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HISTORY OF THE DESIGNER Born in 1928 in Canton of Bern, Adrian Frutiger was a Swiss typeface designer who, even as a small child, invented scripts and handwritten typefaces in rebellion against the strict penmanship enforced in schools. Encouraged by his father and school teachers, he pursued an apprenticeship instead of pure art. At sixteen, Frutiger worked as a compositor for five years until his transfer to the school of applied arts in Zurich, where he concentrated in calligraphy. There, he created some of the first sketches that would become Univers.

Out of these three, Univers and Frutiger held the most impact. Univers proved to be a landmark typeface, kick starting future patterns of consistency within type families. In contrast to Univers’ immediate success, Frutiger started as an early failure, taken off sale. With much improvement, it became a typeface that was incredibly legible at both a distance and a small size. Frutiger was a hugely influential humanist typeface, even called by fellow designer Erik Speikermann “the best general typeface ever.”

Like many other type designers, Frutiger was influenced by the Bauhaus, although not in the way one might expect; having studied under the rigid sans-serif environment emphasized by the Swiss, Frutiger considered the design too restrictive, favoring a much more Roman style. This greatly influenced his approach of his three greatest type creations: Univers, Frutiger, and Avenir.

Frutiger went so far as to consider designing sans-serif typefaces “[his] main life’s work” because he relished the challenge that sans serifs created; mistakes in serif typefaces could be covered up, but sans-serifs required perfection. Consequently, Frutiger’s designs were carefully planned down to the stroke ratios and proportions, although his final creations seemed effortless in their success.


RRR Frutiger



HISTORY OF THE TYPEFACE Univers was one of the most successful and influential typefaces created in the second half of the twentieth century. Designed by Adrian Frutiger in 1954 and released by a type foundry named Deberny & Peignot in 1957, this sansserif typeface was one of the first to contain a consistent range of styles and weights. Compared to Frutiger and Avenir, which showcase the humanist and geometric classifications respectively, Univers exemplifies the neo-grotesque style of versatility and rationality. The origins of Univers lie in the early success of Futura. Frutiger despised the restrictive nature of geometric designs, as in Futura, and instead based his new typeface on a model of the earlier Akzidenz-Grotesk; thus, Univers was born, distinguishing itself from others like Helvetica and Folio by its refined yet comfortable curves as well as its use of a numerical weight classification system. Its unprecedented variety of weights allowed Univers to stand

out as one of the first sans-serif typefaces that could be used consistently for all text in a document and paved the way for many future models to be created around this idea of a unified “family.” Frutiger designed all of Univers’ weights to work well with each other so that one could have variety while maintaining the same design principles and aesthetics. This versatility meant that the typeface easily lent itself to everything from regular -text to headlines, and its popularity exploded. Corporations picked Univers for its clean lines, and companies like Apple and General Electric used it for decades. Similarly, its legibility meant that everything from the Toronto Subway and rapid transit to Disney Walt World’s road system use this typeface on their signage. In today’s typographic world, Univers is still used in brands such as eBay and Safelite and will likely continue to distinguish itself as simple yet elegant.


39 Univers

45 Univers

85 Univers

Thin Ultra Condensed


Extra Black Oblique

49 Univers

45 Univers

53 Univers

Light Ultra Condensed

Light Oblique


59 Univers

55 Univers

53 Univers

Ultra Condensed


Extended Oblique

47 Univers

55 Univers

63 Univers

Light Condensed


Bold Extended

47 Univers

65 Univers

63 Univers

Light Condensed Oblique


Bold Extended Oblique

57 Univers

65 Univers

73 Univers


Bold Oblique

Black Extended

57 Univers

75 Univers

73 Univers

Condensed Oblique


Black Extended Oblique

67 Univers

75 Univers

93 Univers

Bold Condensed

Black Oblique

Extra Black Extended

67 Univers

85 Univers

93 Univers

Bold Condensed Oblique

Extra Black

Extra Black Extended Oblique

Univers’ weights were designed together to create a sense of harmony.


cap height

Frutiger tittle





descender line



CHARACTERISTICS Univers made a name for itself in its use of a numerical categorization system for its huge variety of weights. Unlike previous sans-serif typefaces whose weights were too different to work well together, Univers formed a complementary family, thus increasing the artistic variation available to sans serif typesetting. By its very nature as a sans-serif typeface, Univers does not have serifs at the end of strokes. As a neo-grotesque typeface, it builds from earlier grotesque styles that emphasized solid, clean designs on a vertical axis. Univers also follows a common neo-grotesque design that involves the strokes curving around until their ends are flat on a horizontal or vertical plane.

Serifs are small lines attached to the ends of strokes in letters. Serifs are often used for body text, while sans-serifs are used in headlines.



A Minion Pro Regular with serifs highlighted.

A Univers Light


O q 7

Capital “O” in Univers Roman overlaid on a perfect circle.

To quote Frutiger, “an O represented by a perfect circle strikes us as shapeless and has a disturbing effect on the word as a whole.”

Univers avoids pure geometric form, appropriate for Frutiger’s dislike for rigid geometry; the typeface’s‘ strokes are the slightest bit calligraphic, adjusting widths and curves to lend each character a sense of movement and break up rigidity. In general, it has wide spacing with a low x-height, and modulated strokes create a greater sense of balance compared to other typefaces of the era.

