Sunday, August 12, 2007

For the love of fonts....

Continuing my part-time obsession with fonts (Helvetica II: Arial strikes back !), allow me to present this delightful tale about how the right font can save lives:
What I saw, Pietrucha knew, was what we all may see soon enough as we rush along America’s 46,871 miles of Interstate highways. What I saw was Clearview, the typeface that is poised to replace Highway Gothic, the standard that has been used on signs across the country for more than a half-century. Looking at a sign in Clearview after reading one in Highway Gothic is like putting on a new pair of reading glasses: there’s a sudden lightness, a noticeable crispness to the letters.
It's a fascinating tale of 10 years of research and lobbying that went into replacing the fonts used on all the Federal highway signs in the U.S. I was driving along I-15 today and almost got into an accident trying to tell whether the local highway sign fonts had changed. Apart from the inside-baseball of how to design a font, always guaranteed to send a shiver through my spine, the story draws out the tale of how the team of designers got together, designed the font, and managed, after repeated lobbying, to convince the Department of Transportation to replace the original fonts with the new ones.

There was an amusing line in the article about American-style engineering:
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.”
If you remain unconvinced about the difference, look at the accompanying slideshow.
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