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Commentary

Clearview: A New Typeface for US Highways

Typographica on October 27, 2004

America’s big green highway signs are about to become more legible. Type designer James Montalbano announces that after years of development, the US Federal Government has finally given official interim approval for his Clearview to be used on all Federal roads. The ClearviewHwy site covers some of the extensive research Montalbano has presented at various type conferences. It’s pretty fascinating stuff.


The following have already adopted Clearview:

  • Texas (statewide)
  • Pennsylvania
  • British Columbia
  • Toronto (older version)
  • Yukon
  • other Canadian municipalities

It could take years before it appears elsewhere, as individual states must decide whether or not to make the switch. They are not required to do so.

Old vs. New:

See also: Text to be Read at 60 MPH

93 Comments

  1. Mike D. says:

    Interesting. I like the typeface. Seems vaguely Meta-esque.

    Also, very interesting that they spell legibility “legiblity” on their front page (at least at the time of this post).

    Maybe it’s to point out how easy it is to identify words (and non-words) set in this face. :o

  2. Hrant says:

    This is landmark.
    The fonts are super, but the site might just be even better. Nothing short of a tour de force – bravo.

    hhp

  3. sean says:

    “legiblity”

    That is just plain funy.

    Good theory thogh Mike. : )

  4. Congratulations to James. I will miss the old face for sentimental reasons, but this will be a big improvement. However, it will take a long time for me to get used to seeing “ONE WAY” signs in upper and lowercase.

  5. Aaron Sittig says:

    Is it just me or do the sample applications put the text too close to the top? Maybe it’s my eyes reeling from being unaccustomed to seeing these signs in lowercase, but I would have bumped the text down a bit in all of these.

    Something else that bothers me is that the type of current signs is impersonal, mechanical and rigid which combine to create in my mind, a feeling of government and authority. Clearview however is, has been said, is very Meta-esque and more friendly and inviting, nice features in some applications but seemingly out of place on a sign that gives authoritative facts about places and distances.

    I admire the process behind the development of the type and can’t imagine better so this is less criticism than trying to figure out why my gut response to the signs is somewhat negative. Anyone else have a similar reaction?

  6. Marc Oxborrow says:

    Does anyone know if “interim approval” means that federal highway builders can use Clearview or must use it?

  7. James Montalbano says:

    Clearview is an approved alternate to the current Standard Highway Alphabet. There is no requirement to use it. Individual states make their own choice. As I understand it interim approval means approval was granted before the next version of the MUTCD is formally released.

    Mark, I think it will be quite a while before ONE WAY is any different thatn it is now.

    It was Clearview that was granted interim approval, not the proposals for the revamed MUTCD that are illustrated on the ClearviewHwy website.

  8. Marc Oxborrow says:

    Thanks for the clarification, James. And congratulations on what looks to have been a Herculean effort.

  9. Roland says:

    Personally I think the German highway signs look the coolest, but this is certainly a step up from the old font.

  10. Ben Barry says:

    I saw one of these driving from Dallas to Austin last weekend, I did a major double take. Glad to find this information here. The sign I saw seemed horribly out of place, once the switch is done I am sure it will be alright.

  11. Derrick Schultz says:

    I saw one of the signs on my way through Pennsylvania on
    I-81. Its amazing how it can affect your viewing. I also had to do a double-take.

    And as a person who already uses one of James’s typefaces in governement use (as a design intern at the Park Service, using Rawlinson), I gotta give it to him in getting the US government to understand typography and its importance.

  12. Matt says:

    In Southern California, a few toll roads feature a weird grayish-blue background instead of the dark green highway signs typically have. I thought they were a bit lower contrast, but they stood out because they were different, so they were easier to read. Anyone know if that’s just a toll road thing, a research project, or something we’ll soon see everywhere?

  13. Derek says:

    Marc, in further response to your question about whether federal highway builders can or must use Clearview, I may be wrong, but I don’t think that there are federal highway builders.

  14. Marc Oxborrow says:

    Derek, the U.S. Interstate Highway System is definitely a project funded and controlled by the federal government.

    (Eisenhower launched the project in the 1950s. Here’s a quick overview: http://www.publicpurpose.com/freeway1.htm )

    Whether the actual construction is handled by each state I don’t know. So we may both be right. I’m sure James can clarify, if he’s still paying attention.

  15. Michael Lewis says:

    While the federal government greatly subsidizes state highway-building projects, all highways are built by the state highway departments. Even interstate highways are planned, built and maintained by the states. This explains why the roll-out of this new typeface may take a while to gain traction in the rest of the 50 states.

