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August 11, 2007 1:06 PM   Subscribe

How the new type standard for American road signage reduces halation and improves readability.
posted by Blazecock Pileon (47 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
The article says the Clearview font were designed in the U.S., but after seeing these signs locally in Dallas I noticed a strong resemblence to the typeface long used in British road signs. I wonder if there is any influence that is not being credited.
posted by antipasta_explosion at 1:14 PM on August 11, 2007


Not that I dispute the value of the new font, but it's a little unfair that in the photos, the first 'old' example is weather damaged where the Clearview one is nice and clean.

Of course it's going to look better and be more readable.

Still, it will be weird to see these on the roads. I guess I never really thought about the font used on highway signage, but the idea that it might change seems like something that will bug me.

I'll be driving into work wondering the whole way what feels different, and completely unable to identify what it is.
posted by quin at 1:17 PM on August 11, 2007


I'm fond of Frere-Jones Interstate with its savage angles, but I can see the merit of Clearview. Less sparkle, more generous x-height?
posted by Haruspex at 1:22 PM on August 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


The article says the Clearview font were designed in the U.S., but after seeing these signs locally in Dallas I noticed a strong resemblence to the typeface long used in British road signs. I wonder if there is any influence that is not being credited.

I thought the very same. If you look at the lower-case Clearview 'L' glyphs, you'll notice they are rounded in the same way as in British Transport, and it is a detail that lends a distinct impression on viewers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:23 PM on August 11, 2007


quin, Won't you know what's different though, having already explicitly addressed the potential change?

Does anyone know if there's been a lot of research on font and cognition? A cursory investigation yielded few results on my part, but my Google-fu is definitely Grasshopper-style.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 1:24 PM on August 11, 2007


I thought everyone just blindly followed the pleasant mechanical voice emanating from the GPS receiver to get around.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:25 PM on August 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


If the government just drafted the local juveniles and made them spray paint roadsigns for community service, they could save a lot of money. Cuz that's what they been doing to the road signs in my area anyway.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:31 PM on August 11, 2007


Less than a generation ago, fonts were for the specialist, an esoteric pursuit, what Stanley Morison, the English typographer who helped create Times New Roman in the 1930s, called “a minor technicality of civilized life.” Now, as the idea of branding has claimed a central role in American life, so, too, has the importance and understanding of type. Fonts are image, and image is modern America.

Oh ah.

Erm, I mean "Amen!"
posted by carsonb at 1:31 PM on August 11, 2007


The font is not (yet) available for free download but Roadgeek has worked up an approximation: 2005 1B through 6B here. Other highway fonts there, too.
posted by CCBC at 1:33 PM on August 11, 2007


CCBC, see the second link.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:37 PM on August 11, 2007


sorry about that
posted by CCBC at 1:45 PM on August 11, 2007


It may be readable, but that is the most insipid typeface I've ever seen. And those ghastly little curling bits at the bottom of the lowercase Ls — truly painful.
posted by enn at 1:48 PM on August 11, 2007


They should have gone with Comic Sans
posted by parallax7d at 1:50 PM on August 11, 2007 [6 favorites]


This Roadgeek guy seems to know more than just a bit about this country's roads, but just as intriguing are his thoughts on this country's direction. Methinks we should improve the font that this country's leaders are reading. Seems they're having trouble with halation at high speeds too. Maybe the Constitution needs to be in Clearview.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:58 PM on August 11, 2007


I can feel this new font working already. It tingles.
posted by DU at 2:22 PM on August 11, 2007 [2 favorites]


They should have gone with Comic Sans.

I felt compelled to see what this would look like.
posted by rolypolyman at 2:43 PM on August 11, 2007 [4 favorites]


P.S. I found a real example of Comic Sans -- in a turnpike plaza. I wonder if any Sims work there.
posted by rolypolyman at 2:46 PM on August 11, 2007


I felt compelled to see what this would look like.

