The legendary Swiss type designer Adrian Frutiger passed away today, on 12 September 2015, at the age of 87.
Frutiger had influenced the 20th century’s European and world typography like no other, with the possible exception of Hermann Zapf who died just three months earlier. Adrian Frutiger’s most famous typefaces (Univers, Frutiger, Avenir) embody “sophisticated modernism” in the best possible way: he managed to distill the essence of the Latin letter and reduce its formal language to the minimum, yet he never crossed the barrier of naive geometry or reduction for its own sake. Utility and legibility came always first. Frutiger’s alphabets were never forcibly individualistic. His trademark was the careful balancing of shapes and the understated beauty of his seemingly simple forms. For several decades, Adrian Frutiger remained a typographic innovator, never shying away from most difficult challenges, such as the world’s first comprehensively planned typeface family Univers, the Roissy/Frutiger family that forever changed the notion of signage and legibility, his OCR-B alphabet, or the ultra-compact yet highly readable Vectora.
But Adrian’s modernization efforts were deeply rooted in his historical explorations. At 23, he created his legendary graduation project, a breathtaking woodcut series about the development of the Western type. 40 years later, he designed the typeface series “Type before Gutenberg” (Herculanum, Pompeijana, Rusticana) which brought the earliest Roman alphabets into the digital age. His upright-contrast serif typefaces (Centennial, Didot, Iridium) are consequent yet always friendly, never mechanical. Throughout his life, Frutiger studied the development and evolution of graphical signs, and collected his thoughts and findings in his wonderful book “Der Mensch und seine Zeichen” (“Signs and Symbols”), which has been translated into many languages.
His books “Words for Line Drawings”, “Forms and Counterforms” and “Anfangsgeschichten” were Frutiger’s artistic explorations, full of flowing, emotive two-dimensional shapes that are still admired for their beauty, simplicity and warmth.
I had the pleasure of meeting Adrian Frutiger twice, and will forever fondly remember my visit to his and his late wife Simone’s house in Bremgarten in 2006.
Though the success of Univers was spectacular, I still sometimes wish I lived in the parallel universe in which it became the default grotesque instead of Helvetica.
But his work is more prevalent today, what with the Frutiger face becoming a genre, which is quite something.
It always amazes me how subtle is the design of his “big three” sans faces (Univers, Frutiger, Avenir), and yet their personalities are so precisely* defined. Something to aspire to!
*Thank goodness he lived to see Frutiger Next faux pas abandoned.