Jump to content


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Designer(s)Adrian Frutiger
FoundryDeberny & Peignot
Date released1957

Univers (French pronunciation: [ynivɛʁ] ) is a large sans-serif typeface family designed by Adrian Frutiger and released by his employer Deberny & Peignot in 1957.[1] Classified as a neo-grotesque sans-serif, one based on the model of nineteenth-century German typefaces such as Akzidenz-Grotesk, it was notable for its availability from the moment of its launch in a comprehensive range of weights and widths. The original marketing for Univers deliberately referenced the periodic table to emphasise its scope.[2]

Univers was one of the first typeface families to fulfil the idea that a typeface should form a family of consistent, related designs. Past sans-serif designs such as Gill Sans had much greater differences between weights, while loose families such as American Type Founders' Franklin Gothic family often were advertised under different names for each style, to emphasise that they were not completely matching. By creating a matched range of styles and weights, Univers allowed documents to be created in one consistent typeface for all text, making it easier to artistically set documents in sans-serif type. This matched the desire among practitioners of the "Swiss style" of typography for neutral sans-serif typefaces avoiding artistic excesses.

The design concept of Univers was intended to take advantage of the new technology of phototypesetting, in which fonts were stored as glass discs rather than as solid metal type and matrices for every size to be used. Deberny & Peignot had established itself as a leader in this technology, although as by the time of its launch metal type was still very popular, the design was also released in this form. Univers was rapidly licensed and re-released by Monotype, Linotype, American Type Founders, IBM and others for phototypesetting, for metal type and reproduction by typewriter.[3] Historian James Mosley has described it as "probably the last major" release of a large family as metal type.[4]


Rémy Peignot's Univers graphic emphasised the family's scope through referencing the periodic table.

Some of these old sans serifs have had a real renaissance within the last twenty years, once the reaction of the 'New Objectivity' had been overcome. A purely geometrical form of type is unsustainable.

Frutiger in 1961, explaining why his design had rejected the geometric sans-serif design trend popular from the 1920s to the 1950s.[5]

Univers is one of a group of neo-grotesque sans-serif typefaces, all released in 1957,[6] that includes Folio and Neue Haas Grotesk (later renamed Helvetica). As all are based on Akzidenz-Grotesk, these three faces are sometimes confused with each other. These typefaces figure prominently in the Swiss Style of graphic design.

Univers was released after a long period in which geometric typefaces such as Futura had been popular. Frutiger disliked purely geometric designs, finding them too rigid, following a common school of thought among Swiss designers of the period. While studying at the Kunstgewerbeschule (Arts and Crafts School) in Zürich, he had begun to sketch a revived grotesque family based on 19th-century grotesques, at the time considered antiquated outside Switzerland. He described Univers in 1998 as having a 'visual sensitivity between thick and thin' strokes, avoiding perfect geometry.[7]

Different weights and variations within the type family are designated by the use of numbers rather than names, a system since adopted by Frutiger for other type designs. Frutiger envisioned a large family with multiple widths and weights that maintained a unified design idiom. However, the actual typeface names within Univers family include both number and letter suffixes. The design, with a working title of Monde,[5] was developed from 1953 to a final release in 1957.

Like most grotesque and neo-grotesque sans-serifs, Univers's slanted form is an oblique, in which the letterforms are slanted, with minor corrections but no other major alterations. This is different from a true italic, in which the letterforms become modified to resemble handwriting more.[8] In the original design, Frutiger chose obliques with the extremely aggressive slant of sixteen degrees, which was reduced to twelve in some later releases. Linotype Univers (below) returns to the original angle.

Univers' ampersand is a distinctive 'et' ligature of a style popular in French-speaking countries.

