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Adrian Frutiger made the world of typography a better place


ew people have mastered the craft of typography as this Swiss type designer had and even fewer made our habitat a readable place -literally. Born in 1928 in Unterseen Adrian Frutiger experimented with invented scripts and stylized handwriting in negative reaction to the formal, cursive penmanship then required by Swiss schools, since he was a boy.

“I was fortunate. Early in life, I understood that my world was a two-dimensional one. At sixteen I knew that my work would be in black and white” he said. For him, reading always meant linear and black and white. A belief he mastered throughout his career with every single typeface he created.

A predominant figure in twentieth-century European type design, Frutiger has created some of the most popular typefaces of the 20th and 21st century.

Univers, Frutiger (created for the Charles de Gaulle airport), Egyptienne, Serifa, and Avenir are just some of the 30 font families he gave to our world and since the 1950s he was an inspiration to many aspiring designers throughout the world. 

One of the few typographers whose career spanned across hot metal, photographic and digital typesetting, Frutiger’s typographic path is a legendary one. His woodcut series of lettering styles illustrating the evolution of the Roman alphabet which he delivered while he was just a student in Zürich is a stunning piece of work and the entry ticket to Deberny & Peignot foundry in Paris where it all started.

Versailles family concept

“Legibility and beauty stand close together and type design, in its restraint, should be only felt but not perceived by the reader” 

I first experienced the power of type to make the whole intellectual world readable with the same letters in the days of metal. This awakened in me the urge to develop the best possible legibility. The time soon came when texts were no longer set in metal types but by means of a beam of light. The task of adapting the typefaces of the old masters from relief type to flat film was my best school. When we came to the 'Grotesk' style of sanserif, however, I had my own ideas which led to the Univers® family. Technological progress was rapid. Electronic transfer of images brought the stepping, followed by my feelings for form. But today, with curve programs and laser exposure, it seems to me that the way through the desert has been completed” he said.

“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. In the course of my professional life, I have acquired knowledge and manual skill. To pass on what I had learned and achieved to the next generation became a necessity.”

Early Univers drawings

“Throughout the modern world, from megastore to corner shop, text set in Frutiger’s Univers sings out from a thousand different magazine, books, posters, and CD covers. Univers is proving to be one of the most important and enduring typefaces of the twentieth century, a masterpiece of structured diversity” says Yvonne Schwemer-Scheddin.

From his sans-serif typeface for the then newly built Charles De Gaulle International Airport through the linear bands of rope-drawn signs of script in concrete of his Métro alphabet at any railway station in Paris to ASTRA-Frutiger’s widening ascenders and descenders which is used by Swiss authorities as the new font for traffic signs since 2003, his traces will remain intact and alive forever.

Frutiger wanted to become a sculptor but his father discouraged him. Later in his life, he wanted to become an architect. “I would have been a poor architect because my thinking is not three-dimensional,” he said.

Thank God the word of type managed to keep his poetic mind busy for all of us to read.

Adrian Frutiger passed away on the 10th of September 2015 at the age of 87.  

Minuscule a of Concorde romain with all diacritics –final artwork with measurements in millimetres

Drawing of the 'Katalog' a with measurements and corrections – indian ink,opaque white and pencil on satin paper.

Small Capital and oldstyle numerals for 'Iridium'

Final artwork for the lowercase a of Dolmen'45

Adrian Frutiger's original drawings with measurements (background) superimposed by the PostScript version of Avenir LT 35

Photos from: “Adrian Frutiger – Typefaces: The Complete Works”, Birkhauser, 2014