Avenir & Gotham

David Rault's picture

my fellow typophiles,

would you consider it pertinent to say that there is a 'stylistic relationship' between Avenir (Frutiger, 1988) and Gotham (Frere-Jones, 2000)?

thanks for your answers,

David Rault's picture

well thanks, dan, this helps.


David Rault's picture

Another image:

Gotham in blue, Avenir in pink.

Of course, I NEVER meant to say that these types are 'the same' or to imply fraud etc. I love Gotham, I really do, and I understand they are two different typefaces. Though, they share a lot in the design, and considering their two very different influences (frutiger claimed being influenced only by Futura, and Frere-Jones claimed being influenced only by the vernacular inscriptions of New York buildings), it is a subject of curiosity for me, on which I wish to have your point of view - I hope that for some of you, it will be a little bit longer than a two letters word.


William Berkson's picture

On the caps your samples are significantly different. Gotham follows the 19th century pattern of relatively equal widths to the caps, whereas Avenir follows more the classical roman model, following being more influenced by Futura, which it is a an variation of. The lower cases of the two are more similar--and both are similar to Futura, though with shorter extenders in the case of Avenir, and much shorter in the case of Gotham. One of the points of Avenir vs Futura was to have the two story a, which Gotham also has.

I suspect that if you look at the lower cases of all 'geometric' sans, the differences are going to be even more subtle than is usually the case between typefaces.

eliason's picture

Why the scare quotes around "stylistic relationship"? Is there a question behind the question?

David Rault's picture

William: thanks, that was interesting. I am actually looking at a lot of geometric sans, and the differences are not that subtle: the lower case caracters of Kabel, Avant Garde, Futura... are really very different. the thing is, i can clearly see the influence of late 19th grotesques in gotham, but i tend to also see it in Avenir, especially in the caps, altogether with the obvious spirit of futura et al; if so, how come i can not find any reference about this in frutiger's interviews and books? or, ami i seeing something where there is nothing?


David Rault's picture

ellason: no, not at all, it's just because the way i say it sounds weird, but at the time i didnt know how to say it in a better way.


clauses's picture

Is there a ’stylistic relationship’, but yes of course. What is a ’stylistic relationship’ exactly? There is a stylistic relationship between a great many type designs, with most new designs building on the sum of designs past.

dux's picture

Avenir is the better Futura, Gotham the better Avenir.

pattyfab's picture

Avenir is the better Futura, Gotham the better Avenir.

That is absurd. I love and use both fonts. Gotham is more stylish and modern looking which is why you see it EVERYWHERE but Avenir is far easier to read for body copy and makes less of a statement.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Frutiger claimed being influenced only by Futura, and Frere-Jones claimed being influenced only by the vernacular inscriptions of New York buildings

You say it yourself: both typefaces have a common inspiration: Futura — since the Art Deco-ish inscriptions of those buildings were direct derivations of Futura and the US-made rip-offs thereof.
Futura IS off course one of the most influentual typefaces of the modern age.

. . .
Bert Vanderveen BNO

dux's picture

I agree they're all their own types (within geo sans confines), but I was poking a little fun at herr frutiger's statement on avenir. Yes I can see the difference.

William Berkson's picture

David, this summary from the paragraph on Avenir Next is pretty revealing. Evidently Frutiger's 'brief' was to "humanize" Futura, which involved introducing a bit of contrast between horizontal and vertical, as well has the "a".

>Art Deco-ish inscriptions of those buildings were direct derivations of Futura

Bert, this is not correct. Visually the NYC stuff that was the basis for Gotham is more 19th century (not Art Deco), having the equal width caps. IIRC, think there is little, if any of the early stuff on buildings with a lower case. Paul Shaw, in a tour of NYC lettering I went on, organized by the TDC, explained that there were architect's books with models for lettering on buildings, which were done by sign painters and stone carvers. That's why the similarity of lettering which became the basis of Gotham. But a lot of it pre-dates Futura.

Also Futura really has the wide (square) and narrow (half square) proportions of Trajan caps, so that can't be the model for Gotham caps.