Frutiger's original ampersand was a true 'et' ligature, similar to that in Trebuchet among others. Frutiger later provided an alternative for non French-speaking countries in which the form might be less familiar.[9][10]

The Deberny & Peignot library was acquired in 1972 by Haas Type Foundry. It was transferred into the D. Stempel AG and Linotype collection in 1985 and 1989 respectively upon the Haas'sche Schriftgiesserei's acquisition and closure; it is now owned by Monotype following its purchase of Linotype in 2007.[11] An independent version of Univers was licensed by the Berthold Type Foundry for its phototypesetting system with adaptations by Günter Gerhard Lange; Frutiger wrote in his autobiography that he had some affection for it.[9]

Comparison with Akzidenz-Grotesk, Folio, and Helvetica[edit]

Comparison of distinguishing characters in Akzidenz-Grotesk, Folio, Helvetica, and Univers 55

Univers is similar in design to other European grotesque fonts, of which Akzidenz-Grotesk, Folio, and Helvetica are among the most common. Differences include:

  • The tail of 'a' and the top of '1' are much less rounded.
  • Upper-case 'G' is formed without an arrow head (called a spur).
  • Both arms of 'K' join at the stem.
  • The tail of 'Q' runs along the baseline.
  • The tail of 'R' is curved (compared with Akzidenz-Grotesk).
  • The top of 't' is angled.
  • The dot of the 'i' is not square but a rectangle.
  • Lower-case 'y' has a straight descender.
  • Many of the numerals in Univers have straight vs. curved ascenders
  • Helvetica tends to have a slightly greater x-height than Univers
  • Univers generally has quite a wide spacing between letters, and its low x-height gives it a more low-slung, splayed appearance than Helvetica, especially in bold.

Frutiger himself has commented: "Helvetica is the jeans, and Univers the dinner jacket."[12] Walter Tracy described it as better proportioned for text than Helvetica: "more original and subtle in its modelling than Helvetica and, because its character spacing was properly done, a better performer in text composition."[13] Mosley has described its even design as "rather bland" and noted that Monotype's eccentric, chaotically organised Grotesque family remained popular with more "iconoclastic" printers in the 1960s.[14][4] Stephen Coles describes Univers as "in some ways, even more spare [than Helvetica] (no beards or tails)"[15] and Simon Loxley comments that Helvetica "escapes the chilliness of Univers...it does have some elusive quality that gives it a friendlier feel".[16] Dutch font designer Martin Majoor, while praising Univers for its "almost scientific" range of weights, criticised it for its lack of originality: "basing a sans serif on another is rather cheap."[8] Frutiger's later landmark sans-serif designs, Avenir and Frutiger, would take very different, more humanist and geometric approaches.


Keycaps featuring Univers from a pre-2003 PowerBook G4
Univers 57 (Condensed Regular) in use in the Latin text at Athens Airport
Audi Sans, a variation of Univers used in the dashboard graphics of an Audi A3 instrument panel

Univers enjoyed great popularity in the 1960s and 1970s because many corporations adopted it for usage. It is used in a modified version by the new Swiss International Air Lines (previously, Swissair used the typeface Futura), Deutsche Bank and for signage all over the world. It was also adopted by the 1972 Summer Olympics organizers for its image and emblem also in 1976 Summer Olympics. General Electric used the font from 1986 to 2004 before switching to GE Inspira.[17] Apple Inc. previously used this typeface as well as its condensed oblique variant for the keycaps on many of its keyboards, before completely switching to VAG Rounded in August 2007 with the introduction of new keyboards and the new iMac (their notebook computers already featured that typeface since 1999). Munich Re used a custom version of Univers until 2009.[18] Telecom Australia and Australia Post also used the typeface in the 1970s and 1980s.

Almost all Canada Vignettes titles were shown in Univers; as were the credits for the original One Day at a Time, the Danger Man title sequences (except the first season), and the closing credits for Speed Buggy, The Brady Bunch and The Love Boat.

The Montreal Metro, some Toronto subway stations, Frankfurt Airport and the Walt Disney World road system also make extensive use of this typeface (though Disney is in the process of replacing it with Avenir). Some but not all London boroughs use Univers Bold Condensed for street signs.[19] The Royal Air Force adopted the font for all merchandising material in 2006 to complement its new corporate logo. Ordnance Survey also adapted Univers for use on their maps (added tails on the lowercase l and t, and other small changes to help distinguish the type from the map details) of which they own all rights to. In 2006, the Office of Fair Trading adopted Univers as its corporate typographic voice in size 12-point so that visually impaired people can more easily read its publications.

Univers is used as an official logo in lowercase for UNICEF since 2003.[20]

Univers was used for George W. Bush's campaign logos in both 2000 and 2004. Bush's 2000 campaign logo was set in Univers 85 Extra Black, while the 2004 campaign logo used Univers 85 Extra Black Oblique (slanted).

