was more or less okay, but the bold and compressed weights were pretty bad. I had to draw some awful caricatures, put serifs on and make huge cuts in the angles so that the type would look right when exposed. It was one heck of a ordeal!

  • Some designers for example the Zurich school- regard Univers alongside

    Bethold Akzidenz Grotesk

    Akzidenz Grotesk


    or Helvetica. They deem Univers too smooth and conformist. The same goes for former Basel students Karl Gerstner- who designed a system for Akzidenz Grotesk- and Woldgang Weigart. He writes “ Univers became an untouchable, almost sacred institution, while Akzidenz Grotesk lay forgotten in dusty old cases”.

  • The Best Univers

    remains the hot metal one cast by Deberny&Peignot.

    All the other adaptations are something of a sorry tale.

    Adaptations of Univers


    In 1959 the contract with Monotype was signed- a wise move for Peignot because the expansion of these machines was a world wide sensation. Stanely Morison made the decision for Monotype. He says that Univers was the least bad sans serif face. In their adverts advertisements they wrote,” Univers – a synthesis of Swiss thoroughness, French elegance and British precision in a pattern manufacture.” The version for machine setting from 1960, where I even had some influence, is already incoherent. There were technical difficulties. Transferring the 36 unit system of Lumitype t the 18 Monotype units didn’t work very well. The small f, the t, the capitals- they all seem squashed. I would discuss it for hours with John Dreyfus and the technicians. I could point out that they needed to be wider than the t, but nothing could be done about it, the character set in die case just wouldn’t allow it.

  • “When drawing classic fonts I tried to be as considerate as I could, and was keen to get the best out of the new technology. Nevertheless, the fonts don’t have any historical worth. It would be wrong to make comparisons, because it was only thirty years later that producing beautiful classic fonts was made possible again thanks to drawing software. I preferred to look ahead, the beauty of Univers was more important to me than that of classic fonts. I had a hard time making Univers too. To think of the sort of aberrations I had to produce in order to see a good result on Lumitype! V and W needed huge crotches in order to stay open. I nearly had to introduce serifs in order to prevent rounded-off corners instead of a sans serif the drafts were a bunch of misshapen sausages!”

  • The Univers versions for the various photo or lasersetting systems, be they Compugraphic, Linotype, Adobe or Bitstream are all based on the inferior Monotype matrices. The best Univers adaptation is by Gunter Gerhard Lange, initially for Diatype by Berthold. It comes very close to the original Univers, even though Lange allows himself some minimal liberties.

  • All Linotype Univers was for a long time a necessary evil,

    an orphan that nobody really cared for. I really suffered for it. Helvetica, however was preened and constantly improved, so becoming a top successful product.

  • Although the original Univers was consulted,

    Linotype Univers

    Linotype Univers digitalization


    diverges from the original in some important areas. The stroke widths of each weight are no longer mathematically equal. Linotype Univers has slightly less stroke width in the narrow weights than in the wide ones in order to guarantee an even colour. In the compressed weights the round letters no longer have a straight vertical stokes, which integrates them better into the character of the family. Moreover, the stroke width contrast in the boldest weights has been raised to further accentuate the roman character. To complete the extension, five totally new weights have been added. When comparing the foundry type original with two digital fonts Univers LT and Linotype Univers, it becomes apparent that the alterations are more noticeable the narrower or wider the weight. In 630 one cans see particularly well how Linotype Univers reverts to the original. This weight was clearly too narrow in UniversLT, aside from the fact that certain characters, like c, where insufficient in shape.

    (Adrian Frutiger "The Complete Works")