So this is the kind of story that I think is fascinating. You, however, may think I’m a bit of a dork because I think it’s cool, and you’d probably be right. Ah well. At least you’re reading my site, right?
In this week’s New York Times Magazine, an article titled The Road to Clarity by Joshua Yaffa details something we all see every day, but have probably never given a second thought to: the fonts on road signs, especially on federal highways. You know — those big green signs with white lettering that tell you what exit is coming up.
There wasn’t any real plan when they first designed them — they just kind of went with what worked. Over time, they realized the font — called Highway Gothic — was kind of clunky, odd and hard to see at night, especially for older drivers.
So a couple of men designed a new font, called Clearview. It’s brighter, cleaner and easier to read. Check out the difference in this photo. You might not see much at first, but the longer you look at it, the more you’ll see. And if you read the article, you’ll find out even more.
On the left is Highway Gothic, the old font. On the right is Clearview, the new font. (Photo courtesy of Don Meeker, via the New York Times.)
It’s harder than you would think to actually design a completely new font that is much more effective in the same amount of space. The article describes how and why the whole thing happened. There’s even a testing center in Pennsylvania where they try out different versions of signs. The new font will be phased in gradually, as old signs are replaced.
This is one of those areas of life that you never think about, but affects you more than you know. Design is a critical component of just about everything you see. People spend their whole careers on things like these. Even details like this don’t escape God’s notice — they’re part of the world that he has created, and he’s given people incredible talents to be able to work on something like font design. At first glance, it seems to be insignificant, but it’s really quite influential.
Pop quiz for today: What’s the difference in serif fonts and san serif fonts? And why is it important? First correct answer wins the grand prize: the everlasting admiration of the thousands of readers who frequent this little corner of the Internet. Get ready — your 15 minutes of fame are about to begin.