End of the road for readable road signs | NewsCut


The end of Clearview policing on highways across the country has begun.

It’s the typeface used on road signs, and yesterday the 30-day waiting period for people to hustle and bustle over the Federal Highway Administration’s decision to phase out its use expired.

Open view was invented by graphic designer Donald Meeker of Oregon, who figured out how to make signs more readable for older drivers – the fastest growing demographic on the freeway – without making signs larger, according to a profile on Quartz.

Meeker, O’Hara and Montalbano redesigned the letters in Clearview specifically to counter poor road conditions. They eliminated “light traps” or tiny notches in the joints of the letters and cleaned up the letter shapes to reduce the halo effect at night, due to the reflective surface of the sign. They also increased the negative space in the letters “a” and “e”, which tend to close at a distance. These small typographical refinements were made to improve the readability of letters without increasing the size of the fonts.

In a statement to Quartz, Meeker expressed his sadness over the decision to abandon Clearview, but said he would continue to work on improving public signage in the United States. “It’s disappointing because we are quite sure that we are saving lives with longer reaction times for older drivers and all drivers,” Meeker writes. “But it’s not in our hands.”

But state agencies have to pay to use Meeker’s font. And that’s the catch. Use of “Highway Gothic” is free.

Write in the New York Times today, Henry Petroski, professor of civil engineering, deplores his return.

The difficulty aging drivers have with reading road signs was among the problems graphic designer Donald Meeker and typographer James Montalbano had sought to alleviate with their Clearview typeface.

As with any design problem, the first step in solving it is understanding how and why existing approaches fail. In the case of a face like Highway Gothic, the close spaces between letter strokes like the vowels a, e, and u tended to appear filled in, especially under bright lights, making them indistinguishable to the reader. In addition, the lowercase letters i and l were difficult to distinguish (as they are in many e-mail messages), and these effects were accentuated at night by the reflective surface of road signs.

Few experts seem to suggest that the old return policy is better than Clearview; in fact, almost everyone seems to agree that this was a step forward in making the signs more readable.

Corn the government has never imposed its use, states were therefore free to stick to the less readable font – Highway Gothic.

The decision will have no impact on the roads of Minnesota. The state does not use Clearview, which is used in North Dakota and South Dakota, and on the Madison Beltline in Wisconsin.

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