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U Univers: a realist, san-serif typeface designed by Adrian Frutiger in 1954

400 pt

“Think of it as a Swiss design with a French heart. As its weight increases, this personality becomes more apparent. The slight (but clearly visible) contrast in stroke weight, subtle angularity, and just the smallest hint of calligraphic brush stroke make Univers a typeface with a twinkle in its eye.� - Allan Haley

Adrian Frutiger Univers,1957

Adrian Frutiger is one of the most important type designers to emerge since World War II. He is the designer of many notable faces — the best known being the sans serifs Univers and Frutiger — and was one of the first designers to create type for film. Although Frutiger has said that all his types have Univers as their skeleton he felt, when he came to design a face for the Charles de Gaulle Airport at Roissy, that Univers seemed dated, with a 1960’s feel. His airport face, originally known as Roissy but renamed Frutiger for its issue to the trade by Mergenthaler Linotype in 1976, is a humanistic sans serif that has been compared to Gill and Johnston types.

Frutiger has created a broad range of typefaces including OCR-B a type for optical character recognition. His 1982 Breughel is an original face almost wholly comprised of curves and fitting into no existing type category. He has embraced new technology and used it to advantage in faces such as Centennial, a modern whose fine serifs are made possible by recent improvements in definition. More than ten years earlier his Iridium had demonstrated that the classical modern face was neither outdated nor necessarily caused legibility problems. Frutiger himself is skeptical about theories of legibility. He learned to read with gothic characters without difficulty and says legibility is solely a matter of habit.

Bb Looking at the bowl of the lowercase and capital B’s, the subtle line width variation becomes apparent.

j ?

In every character with a dot, called a tittle, it is wider than the stem.

abcdefghijklm nopqrstuvwxyz ABCDEFGJKLMN OPQRSTVWXYZ .!?(){}[]@#$%&*:; 55 roman, 25 pt

z t j 3

A characteristic element of Univers is the slanted apex of the lowercase t.

55 roman, 700 pt

By overlapping a Z and a T of the same point size, variation in stroke thickness becomes apparent.

Characteristics of the Typeface

To achieve the goal of an expansive, integrated type family, designers must be sensitive to the nuances of each letterform while simultaneously considering the overall system. In the case of Univers, this sophisticated approach to type family design is supported by a well– considered set of typographical characters. Inspired by his study of the limitations of existing sans serifs, Frutiger began with the assumption that “a purely geometric character is unacceptable in the long run, for the vertical ones; an O represented by a perfect circle strikes us as shapeless and has a disturbing effect on the word as a whole.” By overlapping a Z and a T of the same point size, variation in stroke thickness becomes apparent. Frutiger’s decision to use different stroke thicknesses for the horizontal, diagonals, and verticals was a

response to his assessment of visual discrepancies in other typefaces. It is also no coincidence that Frutiger’s interest in creating a functional and efficient type family followed well-documented scientific research done in the 1930s and ‘40s on the mechanics of eye movement during reading.

4 cap line


A Basic

x-line/ mean line

baseline bowl descender line

of Typography While Frutiger’s goal was to make letters that fit together so flawlessly that the assemblage formed a new satisfying gestalt, he also deemed it important that individual letterforms remain distinct from one another.” Built up from a geometric basis, the lines must play freely,” Frutiger wrote, “so that the individuals find their own expression and join together in a cohesive structure in word, line, and page.” To maintain the integrity of each letterform, careful optical adjustments were made, based on the current knowledge of the principles of perception. The c is smaller than the o because in open letters the white space achieves greater penetration into the form, thereby appearing larger. The n is slightly larger than the u because white entering a letterform from the top appears more active than white entering from the

bottom. Ascenders and descenders were shortened in comparison with existing typographic norms, and x-heights were increased. Larger x-heights also provided greater legibility, addressing the concern that sans serif type was more difficult to read than serif type. All of these innovations contributed to the overall harmony among letters, allowing for a smooth line flow.


47 light condensed oblique, 200 pt


counter descender

o cn u Here, you can see the N is minimally larger than the U. This is because white space is more apparent when entering from above.

