Yvonne Schwemer-Scheddin: You developed the first drawings for Univers during your studies at the Kunstgewerbeschule [Arts and Crafts School] in Zürich. Why a sans serif and not a roman face? Was this the influence of Bauhaus?
Adrian Frutiger: Typography in Switzerland was more oriented to the sans serif than to Roman type. At the school they worked with Akzidenz Grotesque and Neue Haas Grotesque and I lived for about ten years in this sans serif environment. But we didn’t like the Bauhaus much; the work was too constructed and rigid. We needed something more contemporary, nearer to the roman.
YS-S: Emil Ruder wrote that Univers, as Roman-Grotesque, ended the ideological struggle between Roman and sans serif.
AF: Ruder only said that this font links up again with the Roman. He wanted to emphasise the contrast with the Constructivist idea, where the ‘o’ is simply a circle and where there is no differentiation between the horizontal and the vertical. Univers is nearer to Roman than other sans serifs, since it displays a visual sensitivity between thick and thin in the up- and down-strokes, in the verticals and the horizontals.
YS-S: What was the main impulse for Univers? Was it the schools, Charles Peignot, phototypesetting technology, rational French thinking…?
AF: It was everything together. First of all, my studies with Walter Käch. He showed us, after making rubbings of Roman inscriptions, that an up-stroke is thinner than a down-stroke and that in the curves you can find beautiful variations between thick and thin. He always compared carved inscriptions with the sans serif, since these were not contrast-rich thick/thin Roman typefaces. He taught us to transfer these forms to Grotesque fonts. 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 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 letterforms 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 draughtswoman 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. I then appointed two Swiss draughtsmen, Bruno Pfäffli and André Gürtler. Within two months the entire system was in place.