    P.S.: Feeling nostalgic? Go to town and build your own road signs with this goofy but terrific Java app: http://www.kurumi.com/roads/signmaker/signmaker.html

  16. Reminiscor says:

    Can someone explain how this happened? Surely someone in there wisdom might have decide to have asked some other typedesigners to propose something, for the results seem distinctly average; surely Hoefler, Frere-Jones or even the English invader Carter would have come up with something better crafted than this effort, that seems to have little charm nor distinction.

  17. Simon says:

    It looks very European, doesn’t it? I like it, but that might be just because it’s very like what I’m used to. Does anyone know what the UK’s roadsign font is called?

  18. Ronnie Smith says:

    The Uk typeface is known in some quarters as Transport. You can find it at;

    http://www.myfonts.com/fonts/urw/transport/

    I don’t know what the quality is like, though the bold, doesn’t look particularly good, though that maybe because the original is not that great.

    It has also be digitised by Bruno Maag for North’s corporate identity for the RAC. I think also that Phil Baines or an associate did one for Eye. Earlier than that it was used in Spin magazine and for a band called Gay Dad; I think that has something to do with a guy called Paul Barnes.

    The original sketches (Gouache on board) are in St. Brides, which were done by Margaret Calvert, and the latest version and its aplications are in the HMSO official document. Apart from the article in Eye; Typography Papers 5 has an article Ole Lund
    ‘The public debate on Jock Kinneir’s road sign alphabet’

  19. Hrant says:

    Reminscor, I think you want too much artistry in such a utilitarian thing. This type of project requires a level of technical affinity that few designers have, as opposed to mere aesthetic appeal. Freeways aren’t just for designers you know.

    I’ve come to believe that form and function can never fully overlap, and a certain aesthetic “ugliness” can actually be necessary in some situation, especially lo-fi cases like newspapers and high-speed signage. You could say this raises the design to a higher, deeper level of beauty than mere form.

    hhp

  20. Jeff Gill says:

    As an American transplant to the UK I have to agree with Simon that it looks European, but it is a very American take on a European look – which I think is just right.

  21. si says:

    >Surely someone in there wisdom might have decide to have asked some other typedesigners to propose something

    James & co. were not ‘asked’, they just decided they could do better and invested the time, money, research and effort over the course of several years to get it done and approved. Kudos to them for the effort.

    James has given several talks on the development process – you should try and see him speak if you get the chance.

    Si

  22. Jon Young says:

    I think it is gorgeous. Really quite beautiful. It’s beauty, for me, is in the comfort that I feel when reading a sign set in Clearview! It just feels good. Secretly, it makes me proud to be an American. Or at least proud of our roads. Perhaps it will even make the PA turnpike bearable.

    My question: the letterfit, at least in the signs pictured on the website, is loose. Does this enhance legibility? And is it built into the typeface? Or are the “sign people”, whoever they may be, responsible for the letterspacing?

  23. Jon Young says:

    Nevermind. The ‘Letterspace’ section on the website appears to explain everything.

  24. Hrant says:

    > it makes me proud to be an American.

    Indeed. It’s sort of the type of thing that made me move here, back in ’86. We need to regain more of this spirit!

    hhp

  25. John Butler says:

    Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery.

  26. Reminiscor says:

    HHP

    Would you say that Bell Centennial by Matthew Carter is not utlitarian? As are his many newspaper typefaces? Has not this many years of experience over many technologies been worth anything? Or any number of designers working all over the world. Look at Majoor’s Dutch telephone directory typeface; and then Scala; Some designers can work in both functional and formal traditions. In fact one can argue that one informs the other.

    I applaud the motivation, in aiming to improve the current American signage system. It seems better than what is currently on offer; but that does not mean its as good as it could be. If people want the best typeface for the road signs of the USA, then round up the great and the good and get them to work out the best.

  27. I first saw Clearview on the Clearview Parkway on Long Island, for which I suppose it was first commissioned or designed. Like others, I did a double-take because it is so strikingly easy to read on signs.

    I don’t know how well it compares as far as legibility when put side by side in road conditions with European signage systems. But I have seen many of these, and I doubt that they are more legible. Aesthetics are a legitimate question, but this is really a major advance.

  28. The font is great for print but please don’t use it for a road signage system. The ideal font for US Highways is just a version similar to the old one with some very little improvements.

  29. Jon Young says:

    The best? Does a best really exist? What I like about Clearview is one > there is clearly a large amount of blood, sweat, and hard work that went into its creation, and two > it is distinctive. The idea of employing the “great” and the “good” does not seem very appealing. Pure talent, while clearly present, does not seem like the only driving force behind this.

  30. Hrant says:

    > Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery.

