Coming soon to a highway near you

side-by-side comparison of signs using Highway Gothic and Clearview

The day I got back from TypeCon, maybe two minutes after I stumbled into the office, a coworker asked, “What’s the font that’s used on highway signs?”

Um . . . Um . . . “I should know this, but I don’t.”

I’d like to blame jet lag—I’d just arrived on a red-eye and had maybe four hours of broken sleep since the day before—but honestly, I just had no idea. All I knew was that it wasn’t Interstate.

Fortunately, today a freshly minted reporter done schooled me through the New York Times Magazine:

Clearview [is] 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.

. . .

In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced his goal of an expanded Interstate System, and highway engineers worked quickly to fashion a rough alphabet by rounding off the square edges of the block lettering created during die-cut sign making. Today, there are six Highway Gothic typefaces in the official Federal Highway Administration series. Most prevalent on the modern highway is the fifth typeface in the family, Series E-Modified, and it is with this that Clearview is most often directly compared.

. . .

Meeker and Montalbano staged a demonstration a few weeks later at the Penn State test track, spending a few thousand dollars of their own money to print up highway signs with the new version of Clearview. They invited representatives from the Federal Highway Administration and transportation officials from half a dozen states. The group stood on the tarmac and stared at a side-by-side comparison of Clearview and Highway Gothic. “Signs that you’d be hard pressed to read at 700 feet were legible at 900 or 1,000 feet,” Montalbano said. “People were really freaked out.”

Go read it: “The Road to Clarity.”

(Via Daring Fireball)

4 thoughts on “Coming soon to a highway near you

  1. clearview, believe it or not, has been ‘road tested’ in the Dallas area for the past few years. its seems readable enough, but, whether through familiarity, preference, or readability, I prefer the look of highway gothic.

  2. Oh, well. I guess you can’t please everyone.

    I don’t drive, of course, so I could almost not care less. I do care slightly, however, as maybe once every two years I’m handed a map and called upon to navigate. Those are stressful times, let me tell you. I really could use those extra one or two seconds of thinking time Clearview supposedly provides, as I struggle to comprehend the text on each sign.

  3. I’m with Deron. And not only do I prefer the look of Highway Gothic, I love its name. I’ve been on some long road trips that were, believe you me, pure Highway Gothic.

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