The Typehead Chronicles: Univers
      Of Thomas Christensen, ABCedminded Typesetter   right reading news service

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Univers 45 light and Univers 65 bold oblique.

Identifying Characteristics

  • more stroke modulation than Helvetica
  • squaring of round strokes
  • two-storied a is the most distinctive letter, with a straight back, no baseline curl, and perpendicular connection at top of bowl
  • G lacks Helvetica spur
  • diagonal strokes of k meet at stem


Designed by Adrian Frutiger and released by Deberny and Peignot in 1957, about the same time that Helvetica was released and in response to the same perceived need for a utilitarian, versatile sans serif workhorse.

Character and Use

Some feel that the modulated strokes give it a bit more character than Helvetica. It was designed as a full system of fonts with a wide range of weights, unlike Helvetica, which spawned variants in a rather disordered way (this disorder was addressed, much later, with the release of Helvetica Neue). Universe was the first typeface in which the weights were classified with a numerical system. Univers 55 is probably the base text font the one most similar in weight to the standard version of Helvetica anyway but a nice thing about Univers is that the lighter weights, especially 45, have even color and can be used to set continuous text.

Univers has a somewhat smaller x-height than Helvetica, and the base font sets a little wider. (But both typefaces come in many flavors.)

Although Univers doesn't mix well with other sans serifs, it goes well with a range of serifed fonts perhaps best with "transitional" fonts such as Baskerville.

Robert Bringhurst advises mixing it with Frutigers eponymous font (rather than with his Meridien, which Bringhurst feels is not as close in structure).

Until recently I hadn't used Univers much (I favored Avenir) but in the past couple of years I've used it for contemporary art series of exhibition catalogues for the Asian Art Museum. It's not a very hip or forward-looking choice some would call it a cliche but I've enjoyed getting to know this versatile typeface, which I had overlooked.

Say What?

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







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