    Yeah, but do note that I was 18. I’ve changed (although maybe not for the better – but I’m me, not a state), and the US has too (and few would say for the better). What attracted me to America is still in me, and it’s still in America, but “hamuh pakhav”, as we say in Armenian: the taste is gone [through abuse]. The good things, like fairness, and adventurism, are fading fast: look at how the world is treated, and how parks no longer have see-saws. Yesterday I saw a bumper sticker that really spoke to me: “Dude, where’s my country?” I miss America. Although I also miss having two superpowers. This Tuesday, I will wear my CCCP shirt. Dan, you with me? :-)

    Reminiscor:
    I think Carter could have done the job. Majoor’s Telefont: no trapping – big red flag on that one, sorry.

    > The ideal font for US Highways is ….

    How much driving have you done in the US?

    To me, European signage type is a bit cold, although the signage systems overall tend to be more usable.

    hhp

  31. John Hudson says:

    Majoor’s Telefont: no trapping – big red flag on that one, sorry.

    Martin gave a presentation on this at TypeLab in Barcelona, 1995. He made trial versions of letters with and without ink traps, and both were tested by the printers of the Dutch phone books. There wasn’t judged to be any improvement of one version over the other, so they decided to develop the version without ink traps. I’m sure that, in the hands of other printers, ink traps might have been desirable, but for the specific job for which the typeface was designed, this was not judged to be the case. When commenting on this typeface, I think it is only fair to note that the decision not to include ink traps was a deliberate one based on testing, and not due to ignorance or neglect. The lack of ink traps may indeed be a red flag if one were intending to use the typeface and could not guarantee a sufficient quality of paper, press and presswork.

  32. Hrant says:

    John, it seems you got the post-rationalized version of the story… What I heard is the deadline was too tight. But I think another aspect of this is actually worse, and fits into the big picture of creationism versus usability, art versus craft.

    Anyway, I have actual sheets from the Dutch yellow pages, and the filling-in where there should have been traps is clear. And if the client really was dumb, there’s still room for design integrity – since it can’t really hurt anybody to make it better!

    Also, the implication is that most people who trap fonts (including some great names) are wasting time. And they do it for a lot higher fidelity media than phone books! You might come around and say that was a different situation, blah blah, but I think that’s just diplomatic speak.

    hhp

  33. Hrant says:

    And do you think Retina for example has trapping because the client asked for it? Highly unlikely. If they had delivered a non-trapped version of Retina it would still have been a big improvement, and warmly accepted by the client. Retina has trapping because it needs it — because it has design integrity.

    hhp

  34. James Montalbano says:

    The Clearview Parkway on Long Island never “commissioned” Clearview (I’m unaware that it is even being used on the Clearview). Don Meeker came up with the idea, decided a better solution was possible. He began work on the design and the initial research. Don contacted me when it became clear he wasn’t going to be able to do the type design. Don started this 14 years ago and brought me in 10 years ago. All of this was on our own initiative. Over last ten years I have drawn close to 200 different Clearview fonts for various purposes, clients and research studies. I hope I am finally done, but since we are in the process of getting funding for research into negative contrast applications, so I’m sure I’ll draw some more.

    What should really be done (if we ever get the research funding) is to completely revisit all of the engineering standards that go into the size specification of signage typography. Currently all FHWA specifications are based on cap height. With the standard of 50 feet of distance per inch of cap height.

    Since ClearviewHwy has a different set of proportion of caps to lowercase, our hypothesis is that you can reduce the specified cap height of ClearviewHwy and still maintain better legibility and recognition than a larger cap height Standard Highway Alphabet Series Emod font.

    We would like the opportunity to test our hypothesis. If anyone has a spare $500,000 or so, that would probably be enough to get a good way to it.

  35. Hrant says:

    You want that PAYPALed?

    hhp

  36. unaware that it is even being used on the Clearview

    Well, maybe my memory was playing tricks on me, as I saw the Clearview Parkway signs, which did have a different font, a few years before seeing samples of ‘Clearview’, and made the assumption that that is what I had seen.

  37. John Morse says:

    Fabrizio Schiavi:

    The font is great for print but please don’t use it for a road signage system. The ideal font for US Highways is just a version similar to the old one with some very little improvements.

    Could you explain this a little more for me? The face was specifically designed for high-speed road signage, with letterforms and word-shapes designed to be distinguished under real-world road conditions. The experimental research establishes that the Clearview face is technically superior to the “old one.” My eye, for one, appreciates it from an aesthetic standpoint as well. I do not think, however, that it is very suitable for print, except as a display face where its elegant-but-quirky utilitarianism is appropriate.

  38. Todd Trumbull says:

    I find it fascinating that just when you seem to be seeing “Interstate” everywhere, from newspapers to electronic superstores, that the government is replacing it on highway signage (I love its official designation, the charming “series E modified”) with something new. Perhaps in 50 years we’ll all be using Clearview! (although obviously in this age of Postscript it will take much less time than that)

  39. John Hudson says:

    Also, the implication is that most people who trap fonts (including some great names) are wasting time. And they do it for a lot higher fidelity media than phone books! You might come around and say that was a different situation, blah blah, but I think that’s just diplomatic speak.

