Sunday, September 13, 2015

Adrian Frutiger, RIP

Adam Twardoch:

Frutiger had influenced the 20th century’s European and world typography like no other, with the possible exception of Hermann Zapf who died just three months earlier. Adrian Frutiger’s most famous typefaces (Univers, Frutiger, Avenir) embody “sophisticated modernism” in the best possible way: he managed to distill the essence of the Latin letter and reduce its formal language to the minimum, yet he never crossed the barrier of naive geometry or reduction for its own sake. Utility and legibility came always first. Frutiger’s alphabets were never forcibly individualistic. His trademark was the careful balancing of shapes and the understated beauty of his seemingly simple forms. For several decades, Adrian Frutiger remained a typographic innovator, never shying away from most difficult challenges, such as the world’s first comprehensively planned typeface family Univers, the Roissy/Frutiger family that forever changed the notion of signage and legibility, his OCR-B alphabet, or the ultra-compact yet highly readable Vectora.


Frutiger disliked the regimentation of Futura, and persuaded Peignot that the new sans-serif should be based on the realist (neo-grotesque) model. The 1896 face, Akzidenz Grotesk, is cited as the primary model. To maintain unity across the 21 variants, each weight and width, in roman and italic, was drawn and approved before any matrices were cut. In the Univers font, Frutiger introduced his two-digit numeration; the first digit (3 though 8) indicates the weight, “3” the lightest, “8” the heaviest. The second digit indicates the face-width and either roman or oblique. The response to Univers was immediate and positive; he claimed it became the model for his future typefaces: the slab serif Serifa (1967) and Glypha (1977) are based upon it.


In designing the typeface’s predecessor Roissy, Frutiger’s goal had been to create a sans-serif typeface with the rationality and cleanliness of Univers but the organic and proportional aspects of Gill Sans. Frutiger: “What was important, was total clarity – I would even call it nudity – an absence of any kind of artistic addition.”. Designing Frutiger as a print version of Roissy, this principle resulted in a distinctive and legible typeface. The letter properties originally suited to the needs of Charles de Gaulle: a modern appearance and legibility at various angles, sizes, and distances. Ascenders and descenders are very prominent, and apertures are wide to easily distinguish letters from one another.

MyFonts has some samples of his work. The eponymous Frutiger typeface has been a favorite of mine since college.

Update (2015-09-25): (via John Gruber):

He was one of the few typographers who worked with hot metal, photographic and digital typesetting during his long career.


In Switzerland, he is best known for ASTRA-Frutiger, which has been used for Swiss road signs since 2003. ASTRA-Frutiger was designed to give the eye a better hold and be clear and highly legible at a distance or using small text sizes.

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Thanks. Univers was the first font I ever bought, and became a favorite of mine and my family. Many many presentations over a decade or more in Persuasion and MORE were in Univers (particularly loved the condensed variants), and my mom wrote a book in it.

And of course Univers 57 Condensed Oblique was used as the keycap font on many years of Apple II and Mac keyboards (the Newton got Gill Sans).

Hah, and he did Avenir too, which is what I use for presentations today. Had no idea.

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