Avenir is a popular typeface that was created in 1988 by Adrian
Frutiger. Frutiger was a Swiss graphic
artist and type designer involved in the early transition from metal type to
phototype. Some of his well-known designs include Apollo, Avenir, Frutiger,
Univers, Herculanum, and Rusticana, to name a few (Bringhurst 351). Avenir is a geometric-mechanistic
typeface. It utilizes an unmodulated stroke with slab serifs. Certain
letterforms also exhibit features that help one classify this typeface as
geometric. For instance, the lowercase ‘e’ has a small aperture. Additionally,
the uppercase “O” and lowercase “o” are both almost perfectly circular with no
Avenir gets its name from the French word for
“future,” and some suggest that Frutiger strategically chose this name to
convey his reason for creation. Avenir
is theorized to be a humanized and “better” version of Paul Renner’s typeface, Futura.
In talking about his design process in the book Adrian Frutiger–Typefaces: The Complete Works, Frutiger assures
that he wasn’t trying to compete with geometric designers like Paul Renner or
Herb Lubalin–he only wanted to “bring a bit of humanity to the field of
geometric types” (Osterer 337). He
The quality of the draughtsmanship in Avenir – rather than the intellectual
idea behind it – is my masterpiece. To
draw in all those nuances, so fine that you can hardly see them, but you know they’re
there…It was the hardest typeface that I have worked on in my life. Working on
it, I always had human nature in mind…my personality is stamped upon it. I’m
proud that I was able to create Avenir.
(Adrian Frutiger, Osterer 337)
of his assertions, one can’t help but notice the visual similarities as well as
the subtle differences between Avenir
and its predecessor, Futura.
To the untrained eye, the typefaces may
seem identical. However, on closer
inspection, certain details help distinguish the two. For instance, Avenir has a slimmer stroke, and doesn’t utilize the harsh, pointed
strokes and lofty forms found in Futura.
In comparing the two, one would notice that Avenir
actually uses some traditional letterforms, such as the two-story “a,” as well
as tails on the lowercase “t” and “y,” which is reminiscent of earlier
typographic periods such as the Renaissance.
Though both Avenir and Futura are generally
considered to fall into the sans serif category, on closer inspection, one
would notice that Avenir utilizes
slab serifs, while Futura does not.
These serifs are the same weight as the main stroke, which makes it appear as
though the typeface has no serifs at all. This is most obvious when comparing
the uppercase “A,” “M,” and “W” of each typeface, where diagonal strokes
converge to end in a flat line for Avenir,
yet come to a point in Futura.
In the early 2000’s, Frutiger worked
with type designer Akira Kobayashi to update and expand Avenir’s weights and features, resulting in Avenir Next. Comparing it with Futura,
Kobayashi points out, “Futura had
short descenders (the portions that extend below the baseline) compared to the
long ascenders (the portions that extend above x-height)” (Pao 33), which made
letters like “g,” “j,” “p,” “q,” and “y” seem too small. In contrast, Kobayashi argues that Avenir is well balanced and has a more
refined appearance with better legibility.
Kobayashi remarks, “Avenir had always been high on the best-selling list…Avenir is used, not only for headlines,
but also for the body text of Western magazines and newspapers” (Pao 33). With major
companies like Apple, Samsung, Snapchat, and Disney using Avenir for their apps and websites, it’s safe to say that its popularity
remains constant today as a prime example of a geometric-mechanistic typeface.