    Don’t get me wrong, Hrant. I don’t think trapping is a waste of time. Most of my designs have not called for it, because of the intended use, but I figure the decision whether or not to use traps should be based on the results. I’m just reporting what I heard from Martin in Barcelona regarding his telephone book project.

  40. Bobby Henderson says:

    I really like Clearview. Being a sign designer myself, Clearview definitely has a lot of advantages over FHWA Series Gothic/Highway Gothic. The improved white space in the lowercase “a” is a great example. The Highway E/M “a” really runs together at a distance.

    Another thing that helps Clearview outdoors, at least in theory, is that it doesn’t try to look really trendy or tough. The theme needs to last decades without us getting sick of it. If Clearview were more attractive then it might wind up appearing on business signage and confuse things a bit. There’s probably not much to worry about in that regard anyway. It seems like most sign designers out there can’t get past “A” and “Arial” on the font menu. Then they just proceed to distort the crud out of it to make it fit anything anywhere.

  41. Achilles says:

    Clearview does seem to be a huge improvement over the existing type for US signage, and in all honesty, it seems to work better than its European counterparts — definitely better than DIN. The research and work that went into it is commendable, setting an example for intelligent and thorough design.

    However, it does seem to be a bit of a cop-out in terms of the design of the letter-shapes. It really just looks like a optically adjusted version of Meta. This might seem like a purely aesthetic qualm, but I feel that if more experimentation had gone into the design of the letterforms then Clearview would have been all the better for it, aesthetically and functionally. An excellent example of this is Keith Tam’s Arrival.

  42. Steve Dorsey says:

    Fantastic development. They just recently started using Clearview to replace signage in Detroit officially too.

  43. Tim says:

    As an employee of the Florida DOT, I can tell you that each state contracts for Interstate Highway projects in their state, they get reimbursed for part of it (I believe 90%).

    Now, my question – did the Feds pay for development of this font? That would make it the (partial?) property of the American public.

  44. John Butler says:

    Now, my question – did the Feds pay for development of this font? That would make it the (partial?) property of the American public.

    Hey… I think you’re on to something! This means that if the Feds install Microsoft Office on their computers… so can we! Cos it belongs to us! Hooray! Free software! I’ll take that source code, please.

    Try again.

  45. Hrant says:

    Come on, John, you’re not dumb. You’re mixing up all kinds of things there. If the government buys a license to MS Office that doesn’t mean they own the source code, so of course that doesn’t become public domain. But maybe it does mean that a citizen who ends up sitting at the computer with that government-owned software can legally use it (assuming he has clearance to use that machine). Or maybe there’s a difference between products bought versus things “commissioned”? After all, the old standard highway font is public domain. How did that happen?

    hhp

  46. Dan Reynolds says:

    Well, to clarify, the design of the old standard highway lettering is public domain. Fonts based off of that lettering, depending on their provenance and on who made them, may not be.

    Interstate, by far the most popular font based off of that lettering, is not public domain at all.

    To come back to Tim’s question, I haven’t reread all of the material to double-check, but didn’t James say that Clearview was pretty much privately designed, without funding, for over a decade? Hence part of the reason why it took so long to finally complete?

    That the federal government has approved it for use doesn’t mean that they paid for its development. If the federal government buys licenses to the font now, that doesn’t make it public property either… it will just be another software application residing on certain government-owned machines. Subtle difference, but still important. Federal employees can use the font at work, but they can’t copy it and bring it home for private use.

  47. Bobby Henderson says:

    I don’t know the percentage of funding the federal government provided for the development of Clearview. But Meeker and Associates own the copyright to the typeface and have worked for well over a decade developing all the different weights to it, including ClearviewHwy. They likely have a very sizeable investment of their own in that typeface and expect to get some kind of return.

    $795 might seem a bit steep for the ClearviewHwy package from Terminal Design. But those fonts aren’t really meant for anyone to use casually. If our sign company gets some DOT signage projects sometime soon we may purchase the package, partly as a means to attract even more of that kind of work.

    The highway sign situation in Oklahoma is kind of a mess anyway. There’s actually some “big green signs” in Oklahoma City with Arial on them! Bad letter spacing, non-standard line spacing and other mistakes are fairly common. The difference in quality seems even more exaggerated now that one can drive down into Texas, such as cities like Wichita Falls, and see those nice, new signs set in Clearview.

    The real pain about getting highway sign contracts is not the font and/or software puchases. It’s all that government paperwork. Arrgh.