Univers is currently used for the user interface on Sony's imaging products (Cyber-shot, Handycam) since 2007.

Audi Sans is a variant based on Univers,[21] designed by Ole Schäfer.[22] It became Audi's corporate identity font in the 1990s[23] when Audi contracted MetaDesign to support Audi's brand management strategy.[24] The font was used extensively by Audi, appearing in sales literature, corporate communications, owners' documentation and even on the vehicles themselves in the instrument panel graphics and their MMI dashboard displays.

Both the current and the former eBay logo are set in Univers.[25]

The logo of MGA Entertainment line of toys on television shows also uses Univers.[citation needed]

Until 2020, stations owned by Fox Television Stations used Univers in their graphics.

It has also been confirmed that a modified version of a thick Univers font (known as Universe Extra Black) has been used in the logo for WGBH-TV ever since 1974, as well as WGBY-TV and WGBX-TV, affiliates of WGBH.[citation needed]

The Frutiger numbering system[edit]

Adrian Frutiger designed his unique classification system to eliminate naming and specifying confusion. It was first used with Univers, and was adopted for use in the Frutiger, Avenir, and Neue Helvetica typeface families.

The number used in a font is a concatenation of two numbers. The first digit defines weight, while the second defines width and whether it is oblique or not.

Number 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Weight - Ultra Light Thin Light Normal, Roman, or Regular Medium Bold Heavy Black Ultra or Extra Black
Width and position Ultra Extended Ultra Extended Oblique Extended Extended Oblique Normal Oblique Condensed Condensed Oblique Ultra Condensed -

(note: oblique is not strict italic)

As an example, the number 56 denotes the normal weight (a first digit of 5) and an oblique style with the normal width (a second digit of 6).

Due to some typeface manufacturers’ failure to understand and implement the system correctly, however, things have actually become more confusing. To further complicate matters, the numbering system is not consistently applied to the Univers font family. In older publications, all oblique fonts have even-numbered 2nd values; but in digital versions, both odd and even 2nd values have been used on oblique fonts, but not in all font formats or weights. For example, Univers 55 Roman Oblique has both Windows menu names and PostScript full names as Univers LT 55 Oblique and Univers 56 Oblique, but only for the Windows PostScript version of the font; however, in Univers 85 Extra Black Oblique, there is no font named Univers 86 in any format. Nevertheless, oblique Univers fonts always have even-numbered 2nd value.

Inconsistent usage aside, the syntax of 2nd value is also inconsistent with 1st value. Bigger 1st value implies the glyph of a given character uses more horizontal space, but it has opposite meaning in 2nd value.

Linotype numbering system[edit]

In Linotype Univers and Univers Next font family, a 3-number system is used. First numeral describes font weight, second numeral describes font width, third numeral describes position.[26]

Number 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Weight - Ultra Light Thin Light Regular Medium Bold Heavy Black Extra Black
Width - Compressed Condensed Basic Extended - - - - -
Position Roman Italic - - - - - - - -

Unlike the original Univers, tilted fonts in Linotype Univers and derivative font families have not been named 'oblique'.


Versions of Univers have been released for almost every major typesetting system, including versions for a wide range of writing systems and with additional features such as schoolbook characters.

Although Univers was originally conceived to take advantage of the cost-saving properties of phototypesetting (Deberny & Peignot, hoping to leapfrog their competitors by taking full advantage of the new technology, advertised their Lumitype glass master discs as each replacing three tons of brass matrices[27][28]), Deberny & Peignot arranged licensing deals with type foundries such as Monotype for wider release.[29] Univers was quite successful in metal type, with several weights among Monotype's best-selling of all time despite being released at the very end of the metal type era, although Frutiger felt that the Monotype version, which some later versions copied, was limited by the antiquated Monotype technical system.[30]

Pre-digital versions[edit]

A specimen sheet of Univers Flair.

Frutiger (with Howard "Bud" Kettler) adapted Univers for the IBM Selectric Composer in the 1960s.[31][32] This was an ultra-premium electric 'golfball' typewriter system, intended to be used for producing high-quality office documents or copy to be photographically enlarged for small-scale printing projects.[33] Unlike most typewriters, the Composer produced proportional type, rather than monospaced letters. Ultimately the system proved a transitional product, as it was displaced by cheaper phototypesetting, and then in the 1980s by word processors and general-purpose computers.[34] The release was somewhat compromised due having to be made to fit a 9-unit escapement system.

