Saturday, February 6, 2016 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Highway Gothic to Clearview—and Back

Joshua Yaffa:

The letter shapes of Highway Gothic weren’t ever tested, having never really been designed in the first place. “It’s very American in that way — just smash it together and get it up there,” says Tobias Frere-Jones, a typographer in New York City who came to the attention of the design world in the mid-1990s with his Interstate typeface inspired by the bemusing, awkward charm of Highway Gothic. “It’s brash and blunt, not so concerned with detail. It has a certain unvarnished honesty.”

Wikipedia:

The standard FHWA typefaces, developed in the 1940s, were designed to work with a system of highway signs in which almost all words are capitalized. The designers of Clearview sought to create a typeface adapted for mixed-case signage, initially expecting it would be based on an existing European sans-serif typeface. Instead, using a similar weight to the FHWA fonts, a new font was created from scratch. Two key differences are much larger counter spaces, the enclosed spaces in letters like the lower case “e” or “a”, and a higher x-height, the relative height of the lower case “x” to the upper case “X”.

Federal Highway Administration (via Thomas H. Ptacek):

Though research initially gave us hope that Clearview would make signs easier to read from greater distances and at night, years of additional research have not supported this conclusion.

Early successes we noted were credited to the new font, but the years since have shown those successes were likely due, at least in part, to the fact that older, worn signs had been replaced with new, cleaner ones using brighter materials. After more than a decade of analysis, we learned that retro-reflective sign sheeting materials that direct a vehicle’s headlamp beams back to the observer were the primary determining factor in improved nighttime visibility and legibility.

Among other things, we also learned that Clearview compromises the legibility of signs in negative-contrast color orientations, such as those with black letters on white or yellow backgrounds like Speed Limit and Warning signs.

The ideas behind Clearview sound good, but I do not find it very attractive, and I think the spacing looks weird.

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