Archive for Helvetica

Adrian Frutiger (1928–2015): Univers and OCR-B

Posted in People in Media History, Phototypesetting, Print Media, Typography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2015 by multimediaman
Adrian Frutiger: May 24, 1928 – September 10, 2015

Adrian Frutiger: May 24, 1928 – September 10, 2015

Adrian Frutiger died on September 10, 2015 at the age of 87. He was one of the most important type designers of his generation, having created some 40 fonts, many of them still widely used today. He was also a teacher, author and specialist in the language of graphic expression and—since his career spanned metal, photomechanical and electronic type technologies—Frutiger became an important figure in the transition from the analog to the digital eras of print communications.

Frutiger was born on May 24, 1928 in the town of Interseen, near Interlaken and about 60 kilometers southeast of the city of Bern, Switzerland. His father was a weaver. As a youth, Adrian showed an interest in handwriting and lettering. He was encouraged by his family and secondary school teachers to pursue an apprenticeship rather than a fine arts career.

Adrian Frutiger around the time of his apprenticeship

Adrian Frutiger around the time of his apprenticeship

At age 16, Adrian obtained a four-year apprenticeship as a metal type compositor with the printer Otto Schlaeffli in Interlaken. He also took classes in drawing and woodcuts at a business school in the vicinity of Bern. In 1949, Frutiger transferred to the School of Applied Arts in Zürich, where he concentrated on calligraphy. In 1951, he created a brochure for his dissertation entitled, “The Development of the Latin Alphabet” that was illustrated with his own woodcuts.

It was during his years in Zürich that Adrian worked on sketches for what would later become the typeface Univers, one of the most important contributions to post-war type design. In 1952, following his graduation, Frutiger moved to Paris and joined the foundry Deberny & Peignot as a type designer.

During his early work with the French type house, Frutiger was engaged in the conversion of existing metal type designs for the newly emerging phototypesetting technologies. He also designed several new typefaces— Président, Méridien, and Ondine—in the early 1950s.

San serif and Swiss typography

San serif type is a product of the twentieth century. Also known as grotesque (or grotesk), san serif fonts emerged with commercial advertising, especially signage. The original san serif designs (beginning in 1898) possessed qualities—lack of lower case letters, lack of italics, the inclusion of condensed or extended widths and equivalent cap and ascender heights—that seemingly violated the rules of typographic tradition. As such, these early san serif designs were often considered too clumsy and inelegant for the professional type houses and their clients.

Rudolf Koch, Kabel, 1927

Rudolf Koch, Kabel, 1927

Paul Renner, Futura, 1927

Paul Renner, Futura, 1927

Eric Gill, Gill Sans, 1927

Eric Gill, Gill Sans, 1927

Along with the modern art and design movements of the early twentieth century, a reconsideration of the largely experimental work of the first generation of sans serif types began in the 1920s. Fonts such as Futura, Kabel and Gill Sans incorporated some of the theoretical concepts of the Bauhaus and DeStijl movements and pushed sans serif to new spheres of respectability.

However, these fonts—which are still used today—did not succeed in elevating san serif beyond headline usage and banner advertising and into broader application. Sans serif type remained something of an oddity and not yet accepted by the traditional foundry industry as viable in terms of either style or legibility.

In the 1930s, especially within the European countries that fell to dictatorship prior to and during World War II, there was a backlash against modernist conceptions. Sans serif type came under attack, was derided as “degenerate” and banned in some instances. Exceptions to this trend were in the US, where the use of grotesque types was increasing, and Switzerland, where the minimalist typographic ideas of the Bauhaus were brought by designers who had fled the countries ruled by the Nazis.

The Bauhaus School, founded in 1919 in Weimar, Germany, was dedicated to the expansion of the modernist esthetic

The Bauhaus School, founded in 1919 in Weimar, Germany, was dedicated to the expansion of the modernist esthetic

After the war, interest in sans serif type design was renewed as a symbol of modernism and a break from the first four decades of the century. By the late 1950s, the most successful period of san serif type opened up and the epicenter of this change emerged in Switzerland, signified by the creation of Helvetica (1957) by Eduard Hoffmann and Max Miedinger of the Haas Type Foundry in Münchenstein.

It was the nexus of the creative drive to design the definitively “modern” typeface and the possibilities opened up by the displacement of metal type with phototypesetting that brought san serif from a niche font into global preeminence.