  48. Rich says:

    Since ClearviewHwy has a different set of proportion of caps to lowercase, our hypothesis is that you can reduce the specified cap height of ClearviewHwy and still maintain better legibility and recognition than a larger cap height Standard Highway Alphabet Series Emod font.

    We would like the opportunity to test our hypothesis. If anyone has a spare $500,000 or so, that would probably be enough to get a good way to it.

    As part of my profession I design highway signs. When designing guide signs (white on green) for urban settings, many signs, using current standards, end up being billboards visible 300 ft away! The current FHWA standards are in real need of any development that makes smaller cap heights possible/legible, esp. in low speed, urban, environments. It seems to me that Clearview is a step in this direction.

    It looks like someone is possibly going to be researching “Optimizing Regulatory and Warning Signs Using the Clearview Typeface System” for $250,000 in FY2006.

    James, you may want to get in line…

    See what $250,000 buys…

    I’m not a typographic designer, but I can appreciate the use of a “thinner” line font, less reflective material = less glare.

    Kudos to the developer / bureaucratic red tape / change is BAD fighter.

  49. James Montalbano says:

    Just to be clear. Meeker & Associates owns the trademarks ClearviewHwy, ClearviewOne, and ClearviewADA. Terminal Design owns the copyright on all of the font software carrying those trademarks.

    The Federal Government did not spend a dime on Clearview’s development.

    Happy New Year!

  50. Hrant says:

    So who paid for what?

    hhp

  51. si says:

    Who paid? – Penn State of course, or a group of high profile boosters ;-)

    Pennsylvania State University researchers spent a decade designing the Clearview Typeface System

  52. The very typography-friendly NYT has published a nice article on Clearview.

  53. Mike Jackson says:

    Just saw the NY Times article. Absolutely superb typeface. The contrast in legibility knocked my socks off. Now, it’s those guys who should be getting a presidential medal.

  54. designdump says:

    This may be a dump question…but what was the “old” typeface this replaced? I feel like I should know this. But it escapes me right now. I just read about this in the new edition of WIRED. Normal people outside of design, have know idea how powerful typography is.

  55. Paul Shaw says:

    has anyone else noticed the use of ITC Stone Sans on the Merritt/Wilbur Cross parkway near Greenwich? It has been on several signs along that stretch since at least 2000. Every time I drive to Maine these signs pop out.

  56. Maxim Zhukov says:

    Yes, Paul, I love those signs. My son went to Brown, so I used to travel to Providence and back on the regular basis, very often via Merritt. Those ornaments built out of triangles on the sides of the signs are really cool. I told James of those signs long time ago. He seems to like them too.

  57. Chris Zodrow says:

    While looking at his site I kept wondering, “how does he prove this?” There are many assertions about the unique qualities of the face he makes that have no real support save for the claim itself, like a circular argument. I am not convinced. Nice typeface, like the pudgy little brother of Meta, but it seems to me that the power of the design lies in his marketing, perhaps filling a place that no one else has had the time or inclination to pursue, although there seems to be a number of great designs that could fill this need, with some slight adjustments.

  58. Michael Cadrill says:

    I live in Houston, TX and I’ve seen these signs appearing all over the city, particulary on a new stretch of road near my home. They definitely are more legible. The lowercase “a” and “e” letters are much easier to read. I find the typeface a welcome improvement. Of course, I’m a type fanatic so may be a bit biased!

  59. Bobby Henderson says:

    “This may be a dump question…but what was the “old” typeface this replaced?”

    Clearview is designed as a replacement for FHWA Series Gothic -or what some of us call “Highway Gothic.” Overall, Clearview has definitely not replaced FHWA Series Gothic -at least not yet. Only a handful of states have started using the typeface on highway signs. Most other states are still maintaining the status quo of using the old font.

    I think the proof of how Clearview works is quite visible in the letterforms -as shown in the examples at the top of this page. No marketing spin is needed. ClearviewHwy is definitely more legible than the E/M weight of FHWA Series Gothic, the typeface typically used on big green signs along Interstate highways.

  60. Keith says:

    I’m sorry, but the new font is ugly. I live in Michigan, which is slowly adopting the new font, and I like the old font so much better.

  61. Si says:

    You’re not alone…

    > Design critics have complained that it’s not beautiful. “But it isn’t supposed to be,” Montalbano says.

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.03/start.html?pg=6

    But if it stops some old codger from swerving across four lanes in front of me to make his exit, I’ll take the ugly font over the existing ‘cool’ font anyday.

    Si

  62. Hrant says:

    Aesthetics is boring anyway. And as much as I don’t like traffic cops, I don’t think it would help for them to have wingtips on their cars, even if Pulp Fiction was a fun movie, if you get my drift. Plus to me Cool is the last thing we need right now. What we need is Serious.

    hhp

  63. Si says:

    >

    Too late…

    http://www.radartest.com/article.asp?articleID=10040

    And yes, it’s got a Hemi.

