Design Is In The Details: Highway Signs Typeface

The more I dig into Experiential Design, the more I realize that it is all around us, and that I've been mostly ignoring it for my entire life.

This is an interesting article about the typeface used on highway signage throughout the United States.  

Click the original link to the right to read the whole article, or here's the TL;DR summary:

In 2004, the US Federal Highway Administration (USFHA) approved usage of a new typeface called Clearview, for highway signage.  This was to replace the previously used typeface, Highway Gothic.

Clearview was designed by Meeker and Associates, specifically for highway signage.  Legibility was a primary concern, particularly at high speeds of travel.   By opening up the letters and widening slightly, they were able to make certain letters more readable.  After testing in Pennsylvania, improved legibility was confirmed, and the go ahead was given for other states to follow suit.

However, that decision is being re-considered, after further testing has questioned whether Clearview is indeed more legible.  Arguments have been made that for certain uses, the old typeface Highway Gothic, is more preferable.  And so the USFHA is no longer giving approval for states to use Clearview.

This decision is upsetting to the designers who toiled over those small details in each letter.  Matters are made worse by the fact that the USFHA is having a hard time giving concrete evidence that Highway Gothic is a better option than Clearview.

Whichever typeface is indeed a better option for highway signage is open for debate.  But at the very least, this article gives some insight into the design decision-making process, particularly at the governmental level.  

And it is also a signal that experiential design is creeping into our everyday lives and not just seen as a luxury to make something more "cool".  It can have a very real, and impactful use.