Several pirate versions of Univers have been released taking advantage of the lack of copyright protection of typeface designs. One unusual modified version was "Univers Flair", a 1970s phototype clone from Phil Martin's "Alphabet Innovations", adding ostentatious swashes.[35] Frutiger, who found it amusing, placed a specimen on his office wall.[36]

URW Classic Sans[edit]

Univers 45, 55, 65, 57, 67, 53 and 63 (regular and bold weights with obliques in regular and condensed widths) are incorporated in the PostScript 3 digital printing standard as core fonts. As part of the Ghostscript project to create a free alternative to PostScript, URW++ donated its clones of these weights under the series name U001, and then as URW Classic Sans under the Aladdin Free Public License.[37][38]

Linotype Univers[edit]

In 1997 Frutiger reworked the whole Univers family in cooperation with Linotype, thus creating the Linotype Univers, which consists of 63 fonts. By reworking the Univers more "extreme" weights as Ultra Light or Extended Heavy were added as well as some monospaced typefaces. The numbering system was extended to three digits to reflect the larger number of variations in the family.

In addition to extra font width and weight combinations, the fonts are digitally interpolated, so that character widths scale uniformly with changing font weights. For fonts within a specific font weight, caps height, x-height, ascender and descender heights are the same. For oblique fonts, the slope is increased from 12° to the 16° of Frutiger's original drawings, and the character widths were adjusted optically. In addition, characters such as &, ®, euro sign, are redesigned, the ampersand to Frutiger's preferred true et ligature.[10]

Linotype Univers Typewriter[edit]

Linotype Univers Typewriter is a sub-family of fixed-width fonts under the Linotype Univers family. Four fonts have been produced in Regular and Bold weights, with obliques on each weight. Characters such as 1, I, J, M, W, i, j, l, dotless j are drawn differently.

Univers Next (2010)[edit]

In 2010, Linotype extended the Linotype Univers family with true small caps and renamed as "Univers Next". All later extensions of the font family were marketed under the Univers Next title.

The font family includes all fonts previously released under the Linotype Univers title.

Univers Cyrillic, Univers Pro Cyrillic (2010)[edit]

In April 2010, Linotype announced the release of Cyrillic versions of the original Univers family, in TrueType, PostScript, and OpenType Pro font formats. Released fonts include Univers 55 Roman Oblique; Univers Pro Cyrillic 45 (roman, oblique), 55 (roman, oblique), 65 (roman, oblique), 75 (roman, oblique), 85 (roman, oblique), 47 (roman, oblique), 57 (roman, oblique), 67 (roman, oblique), 39 (roman), 49 (roman), 59 (roman).[39]

Univers Next W1G[edit]

This version supports Greek and Cyrillic characters.

The font family includes 12 fonts (330, 331, 430, 431, 530, 531, 630, 631, 730, 731, 830, 831) in 6 weights and 1 width, with complementary obliques.

The Cyrillic version was released as Univers Next Cyrillic in OpenType Pro format.

Univers Next Arabic (2011)[edit]

Univers Next Arabic.

It is a companion to the Latin typeface Univers Next designed by Nadine Chahine with the consulting of Adrian Frutiger. It is a modern Kufi design with large open counters and low contrast, mainly designed to work in titles and short runs of text. The font includes the basic Latin part of Univers Next and support for Persian, Urdu and Arabic. It also includes proportional and tabular numerals for the supported languages.

The font family consists of 3 fonts (330, 430, 630) in 3 weights and 1 width, without obliques. OpenType features include fraction, localized forms, proportional figures, contextual alternates, discretionary ligatures, initial forms, terminal forms, glyph composition/decomposition, isolated forms, medial forms, required ligatures.


