Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Friday 15 November 2019

Obituary: Adrian Frutiger

Designer whose fonts are used in street signs and airports as well as by Apple, Audi and eBay

A master of type: The designer of some of the world’s most used typefaces, popular by their legibility
A master of type: The designer of some of the world’s most used typefaces, popular by their legibility
The font in the days before desktop publishing and the computer age
The Univers Bold Condensed font on a street sign in London, used for its legibility
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Adrian Frutiger, who has died aged 87, was a Swiss typeface designer whose sharp-edged sans-serif fonts - Univers, Avenir and the eponymous Frutiger - made their mark on the streets of Westminster, the Paris Metro and New York's John F Kennedy airport and well as countless other designs around the world.

"Typography in Switzerland was more oriented to the sans-serif than to Roman type," he once observed. In typography sans-serif - which includes a category known as "grotesque" - refers to the family of fonts that eschew the small projecting features or lines at the end of strokes. "Much can be covered up with serifs," Frutiger observed. "The grotesque is like the body of a fish, it is so smooth that no mistake can be allowed to happen."

Perhaps Frutiger's best known font is Univers, on which he started working while studying at the Kunstgewerbeschule school of arts and crafts in Zurich during the late 1940s.

Later enhanced during his time with the Deberny & Peignot foundry in Paris, the crisp charms of Univers have become ubiquitous, used by corporate clients such as Apple, Audi and eBay and media companies including CNN and Fox television. London street signs are spelt out in Univers Bold Condensed.

Univers's appeal lies in its legibility and flexibility, or as Frutiger explained, "It displays a visual sensitivity between thick and thin in the up-and-down strokes, in the verticals and the horizontals." Other typographers were less enamoured. "It hasn't got any balls," said the British graphic designer Derek Birdsall.

Adrian Frutiger was born on May 24, 1928 in Unterseen in the Canton of Bern. His father was a weaver.

In his youth, Adrian initially considered a future as a pastry chef. Instead he took an apprenticeship with a printers in Interlaken, followed by a position as a compositor in Zurich. Meanwhile he started engraving and drawing.

"I was fortunate. Early in life, I understood that my world was a two-dimensional one," he recalled. "At 16 I knew that my work would be in black and white." During his studies at the Zurich Kunstgewerbeschule he became interested in calligraphy.

During the 1950s he worked for Deberny & Peignot (becoming its artistic director), designing fonts such as Ondine, President and Univers. He struck out on his own during the early 1960s, setting up a studio in Paris. In 1970 he accepted a commission to work up signage for the new Charles de Gaulle Airport.

His success afforded him a place in a small fraternity of globally renowned typographers that also included Hermann Zapf, designer of Palatino and Optima, and Mike Parker, who made Helvetica into a household font.

"Helvetica is the 'blue jeans' typeface," Frutiger observed. "Univers is much more delicate and harmonious, and tends to be a little more stylish."

He designed dozens of fonts during a career spanning half a century, including Avenir (in 1988) - "my masterpiece," said Frutiger. The typeface to which he gave his own name, in 1976, was a particularly legible font that was subsequently adopted by the Swiss government for the country's road signs.

Although Frutiger spent much of his professional life in France he maintained strong links with Switzerland, designing a series of stamps for its postal service and returning to live in Bern in later life.

He was the author of Signs and Symbols: Their Design and Meaning (1978). Perfect design, he maintained, was founded in understated simplicity. "If you remember the shape of your spoon at lunch it has to be the wrong shape," he said.

Adrian Frutiger was twice married. His first wife, Paulette Fluckiger, died in 1954. In 1955 he married, secondly, Simone Bickel, who died in 2008.

They had two daughters, both of whom took their own lives during adolescence (Frutiger set up a mental health foundation in their memory).

Adrian Frutiger, who died on September 10, is survived by his son from his first marriage.


Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment

Back to top