Frutiger’s Univers

This was the cultural environment that influenced Adrian Frutiger as he set about his work on a new typeface as a Swiss trained type designer at a French foundry. As Frutiger explained in a 1999 interview with Eye Magazine, “When I came to Deberny & Peignot in Paris, Futura (though it was called Europe there) was the most important font in lead typesetting. Then one day the question was raised of a grotesque for the Lumitype-Photon [the first phototypesetting system]. …

“I asked him [Peignot] if I might offer an alternative. And within ten days I constructed an entire font system. When I was with Käch I had already designed a thin, normal, semi-bold and italic Grotesque with modulated stroke weights. This was the precursor of Univers. … When Peignot saw it he almost jumped in the air: ‘Good heavens, Adrian, that’s the future!’ ”

An early diagram of Frutiger’s Univers in 1955 shows the original name “Monde”

An early diagram of Frutiger’s Univers in 1955 shows the original name “Monde”

Final diagram of Frutiger’s 21 styles of Univers in 1955

Final diagram of Frutiger’s 21 styles of Univers in 1955

Originally calling his type design “Monde” (French for “world”), Frutiger’s innovation was that he designed 21 variations of Univers from the beginning; for the first time in the history of typography a complete set of typefaces were planned precisely as a coherent system. He also gave the styles and weights a numbering scheme beginning with Univers 55. The different weights (extended, condensed, ultra condensed, etc.) were numbered in increments of ten, i.e. 45, 65, 75, 85 and styles with the same line thickness were numbered in single digit increments (italics were the even numbers), i.e. 53, 56, 57, 58, 59, etc.

Univers was released by Deberny & Peignot in 1957 and it was quickly embraced internationally for both text and display type purposes. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, like Helvetica, it was widely used for corporate identity (GE, Lufthansa, Deutsche Bank). It was the official promotional font of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.

Frutiger explained the significance of his creation in the interview with Eye Magazine, “It happened to be the time when the big advertising agencies were being set up, they set their heart on having this diverse system. This is how the big bang occurred and Univers conquered the world. But I don’t want to claim the glory. It was simply the time, the surroundings, the country, the invention, the postwar period and my studies during the war. Everything led towards it. It could not have happened any other way.”

Computers and digital typography

Had Adrian Frutiger retired at the age of 29 after designing Univers, he would have already made an indelible contribution to the evolution of typography. However, his work was by no means complete. By 1962, Frutiger had established his own graphic design studio with Bruno Pfaffli and Andre Gurtler in Arcueil near Paris. This firm designed posters, catalogs and identity systems for major museums and corporations in France.

Throughout the 1960s, Frutiger continued to design new typefaces for the phototypesetting industry such as Lumitype, Monotype, Linotype and Stempel AG. Among his most well-known later san serif designs were Frutiger, Serifa and Avenir. Frutiger’s font systems can be seen to this day on the signage at Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports and the Paris Metro.

The penetration of computers and information systems into the printing and publishing process were well underway by the 1960s. In 1961, thirteen computer and typewriter manufacturers founded the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA) based in Geneva. A top priority of the EMCA was to create an international standard for optical character recognition (OCR)—a system for capturing the image of printed information and numbers and converting them into electronic data—especially for the banking industry.

By 1968, OCR-A was developed in the US by American Type Founders—a trust of 23 American type foundries—and it was later adopted by the American National Standards Institute. This was the first practically adopted standard mono-spaced font that could be read by both machines and the human optical system.

However, in Europe the ECMA wanted a font that could be used as an international standard such that it accommodated the requirements of all typographic considerations and computerized scanning technologies all over the world. Among the issues, for example, were the treatment of the British pound symbol (£) and the Dutch IJ and French oe (œ) ligatures. Other technical considerations included the ability to integrate OCR standards with typewriter and letterpress fonts in addition to the latest phototypesetting systems.

Comparison of OCR-A (1968) with Frutiger’s OCR-B (1973)

Comparison of OCR-A (1968) with Frutiger’s OCR-B (1973)

In 1963, Adrian Frutiger was approached by representatives of the ECMA and asked to design OCR-B as an international standard with a non-stylized alphabet that was also esthetically pleasing to the human eye. Over the next five years, Frutiger showed the exceptional ability to learn the complicated technical requirements of the engineers: the grid systems of the different readers, the strict spacing requirements between characters and the special shapes needed to make one letter or number optically distinguishable from another.

In 1973, after multiple revisions and extensive testing, Adrian Frutiger’s OCR-B was adopted as an international standard. Today, the font can be most commonly found on UPC barcodes, ISBN barcodes, government issued ID cards and passports. Frutiger’s OCR-B font will no doubt live on into the distant future—alongside various 2D barcode systems—as one of the primary means of translating analog information into digital data and back again.

