Impact of Typographers on Graphic Design Field

Graphic Designing

Impact of Typographers on Graphic Design Field

This paper sheds light on the lives of two prominent typographers Eric Gill and Adrian Frutiger. The purpose of this paper is to find out about the lives of these typographers, their careers and their contributions to the field of graphic designing. The art of typography pertains to the technique of arranging text in order to enhance visibility of the language. We begin with British sculptor Eric Gill as follows:

Eric Gill


Born on February 22, 1984, Arthur Eric Rowton Gill was a sculptor, printmaker, typeface designer and stonecuttor of Britisch descent. His hometown was Brighton, Sussex and he used to live in a suburban street in the town. Eric dismissed Brighton as a “shapeless and meaningless mess.” Gill was among the second of his thirteen siblings and his father was the minister of a small sect called “Connection.” Eric lasted only about 6 years in the school and he learned things only for the sake of passing tests. He was fond of playing cricket and football and in his early childhood he used to draw engines of locomotives.

His family moved to Chichester in 1897 where he studied Arts at Chichester Technical and Art School. In 1900, he moved to London to train architecture and took classes at Westminster Technical Institute in stonemasonry. He also studied calligraphy at Central School of Arts and Crafts where he was strongly influenced by Edward Johnston who was the creater of the typeface called London Underground.

Gill married at the age of 22 and settled in Battersea and later in Ditchling, Sussex. His revolutionary religious views, sexual and paedophiliac behavior made him a controversial figure.


Gill began his career in Ditchling, Sussex where he used to live with his wife by producing sculptures. Among his successful works, the first public success was “Mother and Child” which was produced in 1912. During his early career, Gill was influenced by the sculptures he saw in Indian temples. This profound fascination led him to plan an imitation large-scale construction of Jain sculptures, as shown in the picture below, with the help of his friend and collaborator Jacob Epstein (Arrowsmith, 2010)

(Jain Sculptures in Gwalior Fort, Madhya Pradesh, India)

Continuing his love for sculptory, he created sculptures for stations of the cross in Westminster Cathedral in 1914. He met Stanley Morison, the typographer, in the same year. After the end of the First World War, Eric founded ‘The Guild of St. Joseph and St. Dominic’at his city of residence, Ditchling, with the help of Hilary Pepler and Desmond Chute.

Gill moved to Wales in 1924 and set up a workshop. This workshop was followed by his apprentice Jones alongwith other followers. He built a printing press and lettering workshop in Speen in 1928. Some of his apprentices included David Kindersley, who is now a famous engraver and sculptor, as well as his nephew, John Skelton, who is renowned as a sculptor and letterer.

“Prospero and Ariel” was a group of sculptures, among others, created by Gill in 1932 for BBC’s broadcasting house in London. He was commissioned to create 7 bas-relief panels for the Great Hall of Queen Mary College University of London, formerly known as The People’s Palace which opened in 1936. In the following year, the British Post Office commissioned him to design the background of the first George VI definitive stamp series. This succession of work led him to produce The Creation of Adam for the League of Nations building in Geneva.

Soon after these prominent works, he was granted the status of Royal Designer for Industry which is the highest degree of award for designers, by the Royal Society of Arts. Later on, he founded the Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry.

Major Contributions to Graphic Design:

Among the major contributions of Eric Gill, the ‘Stations of the Cross’ sculptor in Westminster Cathedral (1913) lies first and foremost. In 1932, London Midland & Scottish Railway built the Art Deco Midland Hotel for which Eric Gill produced several artifacts, among which the prominent sculpture is the two seahorses which lie above the entrance to the Hotel (below)

Gill’s contributions to the graphic design typography field are impeccably important. The typeface designer created the Perpetua typeface in 1925 (Harling, 1978). This typeface was inspired by monumental ancient Roman inscriptions. Eric designed this typeface for Morison who was working with the Monotype Corporation.

Gill’s own personal cutting of the typeface is found on a wall plaque commemorating Sir Harry Johnston’s life, in the Poling church in West Sussex. The typeface depicting Gill’s personal Perpetua variant can be seen on the right.

After designing Perpetua, Eric produced the Gill Sans typeface in 1927. Naturally, this typeface was inspired by the Sans Serif typeface which was initially created for the London Underground. For Sans Serif, Gill had worked with Edward Johnston for the design of the typeface; however, he quit working on the project before it was finished.

Gill Sans (pictured right) turned out to be Gill’s most famous typeface and most of its variants have been equally famous after Gill’s death. Some of Gill’s famous typefaces are as follows:

Perpetua (1926)

Gill Sans (1927)

Joanna (1930)

Aries (1932)

Bunyan (1934)

Jubilee (1934)

Adrian Frutiger


Adrian Frutiger (pictured right) was born on May 24, 1928 in Unterseen, Switzerland. Frutiger’s childhood was spent growing up in a green valley near a lake which was surrounded by Bernese Alps. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential typeface designers of the 20th century. He was born a son of a weaver. Frutiger always dreamed of travelling as a boy and longed for a distant, sunny land and a big city where he could achieve something big in his life. Even though his travels were modest, he did indeed achieve big things.