  1. ^ Meggs, Philip B. (1998). "Meggs' History of Graphic Design - 4th Edition". John Wiley & Sons. p.361. ISBN 0-471-69902-0
  2. ^ Univers specimen book. American Type Founders. 1968. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  3. ^ Budrick, Callie; Biemann, Emil (1961). "Subtleties of the Univers". Print. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  4. ^ a b Mosley, James (1999). The Nymph and the Grot. London. p. 9.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  5. ^ a b Frutiger, Adrian (2014). Typefaces: The Complete Works. Walter de Gruyter. p. 88. ISBN 9783038212607.
  6. ^ Spiekermann, Erik and E.M. Ginger (2003). Stop Stealing Sheep & find out how type works. Peachpit Press, p. 65. ISBN 978-0-201-70339-9
  7. ^ Schwemer-Scheddin, Yvonne. "Reputations: Adrian Frutiger". Eye. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
  8. ^ a b Majoor, Martin. "My type design philosophy". Retrieved 12 September 2014.
  9. ^ a b Frutiger, Adrian. Typefaces: The Complete Works. pp. 97–102.
  10. ^ a b Shaw, Paul (12 May 2011). "Flawed Typefaces". Print magazine. Retrieved 30 June 2015.
  11. ^ "Univers". MyFonts. Monotype. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  12. ^ Majoor, Martin (Spring 2007). "Inclined to be dull". Eye. Retrieved 3 August 2015.
  13. ^ Tracy, Walter. Letters of Credit. p. 99.
  14. ^ Mosley, James. "The Nymph and the Grot, an update". Type Foundry (blog). Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  15. ^ Coles, Stephen. "Helvetica and Alternatives to Helvetica". FontFeed (archived). Archived from the original on 21 September 2008. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  16. ^ Loxley, Simon (12 June 2006). Type: The Secret History of Letters. I.B.Tauris. pp. 172–4. ISBN 978-1-84511-028-4.
  17. ^ "A Website about Corporate Identity", entry for GE[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ "2010 REBRAND 100 Notable - Munich Re - Rebranding by MetaDesign German". Archived from the original on 2013-07-26. Retrieved 2015-03-09.
  19. ^ "Photo.net". Archived from the original on 2007-03-16. Retrieved 2007-03-21.
  20. ^ Brand 2016 Graphics Manual - Lite Version
  21. ^ "Linotype Fonts in Use - Ads / Recreation".
  22. ^ Primetype GmbH. "primetype.com".
  23. ^ Neil Macmillan. An A-Z of Type Designers, p29-30. 2006. Laurence King Publishing ISBN 1-85669-395-3/ISBN 1 85669 395 3
  24. ^ "Home - MetaDesign - Berlin". MetaDesign - Berlin.
  25. ^ "Electronics, Cars, Fashion, Collectibles, Coupons and More - eBay". Archived from the original on 2012-09-16. Retrieved 2012-10-11.
  26. ^ "Linotype Platinum Collection - Linotype Univers 3.0".
  27. ^ Savoie, Alice. "French Type Foundries in the Twentieth Century". Type Culture. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  28. ^ Boag, Andrew (2000). "Monotype and Phototypesetting" (PDF). Journal of the Printing History Society: 57–77. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 March 2016. Retrieved 22 July 2016.
  29. ^ Moran, James (1968). "Stanley Morison" (PDF). Monotype Recorder. 43 (3): 28. Retrieved 13 September 2015.
  30. ^ Randle, John (1984). "The Monotype". Matrix. 4: 42–54. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  31. ^ Macmillan, Neil (2006). An A-Z of Type Designers. Laurence King Publishing. p. 118. ISBN 978-1-85669-395-0.
  32. ^ Frutiger, Adrian (1967-02-27). "The IBM Selectric Composer: The Evolution of Composition Technology". IBM Journal of Research and Development. 12 (1). IBM: 9–14. doi:10.1147/rd.121.0009.
  33. ^ Stamm, Swiss Foundation Type and Typography ; edited by Heidrun Osterer and Philipp (2009). Adrian Frutiger typefaces : the complete works (English ed.). Basel: Birkhäuser. p. 192. ISBN 978-3764385811. {{cite book}}: |first1= has generic name (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  34. ^ McEldowney, Dennis (1 October 2013). A Press Achieved: the Emergence of Auckland University Press, 1927-1972. Auckland University Press. pp. 102–5. ISBN 978-1-86940-671-4.
  35. ^ Simonson, Mark. "Interview with Phil Martin". Typographica. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  36. ^ Frutiger, Adrian. Typefaces: The Complete Works. pp. 105, 425.
  37. ^ "Ghostscript". Ghostscript. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  38. ^ "fontlibrary.org". fontlibrary.org. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  39. ^ "Cyrillic Fonts - Linotype Font Feature".

External links[edit]