Frutigers Sign and Symbols 1989

Frutiger’s 1989 English translation of “Signs and Symbols: Their Design and Meaning”

Adrian Frutiger’s type design career extended well into the era of desktop publishing, PostScript fonts and the Internet age. In 1989, Frutiger published the English translation of Signs and Symbols: Their Design and Meaning a theoretical and retrospective study of the two-dimensional expression of graphic drawing with typography among its most advanced forms. For someone who spent his life working on the nearly imperceptible detail of type and graphic design, Frutiger exhibited an exceptional grasp of the historical and social sources of man’s urge toward pictographic representation and communication.

As an example, Frutiger wrote in the introduction to his book, “For twentieth century humans, it is difficult to imagine a void, a chaos, because they have learned that a kind of order appears to prevail in both the infinitely small and the infinitely large.  The understanding that there is no element of chance around or in us, but that all things, both mind and matter, follow an ordered pattern, supports the argument that even the simplest blot or scribble cannot exist by pure chance or without significance, but rather that the viewer does not clearly recognize the causes, origins, and occasion of such a ‘drawing’.”

Eduard Hoffmann: 1892 – 1980

Posted in People in Media History, Phototypesetting, Print Media, Typography with tags , , , , , on May 11, 2013 by multimediaman
Eduard Hoffmann

Eduard Hoffmann

It is a fact of typographic history that the font Helvetica exists today because of Hamburgers … but not the food “Hamburgers.” Eduard Hoffmann, the creator of the ubiquitous typeface, knew the word “Hamburgers” contained the complete range of character attributes in the alphabet; he knew that from this one word the quality of a typeface design could be evaluated, that the features of its anatomy could be examined.

And so, early on in the design of the precursor to Helvetica—called Neue Haas Grotesk—Eduard Hoffmann of the Swiss-based Haas Type Foundry wrote to his designer and confident Max Miedinger, “But our first priority is the word ‘Hamburgers.’ It is the universal type founders’ word that contains all the varieties of letters.”

Helvetica is probably the most successful typeface in all of history. It is everywhere, all the time and there are reasons for this: Helvetica is neutral and easy to read; its different weights and styles effectively embody almost any meaning or message. Helvetica is plain but it is also modern and timeless.

Helvetica came about when typography and printing technology were moving from the metal casting, mechanical and letterpress era to the electronic phototypesetting, word processing, laser imaging and computer age. It rode atop this transformation and became the first truly international typeface. By the mid-1960s, Helvetica emerged as a global standard for public signage, corporate identity and communications.

Sampling of Helvetica Logos

A sampling of corporate identities that use Helvetica.

Regardless of one’s personal opinion of the esthetics and usefulness of Helvetica today, its creation and development—the people who developed it and how they developed it—is one of the most important accomplishments of twentieth century graphic arts.

Eduard Hoffmann was born on May 26, 1892 in Zurich, Switzerland. As a student, he studied technology and engineering in Zurich, Berlin and Munich with a specific interest in aviation. In 1917, the 25-year-old Hoffmann took a position under the direction of his uncle Max Krayer at Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei (Haas Type Foundry) in Münchenstein, Switzerland and made a commitment to the profession of typography. In 1937, Eduard became co-manager of the company with Krayer, and after his uncle’s death in 1944, became sole manager where he remained until his retirement in 1965.

As early as 1950, Hoffmann made a decision to introduce a new sans serif typeface into the Swiss market that could compete with those coming from the other European countries. The origins of san serif typefaces date back to the late eighteenth century where it was used with an embossing technique to enable the blind to read. The first fully developed sans serif (also known as grotesque or grotesk) made its appearance in Germany around 1825 and a French type founder first used the term sans serif (without decorative extensions) in 1830.

The sans serif types that Hoffmann wanted to compete with originally became popular and successful in the late nineteenth century. This was true of Akzidenz Grotesk of the Berlin-based H. Berthold AG type foundry, for example, which was originally designed in 1896. But there were neo-grotesk faces that had since entered the market, Bauer’s Folio and Frutiger’s Univers for example, that threatened to eclipse Hoffmann’s venture.

In 1956, as grotesk font use was surging in Europe, Hoffmann thought the timing was right to attempt a specifically Swiss variety. He contacted Max Miedinger, who had been a salesman and type designer at the Haas Type Foundry for the previous ten years, and wrote “he was the only man to design a new typeface for Haas.”

