When I first started learning about type and design, I quickly developed favorite typefaces. My first loves were san serifs, especially showy, geometrical like Kabel and Avant Garde. These faces were built of rational geometry but managed to stand out with dramatic slopes and perfect curves. But these early crushes, like all infatuations, did not last. Now I cringe when I look back on some of my type decisions from that early point in my education. What possessed me to set my entire thesis book in Futura: a lovely face when used for display or in moderation within text? This geometric San serif does not make for comfortable reading for a long text or even worse, a book.
Few of my youthful (from an education standpoint) typographic enthusiasms have held up over time. However there is one early favorite that has stood the test of time, and retained its charm. A choice I still turn to for clarity and a calm authority: Frutiger. Created by Adrian Frutiger in the 1970s for use throughout the Charles Du Galle Airport in Paris. Frutiger’s creation is known for its remarkable legibility: from a distance as well as from different angles that would distort most other typefaces.
Adrian Frutiger died on September 10 at the age of 87. He created some of the most well known and used typefaces of the 20th century including Univers, a complete type system with numbered weights used for the Munich Olympics in 1972; Frutiger, used in airport signage around the globe and highway and street signage across Europe; Avenir, OCR-B, and Egyptianne among others.
It is Frutiger above all that has earned desert island status in my typographic toolkit. To me, it strikes a perfect balance between clean and legible, while still retaining a human and friendly touch it is a face that says it will illuminate and show the way, yet do so calmly and without self-aggrandizement or unnecessary frills.
“Frutiger is basically the best signage type in the world because there’s not too much ‘noise’ in it, so it doesn’t call attention to itself,” Erik Spiekermann, a prominent German type designer and friend of Mr. Frutiger, told The New York Times. “It makes itself invisible, but physically it’s actually incredibly legible.”
“I know of no other typeface designer who can put so much feeling into a systematic approach,” he says. “Frutiger’s typefaces are always carefully planned, but they never look it.”
In Frutiger’s own words: “On my career path I learned to understand that beauty and readability – and up to a certain point, banality – are close bedfellows: the best typeface is the one that impinges least on the reader’s consciousness, becoming the sole tool that communicates the meaning of the writer to the understanding of the reader.” said Frutiger.
“The whole point with type is for you not to be aware it is there,” he said in an interview on the Linotype company’s website. “If you remember the shape of a spoon with which you just ate some soup, then the spoon had a poor shape.” He added:
“Spoons 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.”