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Old 04-29-2006, 12:27 PM   #1
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Default Little book on Univers

Since I commented on a book on Helvetica it is only fair to mention a book about the other sans serif classic from the 1950s: The Univers by Adrian Frutiger by Friedrich Friedl (ISBN 3-931317-78-1).

This is a sweet, very small book (6 X 6-1/4 inches, 48 pages). It tells the story of development of Univers, the first type family designed from the ground up on a coherent grid of 21 widths, weights, and styles. (Frutiger later used the same scheme for Frutiger, and Linotype used it for Helvetica Neue.) In 1997, Linotype Frutiger was released, with 59 fonts on an expanded grid. The original had been designed for both lead and photo-type; the new one is adapted for digital systems.

Univers was first released in 1957, about the same time as Helvetica. Friedl says that while Helvetica “had a general clarity and a modern, timeless and neutral effect without any conspicuous attributes (lending to its great success), Univers expressed a factual and cool elegance, a rational competence.”

That “cool elegance” must be what prompted grunge font-maker Neville Brody to call Univers “the coldest face ever designed.” (This was quoted by Simon Loxley in Type: The secret history of letters.) Do you agree? I don’t, though it is more rational than many of today’s popular sans serif faces.

My first experience of Univers was in setting type on the IBM Composer. It was constrained in units compared to a “real” typesetting system, and I became frustrated by that experience, so ignored Univers for at least a decade. But I came back to it in the 1980s, and the more I used it, the more I liked it — more than Helvetica, my (and almost every designer’s) favorite of the 1960s. This book conveys some of the passion with which Univers was received.

This book is out of print (in the U.S., anyway) and a bit hard to find, but Amazon lists copies from other dealers for $20 or so, in English and in the original German. It is a good book, worth looking for.
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