55 roman, 300 pt

55 roman, 300 pt

By overlapping a C and O, you can see the relative thinness of the C. This is to contradict the optical illusion caused by the open white space of a C, versus the less apparent closed white space of an O.



u uu uuu uu uu u u uu u uu 39























uu uu uu uu 53








The Family The Univers type family consists of a whopping 44 typefaces of different weights and sizes. The original 25 sizes are depicted to the left. Univers was the first typeface Frutiger classified numerically, a system that he continued to utilize with future typeface families. The number used in a font is a combination of two numbers: the first defines weight and the second defines position and width.

extra black


Note how depending on the letter, the comparative spacing between the two typefaces changes.

univers 87 pt

helvetica neue 87 pt

futura 87 pt

Towards the end of the word the spacing of Univers and Helvetica begins to get more similar, and they eventually end at the same point.

Typeface Typeface Typeface Note the relative difference in x-height – or the differende in the height and the uppercase and lowercase letters – between the uppercase and lowercase in Univers versus a serif typeface, Garamond. Univers has an unusually small height difference.


Xx Xx univers 55 roman 127 pt

garamond MT regular 127 pt

Frutiger and Univers were both designed by Adrien Frutiger and are incredibly similar. The subtle differences are especially notable when comparing the two lowercase A’s.


& & The ampersands are a good example to demonstrate the weight difference between the two typefaces. Note the curve in the tail of the Univers ampersand versus the straight end of Futura’s.

frutiger 300 pt


Univers font was created almost simultaneously with other successful alphabets: Helvetica (1957) and Optima (1958). Whereas Helvetica, for example, had a general clarity and a modern, timeless and neutral effect without any conspicuous attributes (lending to its great success), Univers expressed a factual and cool elegance, a rational competence. Both Univers and Helvetica are considered neo-grotesque typefaces. Univers’ uniqueness is due to the fact that the design is lacking in any superfluous features. It is distinctive because of its simplicity.

futura 400 pt


G G 10

Univers posesses a squaring of strokes. Futura’s apex is pointed, while Univers is flat.

WW 110 pt

k The diagonal strokes of the lowercase (and uppercase) K meet at the stem.

267 pt

500 pt

The Univers capital G lacks a spur, which the Helvetica G has.

a 11

The two-storied lowercase A is one of the most distinctive letters. It has a straight back, no baseline curl, and a perpendicular connection at the top of the bowl.

400 pt


Identifying Characteristics

univers 55 roman 270 pt

Univers has more stroke modulation than Helvetica.

helvetica neue medium 270 pt

Blackwell, Lewis. 20th-Century Type. New


Haven: Yale University Press, 2004. (A&A: Z250.A2 B59 1998 and Vault)

Pincus W. Jaspert, The Encyclopaedia of Typefaces. (Poole, Dorset: Blandford Press,

Kunz, Willi. Typography: Macro- and Microaes-

1983), 69-70.

thetics. Sulgen: Verlag Niggli AG, 2000. (A&A: Z246 .K86 2000 and Vault)

Alexander S. Lawson, Anatomy of a Typeface (Boston: D.R. Godine, 1990), 304.

Carter, Sebastian. Twentieth Century Type Designers. Great Britain: Lund Humphries,

Jennifer Gibson. Revival of the Fittest: Digital

2002. (A&A: Z250 A2 C364 1995 and Vault)

Versions of Classic Typefaces (New York: RC Publications), 171.

Revival of the Fittest: Digital Versions of Classic Typefaces, essays by Carolyn Annand

Ibid, 173.

... [et al.]; edited by Linotype Library GmbH, Available at http:// Philip B. Meggs and Roy McKelvey, New York:

RC Publications, 2000. (A&A: Z250.R45 2000)

Accessed November 1, 2005

“Select Your Language.” Univers. N.p., n.d. Web. “Univers Std.” Adobe. N.p., n.d. Web. “Typeface: Univers.” Typeface: Univers. N.p., n.d. Web.



55 roman, 8 pt

The typeface Univers was not designed by Jacqueline Pifer, but this book was. For Typography 1 in the Spring 2014 semester at Washington University in St. Louis. Set in Univers and printed on 70 lb cream vellum.

u u u

45 light, 85 pt

55 roman, 85 pt

75 black, 85 pt

Univers Type Booklet  
Univers Type Booklet