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An unknown typographer whose work everyone knows

Adrian Frutiger at work in his studio in Bremgarten near Bern

(Keystone Archive)

The name Adrian Frutiger may not mean much to most people but as a typographer his creative work has been seen by countless millions and he has left his mark throughout the world.

A selection of Frutiger's drawings, woodcarvings and photographs is currently on view at the Gutenberg Museum Fribourg in an exhibition entitled "Forms and Counter Forms".

Born near Interlaken in 1928, Frutiger is regarded as one of the world's leading typographers and graphic artists. Since completing his studies at the school of applied arts in Zurich he has been responsible for creating over 20 typefaces, including "Meridien" and "Univers".

Examples of his work are visible on motorway road signs and company logos. But perhaps the most lasting, influential - and best known in the world of graphic design - can be seen in what Frutiger has described as "the language of the signs" at Charles-de-Gaulle Airport near Paris.

Frutiger says he began that commission on the assumption that air travellers were all familiar with the international language of airport facilities. For example, it was thought that the word "Bar" was a recognisable as a drawing of a wine glass.

"But we soon found out," he said, "that the signs for 'Ladies' and 'Gentlemen' were not always clearly understood... Nowadays, more and more pictograms are used from the series, which has since been introduced internationally because over half of all passengers are tourists from every part of the globe, and many simply do not know the Latin alphabet."

"For such people, a language of signs is easier to learn than a set of word images."

Reflecting on the anonymity of his work, Frutiger says: "If we actually notice type and design they are not doing their job because they are distracting from the content.

"The most important thing I have learned is that legibility and beauty stand close together and that type design, in its restraint, should be only felt, and not perceived, by the reader."

by Richard Dawson


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