    Si

  64. Keith,

    Can you elaborate a little more on why it is ugly? Or why the previous typeface was better? I was never very fond of the old standard. Certain letters shrunk visually at a distance and were so tight that they took on other letter’s appearance. And I never liked the lc g very much, it looked awkwardly chopped off.

    In the end, I think its usefulness overcomes its aesthetic “flaws” (though I see them more as “character”)

  65. Matt says:

    I am a designer in Canada and I am trying to find a TrueType version of either the Standard Highway Alphabet or ClearView that doesn’t cost $1000 Cdn.

    Is there not a freeware version of the Standard Highway Alphabet available somewhere?

    Thanks

  66. Richard says:

    For a full set of freeware highway fonts, try Michael Adams’ Roadgeek 2005 fonts:

    http://www.triskele.com/fonts/

    His first version, known as Roadgeek 2000 (still posted as “deprecated”), contained only the 6 official Highway Gothic fonts and 2 British Transport fonts. Roadgeek 2005 adds to that all 13 Clearview fonts (though I understand FHWA has only approved the 7 “W” fonts thus far), plus two German fonts and four “road-dings” fonts (arrows, icons, and sign backs).

    The Roadgeek versions of Highway Gothic also appear to be closer to official FHWA spacing than the two Highway Gothic-inspired commercial fonts posted earlier.

  67. Pat says:

    Has anyone seen the font they use in the Atlanta metro area? Much better than the new or the old. I believe they updated these signs just prior to the Olympics there.

    http://photos.webonastick.com/roads/trips/louisville-atlanta-1/mvc-339f.jpg

  68. Juuitchan says:

    I’m not sure, but I think this is the typeface they tried introducing in Connecticut. If it is:

    – It looks to me that whoever is in charge of road signs was choosing form over function. I am irritated when unfamiliar fonts are used on the signs. The main thing I hate about the new font is that its stroke width is not constant. That just looks WRONG. And for Pete’s sake, ROAD SIGNS ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE BEAUTIFUL! They are supposed to be LEGIBLE! The old font was just about perfect. And it helps to have a familiar font: if you know the font, it is easier to correctly recognize characters.

    Lowercase letters simply do not belong on street signs. When reading street signs, you usually don’t want to know the name of the street: all you want is one bit of information: “Is this my street or not?” It seems to me that in lowercase, it would be harder to determine the character count: for example, if I am looking for Smith Street, then a sign with only 4 letters, or with 6 letters, cannot be for Smith Street. And I DO use this when driving.

    Well, actually the old font wasn’t perfect. If they had cribbed the German font for use in America, that would probably have been ideal.

  69. JuuitChan, I think that was probably Stone Sans you saw, referred to above in the thread. I also confused it with Clearview, (and remembered wrongly where I saw it) but it’s different. I like Stone Sans better than the FHWA Gothic, though.

  70. Aaron says:

    The old FHWA fonts were beautiful (particularly in upper and lower case form like the city names on road signs) and I don’t see why they needed to be changed. These fonts in fact also were studied extensively, albeit 50 years ago, in order to find the forms that were most legible at a distance. All Clearview sounds like to me is someone trying to sell a needless “improvement” to the government at the taxpayers’ expense. I live in Texas, which has adopted Clearview, and the resulting hodgepodge of old and new fonts on the freeways is far from lovely. If they were to convert all of the signs to Clearview in order that they matched, it would cost more than a fortune. Long story short, the old FHWA fonts were unique, attractive and highly legible. Clearview sucks!

  71. Nick says:

    “Has anyone seen the font they use in the Atlanta metro area? Much better than the new or the old. I believe they updated these signs just prior to the Olympics there.”

    It’s still the ‘old’ font, just the more condensed Series C, not the ‘official’ EM. It predates the Olympics; Georgia has been using it on their BGSs for as far back as I can remember — 15 years, at least.

  72. FRANK says:

    SE Michigan is putting up clearview fonts rapidly every day,the reason they give me is that more people can see them(espically the older generation over 50 I guess) They even made a clearview i-96 shields in the Motor City. just dont look right,should stay with wide or normal.

  73. Randy Hersh says:

    I am very interested in guide signing on the interstates. I have kept an inventory of signing for many, many years.

    My feeling on Clearview is that I did not like it at first, but it is growing on me the more I see it.

    The one thing I do not like is the curly-cues on the letters. The letter “l” should just be a straight line.

    I understand why Clearview was developed, but perhaps they should have just kept the FHWA fonts and made them thinner and separated the letters slightly more.

    Just a thought.

    Randy, right now in Houston, TX
    feel free to email: pigsty1953@yahoo.com

  74. Hrant says:

    > The letter “l” should just be a straight line.

