Neither Adrian Frutiger nor his family wished the news of the master type designer’s death on Sept. 10 to be publicized. In the case of a revered artist, however, privacy has to defer to the emotional reactions of those who mourn the great one’s loss. The social media soon were pulsing with personal advisories of the sad news, and obituaries like this one in The New York Times duly appeared to report the story in full.
It’s no easier to do justice to the life and work of Frutiger than it is to appraise the legacy of Hermann Zapf, who died earlier in the year, or of Massimo Vignelli, lost in 2014. Each was a visionary who used letterforms to make the world easier to comprehend, navigate, and inhabit—Zapf and Frutiger as font creators, Vignelli as a visual artist who incorporated fonts into graphic design in transformative ways.
How do you properly credit people without whose artistry so many everyday things wouldn’t look as visually correct as they do? In crafting Univers and 30 other now-omnipresent fonts, Frutiger redefined legibility and readability for letterforms in whatever visual contexts they might need to appear. Like Zapf, he helped to perpetuate the printed word both by increasing its appeal to the eye and by its reinforcing its ability to convey information to the mind.
Simple to express—staggering to have achieved. Here are thoughts from others on the life, work, and lasting influence of typographic master Adrian Frutiger:
“Having spanned the eras of hot metal, phototypesetting, and digital typesetting, there is no doubt that Adrian Frutiger influenced the direction of digital typography in look and feel. His work has helped retain the classic value and application of type, what I call ‘the rhetoric of type,’ but in digital form. Only someone who spanned the three eras of typography can fully understand the value of classical looks, and retain this for the modern era of typography and typesetting. Adrian Frutiger was such a person.” (Harvey Levenson, California Polytechnic University)
“Readers encounter his fonts every day; in the world of media, his name is equivalent to a huge brand name for font users and graphic designers. Univers became a successful font, because it fit perfectly the modern zeitgeist. The most famous and most widespread internationally of his fonts proudly bears his name: ‘Frutiger.’ Without doubt, Frutiger will maintain its name and standing, like those noble fonts that have been in use for centuries, such as Janson, Garamond, Bodoni, Baskerville.” (Walter Greisner, D. Stempel AG - Linotype)
“Adrian Frutiger was dedicated to the art of type design. His sans serif fonts moved us into the 21st century. His Univers created the first family of 44 weights and styles that were absolutely harmonious with each other and placed in a numbered grid. It was logical. organized, and creative. Like Adrian himself.” (Frank Romano, Rochester Institute of Technology)
“Univers and Frutiger are just two of the typeface families created by Adrian Frutiger in a time span of about 60 years. It is a testament to his immense talent that all of his designs exhibit a groundbreaking quality, both in concept and execution. The quality of Frutiger's typefaces is not found in superficial or formal criteria, but in their structural, fundamental legibility.” (Jürgen Siebert, Monotype)
“This week I bid a very fond farewell to Swiss typographer Adrian Frutiger, who died at the age of 87. Referred to as ‘the best type designer of the 20th century,’ his 30-plus typefaces (including Univers, Avenir, and of course Frutiger) have been helping people find their way around the world, from the street signs in London to downtown Disney World.” (Perrin Drumm, AIGA)
“Adrian Frutiger is generally credited with being among the first to develop a comprehensive program for the design of a typeface family. Univers, first issued in 1957 for the Parisian type foundry Deberny & Peignot, consisted of 20 fonts related by weight, width and style. It has had a lasting impact on how type designers have approached the challenge of designing type families.” (Joel Mason, New York City College of Technology)
“If it wasn’t for Frutiger, we might be misreading gate numbers, having to step ever closer to read departure lounge notice boards, and letting type get in the way of our lives. As one of the first to properly investigate the legibility of type, Adrian Frutiger paved the way for many of the typefaces we take for granted today. His work will undoubtedly live on, making our meanderings through airports, train stations and other areas that employ his signage all the more easy.” (Jason Sayer, The Architect’s Newspaper)