The typeface that made Adrian Frutiger famous around the world has its origins in exercises that he worked on way back in 1949, as a 21-year-old at the Zurich School of Arts and Crafts. What was new about Univers
was that it treated a font family as a complete, cohesive system for the first time.
Its starting point is the regular font (Univers 55), from which all others are derived. The contrast is balanced in such a way that the font is suitable even for long texts. Frutiger placed great importance on the range of differences in weight between capitals and minuscules, and the x-height is unusually large for a font of that period.
Composition of the Univers system in 1954 (further fonts have since been added): the first figure stands for weight and the second for character width, with even figures signifying “oblique”
It took 15 years for Univers to become widely known and available on the various types of mechanical and phototypesetting equipment. The cool, systematically designed font family appealed to the rationalistic style which dominated typography in the late 1970s, and corresponded with the aim of “Total Design” (as Wim Crouwel and Ben Bos had named their design agency in 1964). In Holland, Univers became something of an unofficial national font, while designers in the USA and Germany tended to favour Helvetica.
In 2004, Univers was comprehensively revised by Adrian Frutiger and Linotype, expanded to include 59 fonts, and given three-figure numbering.