Max Miedinger

Max Miedinger

Miedinger’s role in the process was decisive and many credit him more than Hoffmann for the creation of Helvetica. It is true that Miedinger made the original hand-drawn letters of the alphabet. But the esthetic component was only one side of the value that Miedinger brought to Haas. It was his in-depth knowledge and relationship with the customers of the type foundry that made Miedinger indispensible to the success of Neue Haas Grotesk and later Helvetica.

Miedinger had access to some of the most brilliant Swiss graphic artists as well as advertising representatives from major Swiss corporations—the chemical firm J.R. Geigy AG among them—and through a painstaking and collaborative development process headed up by Hoffmann, Neue Haas Grotesk took shape.

Throughout 1957 and 1958, the two men collaborated back and forth, fine-tuning each character. The record of the exchange between Hoffmann and Miedinger has been preserved and can be followed in detail in the book, Story of a Typeface: Helvetica forever. The book includes photographic reproductions of the letters the men wrote to each other as well as Hoffmann’s project notebook.

Eduard Hoffmanns Helvetica Notebook

A page from Eduard Hoffmann’s Helvetica notebook dated November 27, 1957.

Hoffmann knew that designing a great typeface was not only about the beauty and logical construction of each individual character, even though this was an important aspect. Each character had to fit together with all the other characters in the various combinations that make letters into words. There was also the technical question of how the typeface would look at different sizes and once it was printed with ink on paper.

As Hoffmann explained in 1957, “praxis has shown that a new typeface cannot be correctly and objectively evaluated until it is in printed form. But even then, it is quite curious to find that a letter might be very satisfactory in a word, while seemingly quite out of place in another context. This makes it necessary to consider its design anew, which usually leads to unavoidable compromises.”

Once they were satisfied with the basic letterforms and had designed enough weights and sizes—at that time, the Haas Type Foundry was punch cutting, engraving and typecasting by hand thousands upon thousands of individual characters in metal—the men took their product to market. With the help of some well-designed promotional brochures and an initial buzz at the Graphic 57 trade fair in Lausanne, Neue Haas Grotesk became a hit. By 1959, about ten percent of the printers in Switzerland were carrying it.

Haas Type Foundry Engraving

The engraving room at the Haas Type Foundry. Lintoype ceased the type casting operations at Haas in 1989.

The Haas Type Foundry was majority-owned by the German firm D. Stempel AG. In turn, Stempel was in a contract with the multinational Linotype Corporation for the production of machine manufactured metal type forms. In order to expand the appeal of Hoffmann and Miedinger’s typeface and to bring it to the world of mass production typography, especially in the US, Linotype’s marketing department pushed for Neue Haas Grotesk to be renamed.

Linotype initially suggested that it simply be named Helvetia (Latin for Switzerland). Hoffmann felt that, although it was distinctly a Swiss product, the typeface could not have the exact same name as the country. He came up with Helvetica, which means “The Swiss Typeface,” and all involved accepted the new name developed by its creator.

Into the 1960s, Helvetica gained spectacular popularity and was adopted as the “in-house typeface” of various international corporations, many of which still use it to this day. Commentary on the significance and social driving force behind the success of Helvetica has often referred to post-war economic expansion. There was a thirst in the 1950s within the creative community for visual clues that conveyed optimism about the future. Designers wanted an excessively modern look that helped to put the bad memories of the first half the twentieth century far behind. For many, Helvetica accomplished this goal.

In 1971, Eduard established a foundation with the aim of creating a museum dedicated to the printing industry. In 1980, in the former Gallician paper mill on the Rhine, the museum opened with Hoffmann’s collection of papers on the history of the Haas Type Foundry as one of its main attractions. Eduard Hoffmann died in Basel, Switzerland on September 17, 1980.

Typography & the content of the message

Posted in Print Media, Typography with tags , , , , on August 20, 2010 by multimediaman

When I was 19-years-old, I decided I wanted to be a graphic artist. It was actually during a drawing class that I became convinced that I needed to be a visual artist. I suppose I could have pursued fine art, but ultimately I was compelled by one thing: typography. Where do these graphic forms come from? Why do we use these iconographic images to communicate? How can typography (and other images) be used best to express the content of the message? These were and are still the most important questions of graphic design!

This brings me to the topic of my post. I just watched the documentary film, Helvetica directed by Gary Hustwit. As described on the film website, it is “a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture.” Although the movie was made on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the modern and ubiquitous typeface family, it is something of a primer for all of us: it helps to connect the desktop, Internet and social media generations with the bigger picture of visual communications history and theory.