Now looking again at the samples here, you can see that Gotham lower case follows the model more of Futura, as the vertical stems are thicker in comparison. The greater modulation may be why Patty sees Avenir working better in text, but Gotham as having more punch.

Edit. Here in the essay on the origins of Gotham, Frere-Jones says that there was traditionally no lower case. He says that his models only go back to the 30s. But in any case the even width style of Caps is 19th century, not Futura.

dux's picture

And Dan...

don't be so obtuse. I'm sure we're all very impressed at how you can pick out the realistically minor differences between fonts...

clauses's picture

Avenir is the better Futura

That's asinine. Avenir is rather run of the mill, where as Futura is a towering modernist masterpiece.

mondoB's picture

I see Gotham as responding to the fashion now for Gill-derived letterforms, especially the cap M whose center stops short of the baseline. Both families are very stylish and legible; the only problem with Avenir is its perverse refusal to go all the way on weights, whereas Gotham does cover the weight range properly. But if I had to choose just one to buy, it would be Avenir, the single most stylish and legible sans serif on the market.

crossgrove's picture

Does Avenir Next somehow skimp on weights? Gotham has a couple more, but mostly additional light weights.

Gill almost never worked in any kind of mechanistic idiom. Gotham overtly features mechanistic, industrial features. H+F-J acknowledge the "Mathematical reasoning of the draftsman" in their exclusively American models, rather than the sensibility of a calligrapher and stonecarver (which Gill was first and foremost). Gill's lettering has always held a very specifically British style, a tradition he learned from stonecarvers and calligraphers in the UK. His background and output were very regional, and continue to be very recognizable. Not sure how you can make a very clear connection between Gill and Gotham. I think you may have stumbled on the only commonality: The M.

One thing to point out about Avenir: Adrian Frutiger has a very recognizable tendency to draw a wide, flat-footed, cap A with a low crossbar. In all his sans and most of his serif designs this wide shape appears. Along with his also typical wide a, it can push Avenir stylistically away from the highly proportional style of Futura (its predecessor) towards more of the wide, square style of Gotham (and Proxima, and Slate, somewhat).

eliason's picture

David, this summary from the paragraph on Avenir Next is pretty revealing. Evidently Frutiger’s ’brief’ was to “humanize” Futura, which involved introducing a bit of contrast between horizontal and vertical, as well has the “a”.

William, could you direct me more specifically to that language? I can't find it in the link.

William Berkson's picture

Sorry, there are several places on the Linotype site, and the word 'humane' or 'humanize' is not in that one. This is the most extensive discussion that guess I remembered. There he uses the word 'humane'. It has fascinating detail on how and why he changed Futura to make Avenir. It concludes:

"Avenir™ is intended to be nothing more nor less than a clear and clean representation of modern typographical trends, giving the designer a typeface which is strictly modern and at the same time humane, ie suitable refined and elegant for use in texts of any length."

Jan's picture

The origin of Gotham are the caps and that’s still its strength. When set in all caps Gotham looks far better than Avenir (low waist bowls on R and P, even width as Steven pointed out). The lower case was added for a complete typeface. The concept of Avenir is much more that of a typeface for continueous textsetting from the beginning. And it shows.

David Rault's picture

I have to agree with Jan on that one: when Gotham is placed next to Avenir, in caps, it looks slightly better (the repartition of weights, the standard wider spacing which makes it look more classy, the little adjustments here and there...) - but i'm wondering if it will still look better in, say, 5 or 8 years from now. Wide, sleek sans serifs are very much in these days fashion, especially in thin or light caps, it's a trend we tend to see everywhere (Gotham, Avenir, Verlag, Proxima Nova, to name but a few), and I have the feeling that Gotham, if not launched the trend, surely helped spreading it, but... is this gonna pass? I mean, look at Avenir, the design goes all the way back to 1988, and it was not widely used until recently. And when Linotype decided to redesign it, one thing they did was to add a light alternative to the package...