In his childhood, he used to experiment with the scripts invented at that time, practiced stylized handwritings in their negative reaction to the original and cursory penmanship which was required by Swiss schools at the time. Even though his early interest was deviated towards sculptory, it was discouraged by his father as well his teachers. They diverted his focus towards working in printing instead. Even though typeface designing comprises most of his professional career, he retained his love of sculptory even in his typeface designs.

Frutiger developed an acute awareness of letterforms in his youth. He was against the usual writing styles taught in schools and at the age of 15, rebelled against the conventional Hulliger handwriting method which was taught in Swiss-German schools at the time. At the age of 16, Frutiger remained an apprentice to the printer Otto Schaerffli in Interlaken for four years. Afterwards, he studied from Walter Kach and Alfred Willimann between 1949-1951 in the Kunstgewerbeschule, a school of applied arts in Zurich. At the school, Frutiger’s area of focus was calligraphy because he preferred the nib and brush over drafting tools.


Adrian Frutiger’s career took flight when Charles Peignot of the Deberny Et Peignot Paris foundry invited him to oversee the foundry’s drawing office based on the quality illustrated by Frutiger’s essay Schrift / Ecriture / Lettering: the development of European letter types carved in wood. The foundry was responsible for creating the metal type and fonts for the then-revolutionary Photon phototypesetting systems. Despite living away from home, Frutiger still observed Swiss traditions as part of his work’s trademark. He preferred woodcut techniques to create paper silhouettes according to the Bernese Oberland tradition. Frutiger said that he always felt relucted to use black ink as a medium and preferred to cut, scratch or engrave the material whenever possible. During his time in this foundry, Frutiger produced the President, Meridien & Ondine typefaces. It was after seeing these typefaces that Charles Peignot commissioned him to work on converting the existential extant types for the new phototypesetting Linotype equipment (Macmillan, 2006).

Frutiger always liked to take the unorthodox path and in order to achieve his distinct style, he used to cut his pen’s nib broad and made round and open letterforms. His first commercial success was the President typeface which was released in 1954 during his time at the foundry. The typeface featured a set of titling capital letters with relatively small, bracketed serifs. He maintained his interest in calligraphy and produced the Ondine typeface which also released in 1955 and featured informal script face. His third typeface during his time at Deberny Et Peignot was the Meridian typeface which featured an old-style, glyphic, serif textface was released in 1955. In the next year, he produced his first slab-serif typefaces; Egyptienne. It was after Egyptienne that he produced his most famous typeface.

Major Contributions to Graphic Design:

In the 1950s, Frutiger produced more typefaces like Meridien and Phoebus but what sealed his international reputation, however, was when he released the Univers typeface in 1957 for the metal and film composition. Univers took the typeface industry by the storm and found it’s way in newspaper compositions. Another widely renowned sans-serif typeface Helvetica was designed and released by Eduard Hoffmann in 1957. Due to their striking similarities, a good many comparisons were drawn between Univers and Helvetica in order to pick one for widespread usage. For the sake of comparison, a reference picture can be seen below:

Despite losing to Helvetica in widespread adaptation, Univers received critical acclaim and is greatly used in many texts around the world.

The success of Univers led RATP, the public transport authority of Paris to ask Frutiger to examine the Paris Metro typeface and improve it in order to create better legibility. For this reason, he created a Univers font variation which led the French airport authority to commision a “way-finding signage” typeface to Frutiger in order to create better legibility from an angle and afar. Frutiger considered Univers as too dated in 1960s for this purpose and worked on an amalgamated typeface of Univers and organic influences of Gill Sans which was made by Eric Gill.

This new typeface was named ‘Frutiger’ and was publicly released in 1976. A reference picture of a variant of this typeface can be seen on right.

For his works, Frutiger received many awards, some of which are listed as follows:

Medal of the Type Directors Club of New York (1987)

Grand Prix National des Arts Graphiques (France) (1993)

Typography Award from The Society of Typographic Aficionados (SOTA) (2006)

European Design Hall of Fame (2009)

Throughout his career, Frutiger produced many typefaces and their variants. Some of the highlighted ones are listed as follows:

1. President (1954)

2. Ondine (1954)

3. Meridien (1955)

4. Egyptienne (1956)

5. Univers (1957)

6. Frutiger (1976)

7. Versailles (1982)

8. Avenir (1988)

In late 1990’s, Univers was redesigned with 63 variants and Frutiger was re-released as Frutiger Next with true italic and more weight options. Adrian Frutiger’s career spans across many eras of typeface designs ranging from phototypesetting to hot metal to digital typesetting eras. Nowadays, he resides near Bern.


Arrowsmith, Rupert Richard. Modernism and the Museum: Asian, African, and Pacific Art and the London Avant-Garde. Oxford University Press, 2010. Web Site.

Attwater, Donald. Modern Christian Revolutionaries: An Introduction to the Lives and Thought of: Kierkegaard, Eric Gill, G.K. Chesterton, C.F. Andrews [And] Berdyaev. New York: Devin-Adair Company, 1947. Web Site.

Friedl, Friedrich, Nicolaus Ott, and Bernard Stein. Typography: an encyclopedic survey of type design and techniques throughout history. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 1998. Print.

Harling, Robert. The Letter Forms and Type Designs of Eric Gill. Boston D.R. Godine, 1978. Print.

Macmillan, Neil. An A — Z of Type Designers. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. Print.

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