Helvetica is indeed everywhere and the movie shows this with its rich visuals of daily life in countries around the world. But the film is very important for its review of the changes in the twentieth century that first led to the creation of Helvetica as an international standard, later saw a movement against it and now, in the age of online communications, has seen something of a renaissance. Perhaps the movie itself is part of the renewed appreciation in the twenty-first century of this breakthrough font.

Helvetica is the quintessential modern, sans serif typeface and it is connected with the strivings of the design community in the 1950s for something new and global in character. As designer Massimo Vignelli explains, “When Helvetica came about we were all ready for it. It just had all the right connotations that we were looking for. For anything that had to spell out loud and clear: Modern.”

Helvetica was developed jointly by Swiss type designers Eduard Hoffman and Max Miedinger at the Haas Type Foundry in Münchenstein, Switzerland in 1957. It was originally called Die Neue Haas Grotesk. Since Haas was owned by Linotype and subject to the marketing interests of the large corporation, the name was later changed to Helvetica. In order to sell the font particularly in America, Hoffman and Miedinger agreed to change the name to an alteration of the Latin word for Switzerland (Helvetia), i.e. Helvetica is literally: The Swiss Typeface. The film includes an interview with Alfred Hoffman, son of Eduard, reviewing the specification sheets and hand written notations from the type design process. Hoffman, although he has gotten less credit for Helvetica than his partner, is revealed in the film as having had a clarity of vision with regard to the appearance and aesthetics of the form.

Several of those interviewed explain that the runaway attraction of Helvetica for the graphic design community, especially for corporate identity in the 1960s, was its simplicity and neutrality. Helvetica is the cameleon of graphic communications; it can be used to embody the identity of almost any concept or organization. It can also be equally used to communicate simple public information and is very often used in directional signage. Soon almost everyone was using Helvetica to transform their look and cast away the remnants of the premodern world. The film then illustrates the impact of the font on US and European corporations; the number of companies that adopted it appears substantial and shocking even for someone like myself who pays attention to such matters.

But, as the movie also clearly shows, Helvetica—and the rules of typography as they had come to be understood—eventually came under attack by notions of postmodernism. This took the form of a rejection of the structure, clarity and rules that were the bedrock of the design of Helvetica. The critics said that typography itself does indeed need to convey something more than the meaning of the words they express; some even said that the type needs to have its own message and the meaning of the words are of little consequence. In the backlash, Helvetica was said to have become identified with safety, conformism and predictability in design. Helvetica and its sense of structure was the dull and conservative background noise that had to be displaced by more expressive forms.

The counter-culture began in the 1970s as the postmodernists circumvented what they perceived as the boredom of Helvetica with things like illustrated typography. Veering in the direction of fine art, type began to take on many different chaotic forms. Experimental works that pushed the limits of legibility were the rage. Postmodernist design was also enabled by the technological revolution of the personal computer, where the structured principles of type design were violated by anyone who felt like it. With that went the business of typography; Adobe, Apple and Microsoft became the bearers of the intellectual property of generations of type designers going back to Gutenberg.

The theory of the postmodernists, or lack thereof, is expressed most clearly in the film by David Carson whose work became popular in the 1980s and world-renowned in the 1990s. Known as the father of “grunge design” Carson says, “I have no formal training in the field. In my case, I never learned all the things I wasn’t supposed to do. I was doing the things that made sense to me. I was just experimenting … I didn’t understand why people were getting so upset … only much later did I learn what the terms ‘modernism’ and this and that.” While the aestheticism Carson represents may be good at conveying visual atmospherics, it is not effective for typographic communications; it is all about impact through anticommunication (if that is even a word).

Fortunately, and I think naturally, the deconstructionist approach could not predominate. With the development of the online publishing and the pixel grid of the computer display, typography has moved back more closely to rationality. While it is certainly possible to find poor typography on the web, there is an awareness and sensitivity among a growing group of us about what is good, effective and appropriate use of type. As is pointed out at the end of the film, social networks are now playing a role in the development of new and innovative approaches to typography. The growth of the networked mobile device will certainly also contribute to this evolution.

I am the last to argue that the history of typography ends with Helvetica. However, it appears that things went off-the-rails for a period and we are now somewhere between 1957 and the next great step in the evolution of typography beyond Helvetica. Perhaps we will see something that dovetails with tiny URLs, texting and 140 character limits.