|/ thoughts relating to the typeface univers – essay from 30 essential
typefaces for a lifetime. published by rockport 2006.
editors: imin pao and joshua berger.
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|Thoughts Relating to the Typeface Univers
Truth be told, I am not prepared to say that Univers is necessarily the most important typeface of all time, although it must certainly be in the top five contenders for that impossible label. However, I do think it has been one of the most significant contributions to typography in the twentieth century and represents a European cultural milestone —
one of the flowerings of a modernist design sensibility whose roots lie in the radicalism and reductivism of Constructivism and the Bauhaus, allied to a later post-war sense of renewal — a true expression of the modern age.
Univers was designed in the 1950s by Adrian Frutiger, a Swiss designer working in Paris. Released in 1956, it was the first typeface to be conceived as a related family of twenty-one fonts, and was also the first typeface to be manufactured simultaneously as hand-set metal type, monotype mechanical type, and photo type — bridging all the technological methods developed over the previous four centuries of typesetting. It featured an innovative numbering system for the different weights, with the 55 regular serving as the heart of the matrix from which other variations followed. The first digit refers to the weight, the second the slant. Roman is indicated by odd numbers, italics by even. Thus 73 is bold extended, whilst 48 is light condensed italic. It is in itself a beautifully crystalline organizational system, reflecting the purity and logic of the letterforms themselves.