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discovering univers


Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) , . ; : ? 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0


from the start In 1954 the French type foundry Deberny & Peignot wanted to add a linear sans serif type in several weights to the range of the Lumitype fonts. Adrian Frutiger, the foundry’s art director, suggested refraining from adapting an existing alphabet. He wanted to instead make a new font that would, above all, be suitable for the typesetting of longer texts — quite an exciting challenge for a sans-serif font at that time. In 1957, the family was released by Deberny & Piegnot, and afterwards, it was produced by Linotype. With its sturdy, clean forms Univers can facilitate an expression of cool elegance and rational competence.






one big family Different weights and variations within the type family are designated by the use of numbers rather than names, a system since adopted by Frutiger for other type designs. Frutiger envisioned a large family with multiple widths and weights that maintained a unified design idiom. However, the actual typeface names within Univers family include both number and letter suffixes. Currently, Univers type family consists of forty-four faces, with sixteen uniquely numbered weight, width, position combinations. Twenty fonts have oblique positions. Eight fonts support Central European character set. Eight support Cyrillic character set.







9 8 7 6 5

increasing stroke weight


Cap height / Ascender height



For the Univers type family the ascender height is the same as the cap height


Descender height



type anatomy 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.�


The ascender of the lowercase ‘t’ does not reach the cap height unlike the other ascenders.


Some letters have an overhang to appear as if all letters sit upon the same baseline.


cross bar


The letter ‘o’ was designed so that it was specifically not a perfect geometric circle. Instead the form is more of an ellipse both in the counterform and the bowl.

Qb Al

Just like the ‘o’, many of the letters are not perfectly geometrical. These details, such as the tail of the ‘Q’ and the stem of the ‘b’ give the typeface character.

However, many letters do use purely geometric forms. This helps to create an integrated sans serif typeface that has a strong and sophistocated character.


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

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.

Larger x-heights also provided greater legibility, addressing the concern that sans-serif type was more difficult to read than serif type.


Z a varied stroke 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. 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. Ascenders and descenders were shortened in comparison with existing typographic norms, and x-heights were increased. All of these innovations contributed to the overall harmony among letters, allowing for a smooth line flow.


Aa - Univers - Helvetica Neue

the opposition 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.


Above, Univers is compared to Helvetica Neue. At the same point size we can see the differences in the letter forms. Many of which are not apparent when looking at each font alone. To the right there is a chart that outlines some the key differences between Univers and the type families Gill Sans, Futura, and Helvetica Neue.

counter form of lowercase a


tail of capital Q

terminal of lowercase r

letter form of lowercase t

descender of lowercase y


Gill Sans


a ij Q r t y

a a ij ij Q Q r r t t y y

Helvetica Neue

a ij Q r t y 9

the creator Adrian Frutiger is one of the most important type designers to emerge since World ar 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.

10 #

“From all these experiences the most important thing I have learned is that

legibility and beauty

stand close together and that type design, in its restraint, should be only felt but not perceived by the reader.�


s W. Jaspert, The Encyclopaedia of Dorset: Blandford Press, 1983), 69-70.

references Alexander S. Lawson, Anatomy of a Typeface (Boston: D.R. Godine, 1990), 304. Jennifer Gibson. Revival of the Fittest: Digital Versions of Classic Typefaces (New York: RC Publications), 171. Ibid, 173. Linotype Library GmbH, Available at http:// html Accessed November 1, 2005

bibliography Blackwell, Lewis. 20th-Century Type. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004. (A&A: Z250.A2 B59 1998 and Vault) Kunz, Willi. Typography: Macro- and Microaesthetics. Sulgen: Verlag Niggli AG, 2000. (A&A: Z246 .K86 2000 and Vault)

This book was designed

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

by Kyle Newton in

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

Communication Design

December 2011 in the Typography Studio at

Revival of the Fittest: Digital Versions of

the Sam Fox School of

Classic Typefaces, essays by Carolyn Annand

Design & Visual Arts at

... [et al.]; edited by Philip B. Meggs and Roy

Washington University in

McKelvey, New York: RC Publications, 2000.

St. Louis.

(A&A: Z250.R45 2000)

This book is set in the

typefaces Univers,

and Helvtica Neue.


Fruitger, Gill Sans, Futura,

univers discovered


Discovering Univers