    Why?

    hhp

  75. Mark says:

    Um why is it “neccesary” to change the font on all traffic signs?

    This new font seems to “pretty-ize” the road signs.

    which is NOT a good thing.

    Making a font so called “beautiful” without thinking of its funtionality is a receipe for disaster.

    Think just think for a moment what road signs are SUPPOSED to do and see if this “beautiful” font clearly expresses that.

    1. Road signs are suppose to get your attention/ catch your eye in order to get the information across.

    2. Road signs tell you what you can/cannot do and give you direction of where you are and where every road goes.

    3. LEGIBILTY! these signs must easily be readible from far away before even getting close to the sign. heck, SENIOR CITIZENS need to be able to read them.

    4. Road signs are NOT supposed to be “pretty” they need to communicate information to the driver so he/she doesn’t get lost or get into an accident.

    5.Road signs arn’t modern billboards or art works where the “business people” show off their latest creations! THAT WOULD BE RISKING SAFETY!

    That being said this so-called “reveloutionary” Clearview font is just a complete FAILURE.

    1.Clearview looks nice BUT IT SEEMS TO PUT INFORMATION AS A SECONONDARY PRIORITY.

    2.Clearview looks WEAK in telling you what to do and where to go. In FACT the font looks untrustworthy, FAKE in fact.

    3.BETTER LEGIBILITY? don’t make me laugh the highway signs would look UNRECOGNIZABLE from far away and I’d bet there gonna be a few “what does that say?”s and “can you read that sign for me?”s when seeing signs with this “pretty” font. Senior citizen drivers being able to read these signs? FORGET ABOUT IT! blur your vision to see what I mean.

    4.Clearview being “pretty” is bad news for road signs that means there’s possibly going to be a few accidents in trying to read these “pretty” signs.INFORMATION IN CLEARVIEW NOT READ CLEARLY!that being said the stop sign is never going to be able to be seen easily again along with other important roadsigns if the stupid “one capital letter the rest lowercase” rule is adopted.

    5.Oh this stupid idea to “show off” a new font on road signs is putting driver safety at risk,this stupid reason to change font is give more money for the RICH graphic design people who ALL READY have enough money and so called be “revolutionary” A BIG WASTE OF MONEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    A WIN-LOSE SITUATION!

  76. Hrant says:

    This is so maniacally confused,
    I -yes, me- am at a total loss as
    to where to start. James being of
    course more motivated, maybe he
    can muster the time and effort to
    put it straight…

    hhp

  77. Bobby Henderson says:

    Dang, Mark. Tell us how you really feel.

    I disagree with several of your judgments against Clearview. First, it is easier to read than FHWA Series Gothic. I’ve seen the difference on signs in Texas and it is a noticeable improvement.

    Changing the type on highway signs is nothing new either. I’m sure objections were made when FHWA Series Gothic was adopted to replace the squared letter forms on earlier signs.

    Clearview is not what I would call a “pretty-ize” type family. Sure, it has a little more style and rhythm to it than Highway Gothic. However, you’re not going to see lots of people buying ClearviewHwy licenses to decorate magazine layouts.

    On the matter of public safety regarding highway signs, changing the font isn’t the dangerous practice. The real sin is installing tiny guide signs on roadways with 65mph or faster speed limits.

    Of course, the most dangerous signs around are those little, cheap and cheesy garbage signs for small businesses. Not only do they feature the usual acts of font murder, but you’ll usually be blowing right past the tiny things by the time you can read them.

  78. Bram Pitoyo says:

    “We read best what we read most.”
    – Zuzanna Licko

    But then again…

    “The public is more familiar with bad design than good design. It is, in effect, conditioned to prefer bad design, because that is what it lives with. The new becomes threatening, the old reassuring.”
    – Paul Rand

    I just thought I’d present both sides of the arguments to make it more objective.

  79. Hrant says:

    There are many more sides of the argument. One of them is: design for what the user needs, not [just] what he says he wants. And please, let’s get over WRBWWRM already – it’s become so trite. Correction: it always was.

    hhp

  80. Roomba says:

    I like the Clearview font. Does any one know the name of the old font? Looking to do a project and need to find out what that font is. Thanks.

  81. James Montalbano says:

    Standard Highway Alphabet Series Emodified, Series D, Series C, Series B, and to a lesser extent Series E and Series F

  82. Terre Dunivant says:

    Great article in the NYTimes about this:

    http://tinyurl.com/6z9ota

  83. Ron says:

    I fail to see that the new font is any better.

    no difference to me!!!

  84. Steve says:

    I think I like the FHWA fonts better. Clearview seems to just lack the charm they have. Besides, what was just stopping them from improving on the existing fonts instead of this probably-costly new project?

  85. erik says:

    1st I’m appalled by mark’s comments.

