Adrian Frutiger (1928 – 2015) was a Swiss graphic designer and typographer. Frutiger created some of the most widely used fonts of the 20th century, and they can be seen daily in airports on street signs and in subway stations. He was the creator of many internationally known and loved fonts such as Avenir, Frutiger, Univers and Vectora. He created some 40 fonts, a vast number for one lifetime. His work was praised for elegant readability that belied their rigorous engineering, his typefaces graced signs in the Paris Metro and in many international airports on Swiss highways and London streets.
His best-known fonts include Univers, used throughout the design of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, and Frutiger, ubiquitousness on airport signage, including that of John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
“Frutiger is basically the best signage type in the world because there’s not too much ‘noise’ in it, so it does not call attention to itself,” said Erik Spiekermann, a German type designer and a longtime friend of Frutiger. “It makes itself invisible, but physically it’s actually incredible legible.”
Perhaps Frutigers most ubiquitous typeface is also the least obtrusive: OCR-B, the optical character font that he designed in 1968. It was adopted five years later as the world standard.
“That’s the one that’s on the bottom of all our checks,” Spiekermann said. “He managed to do something that is legible by machine and people alike.”
For the type designer, the creation of a new font entails much brooding at the drawing board over the architecture, proportion and slant of each character in a range of sizes.
“A letter,” Frutiger told the Swiss News in 2001, “follows the same canons of beauty as a face: A beautiful letter is in perfect proportion. The bar of a ‘t’ placed too high, the curve of an ‘a’ too low, are as jarring as a long nose or a short chin.
The son of a weaver, Adrian Johann Frutiger was born May 24, 1928, in Unterseen, Switzerland. As a youth, he hoped to be a sculptor, but his father discouraged him from plying so insecure a trade. Apprenticed to a typesetter as a teenager, he found his life’s work.
“Frutiger is basically the best signage type in the world because there’s not too much ‘noise’ in it, so it does not call attention to itself.”
In 1952, after graduating from the School of Applied Arts in Zurich, Frutiger moved to Paris, where he was a designer with the type foundry Deberny & Peignot, eventually becoming its artistic director. There he created some of his earliest fonts, among them President, Meridien and Ondine; in the early 1960’s he founded his own studio in Paris.
He was commisioned to create signage for airports and subway systems, Frutiger soon realised that fonts that looked good in books did not work well on signs: The characters lacked enough air to be readable at a distance. The result was Frutiger, a sans-serif font designed to be legible at many paces, and from many angles.
One of Frutiger’s hallmarks is the square dot over the lowercase “i.” The dot’s crisp, angled corners keep it from resolving into a nebulous flyspeck that appears to merge with its stem, making “i” look little different from “l” of “I.”
After 40 years living in Paris, Frutiger returned to Switzerland in the early 1990’s. As conspicuous as Frutiger’s work became, it was for its inconspicuousness, that he hoped it would be known.
“The whole point with type is for you not to be aware it is there,” he said. “If you remember the shape of a spoon with which you just ate some soup, then the spoon had a poor shape. Spoon and letters are tools. The first we need to ingest bodily nourishment from a bowl, the latter we need to ingest mental nourishment from a piece of paper.
New York Times Article
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