David Rault's picture

And by the way, I honestly don't see or feel much of a difference between Avenir and Gotham when used in lower case.


marcox's picture

David, take a look at extended text settings of Gotham and Avenir and I think you'll appreciate the differences in their lowercase letters. While superficially the same, Gotham's large x-height (verging on the Hrant-ian "obese") really reduces its effectiveness in long copy. And this is coming from someone who prefers Gotham overall.

David Rault's picture

marcox, you are right, but these differences, still, are subtle, for me. well again, we come back to the fact that Avenir was designed for long copy, while Gotham was designed mainly for display.


typerighter's picture

On a recent trip to the Museo Picasso Málaga I noticed the initial entrance vinyl used Gotham, but the rest of the museum, including captioning used Avenir (beautifully letterpressed I might add). As with so many exhibitions the typography stays with me much longer than the exhibited work. Might we add Foundry Context to this debate on stylistic relationships? B.

Dimitris Papazoglou's picture

...According to the similarities and the differences between the lowercase letters (Avenir, Futura & Gotham) this may help.

Dimitris Papazoglou

fontplayer's picture

Subtle distinctions must be adamantly defended, or the whole type industry would be in a tangled mess that would take forever to sort out. No one wants to see that.
; )

Nick Shinn's picture

I don't think H&FJ should be singled out and criticized for what is a widespread practice, certainly not if they're following in Adrian Frutiger's footsteps!

A "subtle distinction": Gotham's lower case, mining a well-worked vein from the 1920s (consider it public domain), is nowhere near an issue for a sleazy industry where blatant design plagiarism is widely condoned--and has been for centuries with little ethical progress-- where the producer of a revival is called its designer, and where only the novice appropriator gets called to task--more for callow ineptitude than bad intent. If you're a big corporation or have something of a reputation, then your professional nuancing of other people's work, or stuff you developed that ended up looking a bit like someone else's work, won't raise much of an eyebrow.

The sameness is fostered by what the market asks for, which is retro, retro, and more of the same.
And typophiles who harp about how glyphs that "draw attention to themselves" will compromise readability.
And typophiles who like nothing better than to discuss good old Garamond and Helvetica, rather than anything, God forbid, designed in recent memory. (This thread an exception.)


Clients often give me the opportunity to be unethical.
That's not the same as asking me to do unethical things, of course.

Presently I'm working on a commission for an agency that wants a unicase version of a well-known typeface for its client. The art director hasn't commissioned this kind of work before, and more power to him, but he needs advice on the legal technicalities, which is what I'm here for, among other things. So I said he could check out the EULA, contact the foundry, and see if they could do the job, and that I could do it too -- except that I would adapt one of my fonts to be "similar to", because point piracy and a verbatim copy is illegal. But there wouldn't be a problem, as it's a pretty generic typeface anyway.

Of course, I would have preferred if the agency had contacted me upfront before they pitched their client, and said "Nick, we need a unicase a bit like so-and-so", which would have given me more design space, but that would have invested too much in what was, no doubt, one of several different creative approaches they were presenting.


Even those foundries and publishers which produce a lot of new designs also publish some work that is straight-up derivative.

As well as criticize conservatism and plagiarism, it's good to big up the interesting new work -- so props to Stephen Coles and his ongoing "top new fonts" projects at FontShop.com and Typographica.

i cant delete my username's picture

Oddly enough my two favorite typefaces. My current in-house job employs Avenir for the identity, but I find Gotham to be a more updated version. The biggest differance is the elongation in Gotham. The easiest way to tell the two apart is the capital M. Lets remember the best form of flattery is imitation. Who better to imitate than Mr. Frutiger?

Shall we talk about Swiss 721 and Helvetica? or Freeway and Frutiger next? perhaps Filosofia and Bodoni? Mrs Eaves and Baskerville?

rs_donsata's picture

Such a strong coincidence and interesting finding.

I don't think H&FJ were imitating Avenir but ended on a very similar typographic structure by obvious reasons.

It's interesting how at the regular weight differences are so subtle but get accentuated at the extreme iterations.