More please!
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 2:51 PM on August 11, 2007


Urgh. It may be easier to see, but not to look at. Still, if it helps road safety and whatnot, I guess it's an improvement. Function should come before aesthetics, as much as I hate that.
posted by luftmensch at 2:54 PM on August 11, 2007


That was a really tiring article... and I like typography.
posted by odinsdream at 3:05 PM on August 11, 2007


Here, Kraftmatic. I'm quitting now before I get in trouble for thread drift.
posted by rolypolyman at 3:06 PM on August 11, 2007 [2 favorites]


Happy little switches inside my head flipped back and forth while I read this article, like bubbles in soda twinkling to the surface.

More, please. :D
posted by Mikey-San at 3:26 PM on August 11, 2007


my favorite part is how the new typeface also cut the distance to listed cities in half.
posted by etaoin at 3:32 PM on August 11, 2007 [3 favorites]


I felt compelled to see what this would look like.

*blinks*

That looked way better than I expected.

We should use that. It would be comical, and... sans-like.
posted by quin at 3:53 PM on August 11, 2007


my favorite part is how the new typeface also cut the distance to listed cities in half.

Puny mortal! Witness the power of TYPOGRAPHY!
posted by quin at 3:55 PM on August 11, 2007 [6 favorites]


The new signs are nice, but there is a big problem, especially at night. If it's damp out, the new surface gathers dew and becomes completely unreadable. The reflective surface no longer reflects. You'd think that they would have tested that our before deploying them nation-wide??
posted by afx114 at 4:18 PM on August 11, 2007


I noticed a strong resemblence to the typeface long used in British road signs.

You know you're in the UK when every bit of public signage is in Gill Sans or a close relative. Except for the stickers that read "fire door/keep closed" in Helvetica. But at least everything's exceptionally easy to read.

I don't care if American roadsigns are homely/ripped-off as long as they're easy to read from a distance. And a Gill Sans derivative is about the clearest typeface around.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:23 PM on August 11, 2007


It'll be fine when implemented properly. Where I live it seems very little attention is paid to standardization. So the street signs in my city use a whole mess of typefaces, that generally depend on when the sign was installed. Highway Gothic, Helvetica, badly scaled Clearview, you name it.
posted by evilcolonel at 4:47 PM on August 11, 2007


I didn't RTFA but isn't that the same typeface they use in Germany?
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 4:49 PM on August 11, 2007


afx114, thank you! I've seen some of the new signs and hated them because they were completely unreadable at night. When I read the article I thought I was taking crazy pills -- halation is a definite problem for me, so the new signs should be better. But the problem I've experienced is exactly as you described; the entire sign is dark and unreflective, leaving me completely SOL. Now at least I know why I hate the new, "readable" signs so much.

And burhanistan, clearly you do not have the same GPS lady I do, or you do not disobey her as frequently. I swear she gets pissier every single time she says "recalculating". I fear for her blood pressure when I detour to avoid a traffic jam.
posted by katemonster at 5:34 PM on August 11, 2007


my favorite part is how the new typeface also cut the distance to listed cities in half.

The new sign is also one mile further down the road, as the mile marker below it indicates.
posted by Shakeer at 5:54 PM on August 11, 2007


antipasta_explosion: there is influence, and it is indeed credited. Look at this slide from the slideshow in which they compared several existing typefaces used for roadsigns, including the British and German ones.
posted by zsazsa at 5:58 PM on August 11, 2007


Ok, this is dumb, but earlier today I was thinking about having a discussion with some of my roadgeek friends about highway sign fonts. No, I had no knowledge of this FPP's subject material, or that a change had been made.

SPOOKEY
posted by Eideteker at 6:03 PM on August 11, 2007


my favorite part is how the new typeface also cut the distance to listed cities in half.

The new sign is also one mile further down the road, as the mile marker below it indicates.
posted by Shakeer at 8:54 PM on August 11 [+] [!]