The changes in stroke width are highlighted. The width starts to taper off as it enters the stem.


aa Futura Book

VS FUTURA Unlike other typefaces, Univers maintains legibility across all sizes through its horizontal terminals; Frutiger describes this challenge, stating that although he realized that slanted terminals were conventional, he believed that the “horizontal ending was a matter of consistency for him.” The effect of the horizontal terminal is especially clear when compared with Futura, which has wildly varying terminals between its regular and condensed fonts. This consistency works greatly in Univers’ favor in smaller sizes; Futura can create an elegant headline, but is cumbersome to read in body text. Univers’ low x-height and wider spacing allows for greater flow and legibility in large blocks of text.

The lowercase “t” is one of the only exceptions to Univers’ horizontal terminal rule.

Univers Light

An unusual difference is Futura’s use of a single-storey “a” and Univers’ two-storey “a.”

9 7


Top: Univers Condensed, Bold Extended Bottom: Futura Medium Condensed, Book

The different “S’s” depict the contrast between Univers’ consistent horizontal terminals and Futura’s shifting between vertical and diagonal terminals. Noticeably, Futura Book does not have consistent terminals even within “S.”

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Above: 8 pt Futura Book with 10.5 pt leading

Univers works better for body text than Futura because of Frutiger’s carefully planned optical adjustments.

In large chunks of text, Futura’s ascenders and descenders tend to create the appearance of uneven spacing between lines.

Q 8

Univers Light in black outline overlaid over Helvetica Light. In Univers, the tail of “Q” runs along the baseline.

Univers x-height

Helvetica x-height


tay tay

Left: Helvetica Bold Right: Univers Bold

The x-height of Univers is slightly smaller, and this difference contributes to the more comfortable spacing of text. This contrast is especially noticeable when comparing bold weights.

Highlighted are several differences between lowercase Helvetica and Univers. The terminal of Helvetica “t” is horizontal compared to Univers’ diagonal terminal. The counter of Helvetica “a” contains an upturned curve that the counter of Univers’ “a” does not have. Univers’ “y” also has a straight descender, unlike Helvetica.


minimum minimum

k k

K Univers Roman

Helvetica Regular

Top: Univers Roman Bottom: Helvetica Regular Univers is more tracked out and comfortable to read than Helvetica.

VS HELVETICA Because it was released in a group of other neo-grotesque sans-serif typefaces, many confuse Univers with others such as Helvetica. Compared to Helvetica’s timeless neutrality, Univers’ success lies in its ability to express a rational competence. Univers appears more tracked out with comfortable white space and also simplifies many of its letterforms, as evidenced by the lack of curves in the tail of its “a” or “y.”

Univers Bold in white outline overlaid over Helvetica Regular.

In Univers, the arms of the capital and lowercase “K” join at the stem. The “K” of Helvetica, on the other hand, joins one arm onto the other before reaching the stem.


tttt Gill Sans Regular

Gill Sans Italic

Univers Roman

Univers Oblique

Univers’ basic letter shapes remain consistent across weights, unlike Gill Sans.

VS GILL SANS Gill Sans was created before Univers popularized the idea of a unified typeface family, and comparing the two reveals exactly how revolutionary this concept was. Gill Sans followed the idea that letter shapes could be individually adjusted to match a given weight; thus even individual letters change dramatically between weights. However, Frutiger not only designed consistent weights for Univers, but he also made sure that the letters themselves remained regular. Gill Sans essentially represents what the ideal sans-serif typeface was before Univers transformed the typographic field.

Univers Roman in black outline overlaid over Gill Sans Regular. The apex of all Univers “M’s” reach the baseline, while Gill Sans varies across its weights.


gg aa Right: Univers Bold Below: Gill Sans Bold

In bold weights and above, Gill Sans’ tittles are oddly mismatched. The dots of “i” and “j” are much smaller than their parent strokes and Univers’ geometric precision. Note that Univers’ tittle is optically adjusted to be a hair wider than its parent stroke.


Left Column: Gill Sans Regular Right Column: Univers Roman

Gill Sans was influenced much more by traditional serif typefaces. Its two-storey “g” and “a” contain elements that are typically only used in serif typefaces, contrasting with Univers’ mathematical approach.



Adrian Frutiger’s early sketch of Univers.

SOURCES “Adrian Frutiger: Mr. Univers | The FontFeed.” RSS. Web. 31 Mar. 2016. Blackwell, Lewis, and Lewis Blackwell. 20th-century Type. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2004. Print. Coté, Kevin. “Akzidenz-Grotesk.” Graphic Design Liquor Store Me. 2010. 14 Apr. 2016. “Design Creatives.” : Universe vs Helvetica. Web. 14 Apr. 2016. Frutiger, Adrian, Philipp Stamm, and Heidrun Osterer. Adrian Frutiger Typefaces : The Complete Works. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2009. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). 31 Mar. 2016. Lawson, Alexander S. Anatomy of a Typeface. Boston: Godine, 1990. Print.

Lupton, Ellen. Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, and Students (2nd Edition). Princeton Architectural, 2010. Print. Majoor, Martin. “Eye Magazine.” Eye Magazine. Web. 14 Apr. 2016. “Reputations: Adrian Frutiger.” Eye Magazine. Web. 31 Mar. 2016. “Typeface: Univers.” Typeface: Univers. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

This book was designed by Alicia Chen for Typography I at Washington University in St. Louis in Spring 2016. Typefaces used include Univers, Futura, Helvetica, Gill Sans, and Myriad Pro.


Typography Book: Univers