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LUC DEVROYE


ABOUT







Cosmo Catalano

Editor of A web log of design and high drama which frequently comments on typographic matters such as web fonts (why pay for them?), traffic signs, and typeface use. He calls himself the world's toughest writer, and lives in the New England area (he graduated from Dartmouth, NH). In this piece entitled The Tell-Tale R Some Thoughts on Clearview, Cosmo writes this about the decision to start using Clearview for America's highway signs:

While I admit it's (much) easier to read, I can't say I'm exactly psyched about seeing it. There are a variety of reasons why. I suppose my gut reaction is that it no longer feels like I'm driving down a federally-funded expressway-it feels like I'm staring at ads.

While I've mentioned that Interstate has really picked up its public profile recently, Interstate isn't really the FHWA typeface. Tobias Frere-Jones got a lot of attention for Interstate because the edits he made were very subtle, yet somehow made the font tolerable for more than 12 characters at a time.

Clearview, on the other hand, was in use for advertising years before it ever appeared along the highway-most notably by megalith AT&T. I liked the old, ugly FWHA typeface because it was so odd and idiosyncratic. It was like watching a David Bowie in his "androgynous alien" days-no mistaking it for anything else, let alone a sweeping corporate rebranding.

FWHA's cold formlessness was also nice because it didn't encourage you to interact. One of Steve Jobs' most persistent design maxims is that products need to be anthropomorphic; it makes people want to engage with them.

Clearview is definitely more human than FHWA, but is that really a good thing? Do we really want people relating to and engaging with signage? Or do we want them to glance, comprehend, and get their eyes back on the road?

I'm also skeptical of the notion that legibility should be the only standard. Reading interstate signage-even with the old, weird FHWA face-is pretty damn easy. If you need the extra 200 feet to pick out an exit, what other details are you missing? Should you really be on the road?

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Luc Devroye ⦿ School of Computer Science ⦿ McGill University Montreal, Canada H3A 2K6 ⦿ lucdevroye@gmail.com ⦿ http://luc.devroye.org ⦿ http://luc.devroye.org/fonts.html