Adrian Frutiger at 15 years old
Adrian Frutiger in his studio
Adrian Frutiger in his studio, later in life
The designer I chose to investigate further, is Adrian
Frutiger. When looking through the sample work provided in the module, I was
immediately attracted to the colourful boxes all containing the word Univers
(Figure 31, page 16 of the module). The connection that I felt with this work
was one related to logic, order and geometry. The bright colours lifted my
spirit and made me want to look again. I have not come across this image or
designer before. The work was not therefore recognisable to me, but yes, I
definitely wanted to investigate the work and learn more about the designer who
The Univers grid that first attracted me to the work of
Having come from an accounting background, logic, method and
order are important concepts to me. Seeing how this merges with creativity and
design is an area which I would like to explore further. Also, I have for a
long time been excited at the concept of choosing different fonts for various
projects. Delving deeper into the world of typography is a thrilling prospect
for this accountant soon to be designer!
Frutiger has created some of the most well known and well
used fonts in the world. There would not be many people around who haven’t
encountered a Frutiger typeface, whether in a magazine, at an airport, on a
road sign or even in an app. As we will
see, the beauty of Frutiger’s work is that it is almost not noticeable! He
worked hard during his life as a type designer to create works that helped the
user to understand a message without being overwhelmed by its design.
Adrian Frutiger was born in Unterseen, Switzerland in May 1928.
He studied in Switzerland but then moved to France where he spent most of his
working life, before returning to Switzerland. Frutiger died there in September
2015, at the age of 87.
Frutiger trained as a typesetter in Interlaken. From 1949 to
1951 he studied calligraphy and type design at the Kunstgewerbeschule Zurich (a
school for vocational/applied arts). At that school, he was taught by Walter Käch,
lithographer and graphic designer. He was able to use the skills that he
learned in his typesetting apprenticeship, and during his study in Zurich to
create the many typefaces for which he is now famous.
In 1952, Adrian Frutiger moved to Paris where he spent many
years. His first work there was as a font designer at the Deberny & Peignot
font foundry. This was where he created many lead typefaces including Président,
Phoebus, Ondine and Méridien. The first typeface that Frutiger created for photo
typesetting, was Egyptienne.
The font for which Frutiger is most well-known, and the one
which I was initially attracted to, is Univers. This was ground breaking at the
time. Instead of the ‘usual’ few sets of typefaces (regular, bold and italic –
which was the standard), Frutiger presented Univers in 1954 with no less than
21 sets! This means that there was the expected regular, bold and italic, but
also a myriad of other weights and styles. This has come to be known a
super-family of fonts because of the large number of styles included.
Early drawings of Univers by Adrian Frutiger
The font was presented as a grid with a numbering system
where each font was given a two-digit number. The first indicated the weight of
the characters, and the second digit indicated the width. This was
revolutionary! The first time a type designer had done this. And this was what
initially drew my attention to Univers. Having a mathematically designed
framework for this typeface appeals to the accountant in me!
The dominant design style at the time that Frutiger created
Univers, was the International Typographic Style (or Swiss Style). This design
methodology featured a number of characteristics: the use of mathematical grids
for design layouts, the use of predominantly sans-serif typefaces, asymmetrical
layouts and use of photography and typography as the key design elements.
Frutiger’s Univers was perfect for the International
Typographic Style. The large number of variations meant that a designer could
easily create a design using only one font, but in various weights and styles.
Univers’s lack of any distracting features meant that it enhanced the
readability, and legibility of designs that used it.
Univers was only one of Frutiger’s most famous works
however. His other most well-known typefaces include one named after him,
Frutiger, Glypha, Vectora and Avenir.
The Frutiger font family
Frutiger’s working life spanned many decades. His first
typefaces were completed during the 1950s. The 1950s were a time of great
change in the world generally, but also in the design world. The second world
war was over, and people were willing to step out and try new things. The International
Typographic Style movement was in full swing, and the need for stylish, modern
sans-serif fonts was ever apparent. Frutiger and many others were a part of
As the years progressed, the world became a smaller place,
in the sense that there was increased trade and increased communication between
different parts of the world. It became important that communication was clear
and effective. Having fonts that achieved that became a priority for Adrian
He is known for his typefaces being on signage in various
airports and roads around the world. He did much research in order to create
fonts that would be easy to read from a distance and on all sorts of angles –
as would happen when moving quickly through an airport, or travelling at speed
on a road.
The Frutiger typeface used on airport signage at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris
Univers in use on a street sign in London
Fruitiger’s last designs were completed in the 2000s. He
lived through exciting and varied times. His early works as well as his later
works are revered by those in the design community. His fonts have stood the
test of time. They are just as favoured today as when they were first created.
This success points to Frutiger’s design philosophy.
