Think of it as a Swiss design with a French heart. As its weight increases, this personality becomes more apparent. The slight (but clearly visible) contrast in stroke weight, subtle angularity, and just the smallest hint of calligraphic brush stroke make Univers a typeface with a twinkle in its eye.”
– Allan Haley, Director of Words & Letters at Monotype Imaging
|“I heart the Univers *light ultra-condensed”|
For today’s Tuesday Typeface, we bring you Univers, a type family designed by Adrian Frutiger that consists of over forty distinct fonts. At first glance, Univers closely resembles its better known cousin Helvetica. In fact, Univers was released the same year as Helvetica, then called Neue Haas Grotesk, and Folio. All three were heavily influenced by Akzidenz-Grotesk, a grotesque sans serif typeface developed in 1896. But where the designers of Neue Haas Grotesk and Folio sought primarily to simplify Akzidenz-Grotesk, Frutiger used the older typeface as a jumping off point to develop an entirely new way of creating and labeling faces.
Frutiger developed a numerical system used to indicate weight, width, and slope for Univers. He continued to use these classifications for other designs, including Serifa and Frutiger. Essentially, each font is assigned two numbers from 1 to 10; the first indicates weight, with smaller numbers signaling lighter fonts, and the second indicated width, with smaller numbers signaling extended fonts. So Univers 55 is the “standard” font, Univers 29 is ultra-light and ultra-condensed, and Univers 82 is heavy ultra-extended oblique. This system required the creation of thousands of punches and created one of the most versatile typefaces to this day.
Univers has several other key differences from its fellow neo-grotesque sans-serifs, in addition to its unique naming system, which many graphic designers will fervently maintain lead to a superior design. Univers has more modulated strokes and a slightly smaller x-height. Among the differences in individual characters, the lowercase “a” is two storied, the uppercase “G” is formed without a spur (the “arrow head” at the bottom), and most of the numerals have straight ascenders, as opposed to curved.
Univers was not as immediately or widely popular as Neue Haas Grotesk, but it gained a wider following after it was featured heavily in official advertisements and signage for the 1972 Munich Olympics. Many corporations adopted it over the next two decades, and it has been more recently used on Apple Keyboards made before August 2007, FOX newscasts, and the Walt Disney World road system, among many others. Due to the numerous available variations, Univers is always a good choice to consider when choosing typefaces for almost any project.
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