In 1957, Adrian Frutiger’s sans-serif typeface Univers was released by French type foundry Deberny & Peignot , the same year that Helvetica was released by the Haas Type Foundry. Since then, Helvetica has received a wider acknowledgement and gained fame as the ubiquitous sans-serif typeface with Univers being somewhat neglected.
In 2017 Univers and Helvetica both celebrate 60 years since their release, with the Univers — 60 at 60 project aiming to celebrate the Univers typeface, giving it some attention which it deserves.
To do this, VBAT’s Craig Berry and a group of his friends and colleagues have used the typeface in all of it’s weights to produce 60 individual posters between them. Each unique and celebrating the typeface in its own way.
The people involved in this project are graphic designers, digital designers, editorial designers, typographers, visual artists and beyond. Regardless of their profession, typefaces play such a big role in what they do.
Craig always loved the typeface Univers, he regularly uses it in his own work and he used it during University and therefore wanted to create and coordinate this project. On Instagram he has been uploading 1 poster each day since the start of September.
The typeface that made Adrian Frutiger famous around the world has its origins in exercises that he worked on way back in 1949, as a 21-year-old at the Zurich School of Arts and Crafts.
What was new about Univers was that it treated a font family as a complete, cohesive system for the first time.
Its starting point is the regular font (Univers 55), from which all others are derived. The contrast is balanced in such a way that the font is suitable even for long texts. Frutiger placed great importance on the range of differences in weight between capitals and minuscules, and the x-height is unusually large for a font of that period.
In an extensive interview with Eyemagazine, Frutiger told the story about how Univers was born:
“When I came to Deberny & Peignot in Paris, Futura (though it was called Europe there) was the most important font in lead typesetting. Then one day the question was raised of a grotesque for the Lumitype-Photon. Peignot felt that this has to be Europe [Futura], without question. It ran so well in lead typesetting, so why not in phototypesetting?
I asked him if I might offer an alternative. And within ten days I constructed an entire font system. When I was with Käch (Editor’s note: Walter Käch taught type design for thirty years at the Zürich School of Art) I had already designed a thin, normal, semi-bold and italic Grotesque with modulated stroke weights. This was the precursor of Univers.
At that time I could draw quickly, so I drew the letter forms on scrap card and stuck them together. I developed the font style by using the short word ‘monde’. Here I had an ascender, an ‘o’, an ‘m’. It came together quickly and I also had a good draftswoman to help me. We made about sixteen variations of ‘monde’ and I assembled them in the form of a star. When Peignot saw it he almost jumped in the air: ‘Good heavens, Adrian, that’s the future!’ He grasped at once that a multi-faceted tool was suddenly being placed in the hands of the advertising industry.”
Frutiger originally proposed to call the font ‘Le Monde’ (Editor’s note: French for ‘the world’, )but it was too French, and also ‘Galaxy’, but Charles Peignot called it ‘Univers’.
Frutiger: It happened to be the time when the big advertising agencies were being set up, they set their heart on having this diverse system. This is how the big bang occurred and Univers conquered the world. But I don’t want to claim the glory. It was simply the time, the surroundings, the country, the invention, the postwar period and my studies during the war. Everything led towards it. It could not have happened any other way.
A peak into the Univers — 60 at 60 project:
If you are into typography and appreciate the Univers — 60 at 60 initiative, this is the moment you should go on Instagram and follow all these young designers, who pay their tribute to a big typographer. Initiatives like this are great and need to be appreciated.