Adrian Frutiger’s design philosophy is, in his own words,
“the most important thing I have learned is that legibility and beauty stand
close together and that type design, in its restraint, should only be felt but
not perceived by the reader”.
To me, the words balance, order, simplicity, legibility,
objectivity and clarity define Frutiger’s design philosophy. He himself famously said “The whole point with
type is for you not to be aware is is there” …….
Type is a means of communicating with the reader without
being too ‘obvious’. Frutiger was concerned with how a typeface worked, more
than with its appearance. This is not to say that he didn’t care how it looked,
but its usefulness in achieving its aim was his primary concern. When a person
doesn’t notice a typeface, it “is the greatest compliment a type designer and a
typographer can receive”………
Frutiger was most definitely a part of the International
Typographic Style design movement. He didn’t start it, it was well under way
when he started developing typefaces, but he was a major contributor as
mentioned earlier. This style of design originated in Switzerland during the
1940s and was the foundation of much of the development in graphic design in
the decades to come.
The contemporary design scene I believe has its roots in the
International Typographic Style. Today’s Flat Style graphic design displays a
clean, minimalist approach to design. Avenir, one of Frutiger’s iconic works,
has been used by Apple in their Apple Maps application. This is clear evidence
of his works fitting in quite nicely with current trends and contemporary
It is important to note that Adrian Frutiger was not the
only type designer creating works to fit the design developments of his time.
One of the world’s most well-known fonts is Helvetica, created by one of
Frutiger’s contemporaries. There were many people then that were travelling
down a similar design road, as there are today.
A type designer that I believe may have been inspired by
Adrian Frutiger is Rene Bieder with his design of Galano Grotesque. This
sans-serif font has a modern clean look, along the same lines as Univers and
Frutiger. Bieder has produced a font that can be used for both text and
display. He has also produced a large family of styles and sizes, in the same
way that Frutiger shocked the typography world with the Univers family of
Galano Grotesque font
Svet Simov’s Uni Sans also has a modern look with many varieties
of weight and width etc.
Samples of Uni Sans, demonstrating some of the many styles
and variations available
Hannes von Dohren, the creator of Brandon Grotesque has
designed an attractive, clean
A sample of Brandon Grotesque
The Elementar font, created by Gustavo Ferreira, is a font
super-family along the same lines as Univers. Elementar however, has been
designed for digital screens. It’s ‘look’ is very different to any of
Frutiger’s fonts, but the concept of having a large variety of styles is what I
think makes them comparable. Elementar is a family of thousands of fonts in
different sizes, styles, widths and weights. I think Ferreira would have been
influenced, if not inspired by the work of Frutiger.
The Elementar font system displayed ‘on-screen’
Adrian Frutiger had a long and fruitful career in type
design. His typefaces have been very successful, and have I believe achieved
the purpose for which he created them. His designs are an inspiration to me,
and I will now always be ‘on the lookout’ for a Frutiger font. I will also
endeavour to apply some of his design philosophies in my own work. He has been
inspirational to many designers, including me, and was well loved as the many
tributes to him on his death have shown.
“Elementar” Typotheque December 10, 2017
“Adrian Frutiger” Design is History December 10, 2017
Emily Potts “9 Type Designers to Watch” PRINT Magazine
December 10, 2017
Amber Leigh Turner “The history of flat design: How efficiency and
minimalism turned the digital world flat” The Next Web December 9,
Padraig Cahill “Graphic Design Styles” Online Design Teacher
December 9, 2017
Jürgen Siebert “Adrian Frutiger 1928-2015” FontShop December
Alex Bigman “What exactly is Swiss Design, anyway?” 99
Designs December 9, 2017
“Adrian Frutiger made the world of typography a better
place” Typeroom December 10, 2017
“Adrian Frutiger” History of Graphic Design December 10,
Philippa Campsie “Designer of the invisible”
Parisian Fields December 10, 2017
Rob Alderson “Adrian Frutiger Obituary” De Zeen December 9,
“Adrian Frutiger” Wikipedia December 1, 2017
Yvonne Schwemer-Scheddin “Reputations: Adrian Frutiger” Eye
Magazine December 8, 2017
Walter Greisner “Adrian
Frutiger Remembered” Linotype December 7, 2017
Sara Mazzoni “Adrian Frutiger” Shillington December 5, 2017
Catherine McDermott. Modern Design. South Australia: Cameron
Ellen Lupton. Thinking with Type. New York: Princeton
Architectural Press, 2010.
David Dabner, Sandra Stewart, Eric Zempol and Abbie
Vickress. Graphic Design School. United Kingdom: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2017.
Lakshmi Bhaskaran. Designs of the Times. Switzerland: Roto Vision
Philip B. Meggs and Alston W. Purvis. Meggs’ History of
Graphic Design. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2016.