Bert Vanderveen's picture

Shall we talk about Swiss 721 and Helvetica? or Freeway and Frutiger next? perhaps Filosofia and Bodoni? Mrs Eaves and Baskerville?

Please, Chipman, let’s so not go there… ; )

. . .
Bert Vanderveen BNO

David Rault's picture

Well, after a few days of chatting and arguing, it seems that the answer is not as clear as it sounds and the opinions are different. I wish I could have a word about this with Tobias Frere-Jones and Adrian Frutiger, maybe they would have the final word about this discussion.

As of myself, I think H&FJ arrived to a fairly similar typeface using quite different ways, especially with the capitals, but I wouldn't think the same way about the lower case letters, they really share way too many characteristics. Anyway, both typefaces are brilliant and have enough singular characteristics not to be called "rip-offs" or something. I like them both, i'd use them both. And I will write two separate articles about them in my upcoming book.

thanks to all the contributors (I mean, those who had something else to say than "no").


Thomas Phinney's picture

I see Futura, Avenir and Gotham as being something of a continuum of geometric sans design. The middle of that continuum (Avenir) is the sweet spot for being unobtrusive and the best of the three for text. Futura is more geometric and sterile-feeling, while Gotham is more humanistic but also more quirky.

In the same vein, Futura has lengthy ascenders/descenders while Gotham has really short ones.



adnix's picture

Well, as for the original question of being 'stylistically related' I feel that to be related, you need to come from the same creator. They definitely appear to be stylistically similar, IMO.


Textwrapper's picture

I can't tell these apart.
Now, everyone, back to work.

Shanx's picture

My personal preference is for Avenir. Gotham is a nifty little font itself with some micro-minor distinctions but too expensive.

For those looking for a somewhat affordable alternative that's not a great departure from both of these, try Proxima Nova:


AGL's picture

Gotham for titles, Avenir for Text.

i cant delete my username's picture

"Gotham is a nifty little font itself with some micro-minor distinctions but too expensive."
Unless you're talking about the updated Avenir Next with comperable weights and styles....
Avenir Next: $1,199
Gotham: $397

I like gotham because I think the cap height/x height proportions are better. I enjoy the fact that the caps aren't quite as tall in proportion to Avenir. The Ultra weight in gotham does look a little silly though.

Gary Lonergan's picture

I have used both types and am not a fan. They set wide and I always felt like putting minus tracking on them. (But didn't) But than again I like the more humanist sans like Bliss and Scala Sans. Its down to personal preference really

AGL's picture

" i can clearly see the influence of late 19th grotesques in gotham "

I have found something that may be related, Two Lines English Egyptian (1st picture in this article).

i cant delete my username's picture

André, I mentioned your last post here. Very interesting article.

PedoneRosso's picture

Hi. New of the forum here.
Interesting discussion on this topic.

I'm in need of an info, though, that someone here might be able to answer very easily: I'm looking for a character which looks almost exactly the same as Futura, as far a I can see by careful eye examination, but with a straightened capital M (very similar to the Avenir capital M). Capital T has as narrow orizontal bar as Futura, maybe even a tad more, and lower case a is round as it is in Futura (while in Avenir it presents the curly shape on top).
I've been looking for it through all my collection but I cannot seem to find the right one.

Thanks in advance for any help provided.

canepiano's picture

Hi PedoneRosso,

It sounds to me that what you're looking for could be "Avant Garde" (http://www.myfonts.com/fonts/itc/avant-garde-gothic/).

If necessary, use the "sample text" to look at the regular "M", "T", and "a", not the stylistic alternates. (Avant Garde has a lot of those, with a slanted "M" alternative, for instance.)

In the realm of the non-typographically obsessed, Futura and Avant Garde get confused a lot.

PJay's picture

It happens that I've just noticed Avenir used in two recent books - for captions and titles in 'Dataclysm' by Christian Rudder and in another current book. You know how it is - suddenly you seem to see the same typeface everywhere. ( Now I wait for someone to say it's not Avenir, it's Gotham).

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