Wow, good for you. If I could read the mile marker on my laptop screen, I guess it wouldn't matter what font was used.
posted by etaoin at 6:12 PM on August 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't like how the 6s and 9s look a lot more like 8s than they used to. Too easy to mistake at a quick glance / through fog / etc. Seems like a step backward.
posted by churl at 7:18 PM on August 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


On the old FHWA typeface I used to hate the incomplete descenders on "g"s. I used to wince on I-10 northwest of San Antonio seeing all the exit signs for "Boerne Staqe Road".
posted by rolypolyman at 7:46 PM on August 11, 2007


From the slideshow:
After it analyzed existing typefaces, the design team failed to identify a font with the desired characteristics and decided to design two new typefaces.
Clearly the new font couldn't possibly be anything like the British or German one. :)
posted by Chuckles at 8:02 PM on August 11, 2007


What, a thread about typography and no mention of how dreadful and ghastly Arial is? Tsk tsk. I know it's the weekend, but that's no reason to slack off :)
posted by kaemaril at 9:17 PM on August 11, 2007


rolypolyman: I felt compelled to see what this would look like.

Whoa....that sign is for the town I live in, in California....weird....
posted by LooseFilter at 1:13 AM on August 12, 2007


I only notice fonts when I can't read them, so I had to read well into the article to see what was going on.
The slideshow sums it up well.
What are those things called at the bottom of the 'l's? I looked in Wiki about typeface without success.
I liked how they said that large blocks of text are more readable in serif fonts, but it was in sans. (or is that my browser?)

rolypolyman: got any signs in Wingdings?
posted by MtDewd at 3:18 AM on August 12, 2007


Eideteker: "Ok, this is dumb, but earlier today I was thinking about having a discussion with some of my roadgeek friends about highway sign fonts. No, I had no knowledge of this FPP's subject material, or that a change had been made."

What the world needs is a comprehensive list of all of the current ClearView signs. I remember seeing a whole bunch in Pennsylvania last year. But the closest one to us that I'm aware of is right in the middle of Waterbury, CT on I-84 westbound. Exit 21ish, maybe?

Every time I see it I have this "God, that sign is really nice, what's wrong with it?" moment.
posted by Plutor at 6:28 AM on August 12, 2007


That's horrifyingly apt, rolypolyman. Now, if you added "LOLZRENDITION" that plane would be flyin' off to 'undisclosed locations' in total BushCraft style.
posted by maryh at 7:29 AM on August 12, 2007


For those of you dismissing Clearview Hwy as “ugly” or similar, are you applying the wrong criteria? Just who exactly said that signage fonts have to be something other than ugly, or have any kind of beauty, or lack of it, at all?

Also for those same people: The article stated that Clearview variants for running text have been designed. Perhaps they’re less “ugly,” if that is still a criterion. Could you do your homework, please?

And you can all give up any delusion that Clearview variants will be available for free download. You want ’em, you pay for ’em.
posted by joeclark at 8:18 AM on August 12, 2007


Have they also decreased the spacing between letters in Clearview? In the older font, the spacing between letters now looks excessive and reminds me of that old German typographic convention for emphasis, which looks

l i k e t h i s

and which gives me a headache.
("Old" being relative: it is newer than the days of black-letter, but I've seen it only in mid-twentieth century academic papers.)
posted by bad grammar at 12:58 PM on August 12, 2007


The double-spaced letters for emphasis, called sperren in German, are also seen on early twentieth-century envelopes (written with a typewriter).

Variant forms of emphasis (scroll down)

Correction: sperren in fact originated in the black-letter period, since boldfacing or italic was not possible in black letter, as the linked article explains.

The persistence of sperren in German academic publishing was probably due to tradition as was putting scholars' names in CAPITALS (regrettably adopted by some English scholars).

As to why I recall obsolete typographic conventions, I have a degree in classical studies and we read a lot of old stuff (not just ancient old).
posted by bad grammar at 1:07 PM on August 12, 2007


And you can all give up any delusion that Clearview variants will be available for free download. You want ’em, you pay for ’em.

I already did pay for them. So gimme.
posted by zsazsa at 8:48 PM on August 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Man, I love tpypography (and road signs) but I couldn’t follow this article OR the graphics. In almost every slide I couldn’t tell WHICH example they were trying to show as the more legible. Maybe my eyes don’t work right, but it’s hard for me to believe that this whole exercise won’t someday be seen as a whole lot of distinctions without any differences.
posted by dpcoffin at 7:40 PM on August 13, 2007


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