    2nd, I live in the bay area, and the last thing we need is a new font, the 1st thing we need is a damn system that specifies where to put a sign, period! Consistency was not even a considered element. Signs are placed on buildings, walls, street lights, free standing poles, and the list does go on… make up your mind, please!

    3rd amazing effort on James’s part, it’s mostly people like Mark who work for the government so you can understand the difficulty in the task.

    4th Din is a much nicer font in my opinion, but I’m not sure it is the German highway font.

    5th, thanks for the post, still a hot topic 5 years later!

    6th I can read either of these fonts just fine, I’m not retarded, and if I were I’m, not sure a sign would point me in the right direction anyways.

    7th the iphone combined with gps is the best thing to happen for way finding. You may argue against this as you may, but I beg you to try to find a street that is not even signed.

  86. britta says:

    Driving through PA over Thanksgiving I noticed the new signs and my reaction was more-or-less “meh”. It seems slightly easier to read than the old one, but I don’t think we’re going to see some dramatic difference in…say…the # of auto accidents.

    Have you ever noticed how similar the words (in all caps Gothic [?]) EAST and WEST appear? The Clearview font will hopefully help that problem somewhat.

    Although…I HATE the curled lower-case Ls. Dunno why…they just look goofy to my eye/brain.

    My main concern is the illustration where the Ave/St/Pkwy/etc. is about 10% SMALLER than it is now. I’ve driven around in developments and office parks where ALL the roads have the same name but different endings. It’s hard enough trying to read them as they are now, without making that portion smaller.

  87. PaulMmn says:

    The problem with the ‘old’ font is easy to see with some letter combinations:
    .
    ILL, for example, is 3 vertical strokes. What word is -that-? That’s why the lower-case “L” has a curl– to differentiate it from the upper-case I or the numeral 1.
    .
    There are other, equally good examples of bad combinations!
    .
    As for the cost of re-signing– you don’t have to replace -every- sign all-at-once! There are a lot of signs replaced every year because of damage– either the wind blew them down, or a car took them out. More are installed ‘new,’ and some are changed to reflect new conditions.
    .
    Yes, it will be a mixture for a long time. But all it takes is for the State Sign Service to replace one set of typefaces with another!

  88. Kent C says:

    Now, if we could only get the FHWA to adopt the European practice where each lane of traffic is displayed with its own line and arrowhead (forward driving direction pointing upward), with merges and exits as branches, as though one were reading them on a map, instead of trying to point inexactly at the lanes below.

  89. Magellan says:

    I agree that the new font is ugly. I have racked up nearly 400,000 miles of driving and 40 states visited. Over the past year I have seen the new font in several states, and I just don’t like it. I am finding it more difficult to distinguish the l’s, i’s, h’s d’s, h’s, and a’s from distance, yet have no trouble with the existing Blue Highway font. By the time I can read the new font, I am too close to the sign to make a travel decision.

  90. Chip says:

    Finally. someone who is not afraid to talk about the Emperor’s New Clothes. Thank you Mark. I know you posted this a long time ago but I just found this site.

    >the stop sign is never going to be able to be seen easily again along with other important roadsigns if the stupid “one capital letter the rest lowercase” rule is adopted.

    All caps – which is how things used to be – were clear, stood out, got your attention and therefore did what they were supposed to do: quickly convey information that registers with the driver. All caps SHOUTS for my attention amid everything else that can and does distract a driver. The “One capital letter and rest lowercase” is not grabbing my attention – I have to go after it and then try to very quickly assimilate what its
    trying to tell me.

  91. Bob says:

    This is nothing more than change for change’s sake. The developers claim that the Clearview font is easier to read and less goofy. Of course they do! They’re the developers. That curled l looks dumb. All they’ve done is made a bazillion bucks to change a font that looks pretty much like what Europe has used.

    Personally, if you have trouble reading Highway Gothic signs, you shouldn’t be on the road in the first place! Bring back the old font and button copy and everyone can see the signs just fine.

  92. Clearview blows says:

    “Clearview” stinks. I’m a Professional Transportation Engineer and “highway enthusiast”, age 44. I’ve been a highway sign buff ever since I was around 2 years old. The new small “l” helps over the old “l” which could be mistaken for a capital I. Otherwise, I don’t see the big improvement, and it looks fussier and less clean- I don’t enjoy looking at it as much as before. The auxiliary words/action messages and numbers are too small and thin (such as EXIT 206 or 1/2 MILE). The shrunken capital letters are too small- they look horrible.

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Typographica is a review of typefaces and type books, with occasional commentary on fonts and typographic design. Edited by Stephen Coles and designed by Chris Hamamoto. Founded in 2002 by Joshua Lurie-Terrell. Relaunched in 2009 by Coles and Hamamoto.

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