Univers lives up to its name – it’s universal, probably the most used typeface in the world. The popularity is largely because it’s so bland, characterless, and inoffensive that it can safely be used for anything from baby food to weapons of mass destruction.
Range was certainly the objective when French type-foundry Deberny & Peignote launched Univers in in 1957. It was one of the first to be available immediately in comprehensive weights and widths, scope emphasised by using the periodic table in marketing.
The logic was to enable production of documents in one consistent typeface for all text, matching the trend to neutral sans-serif faces and avoidance of ‘artistic excesses’.
Fair enough, but that avoidance has become a total absence of artistic expression. Univers is clean, cluttered, and easily read in most applications but can be almost illegible if not used properly, such as reversing swatches of 6-point text from a solid. And its very neutrality is also its downfall: colourless to the point of boredom.
Beware! Next time you go for Univers as the all-purpose default face.