Why the US has two different highway fonts

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Vox

The typefaces on highway signs, deconstructed. Subscribe and turn on notifications (🔔 ) so you don't miss any videos: http://goo.gl/0bsAjO When you head out on the highway in the United States, you’re probably paying attention to the signs above your car and on the side of the road — the ones that direct you to your destination. If you’re looking for an exit or a rest stop, chances are you’ll see the typeface Highway Gothic. It became the highway standard in the 1950s, born out of an initiative from the California Department of Transportation to develop a clearer and more flexible standard for highway signs. But for the past decade, a new typeface has been trying to take its place: Clearview. This new typeface boasts wider spaces inside of letters and less chunky letterforms, and tries to solve some of Highway Gothic’s readability issues. Learn more in the video above. More from typeface designer Tobias Frere-Jones, who designed the typeface Interstate as an homage to Highway Gothic: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/139305 More information on how the FHWA decided to grant Clearview an interim approval: https://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/resources/interim_approval/ia5/ia5_termtechbrief.htm https://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/SHSe/Alphabets.pdf More on research behind Clearview’s legibility: https://d2dtl5nnlpfr0r.cloudfront.net/tti.tamu.edu/documents/TTI-2014-3.pdf https://trid.trb.org/view.aspx?id=713768 More on the differences between Highway Gothic and Clearview: https://qz.com/605695/font-designers-response-the-us-governments-has-decided-to-nix-clearview-from-all-highway-signs/ https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-27/the-official-u-s-highway-sign-font-is-changing-from-clearview-to-highway-gothic Subscribe to our channel! http://goo.gl/0bsAjO Vox.com is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what's really driving the events in the headlines. Check out http://www.vox.com. Watch our full video catalog: http://goo.gl/IZONyE Follow Vox on Facebook: http://goo.gl/U2g06o Or Twitter: http://goo.gl/XFrZ5H

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Video Transcript:

So you're planning a road trip across the united states well you'll definitely need this and this and maybe this you might see this or even this but mostly you'll see a lot of these these signs tell you where to go or where you are but most of them have something else in common their typeface highway gothic is Carefully composed to guide you to your destination without distracting you but for the past decade another typeface has been trying to take its place highway gothic was created in 1948. right around the time highway started crisscrossing the united states it came out of an initiative at the california department of transportation to develop a clearer and more Legible standard for highway signs of the six fonts or variations they developed this version became the highway standard the spacing is specified to be quite loose and that's something that that is a big help in viewing at very long distances [Music] those angled tops to the letters that you see in the alpha t that was the solution that appeared in Highway gothic to differentiate shapes it becomes you know important in states like illinois where you have cap eye and lowercase l and you need to be unambiguous about what's what soon after its creation every highway in america was plastered with highway gothic but by the late 1980s with the introduction of new reflective sign materials Highway gothic started to have problems specifically with something called halation pallation is when light spreads beyond its proper boundaries creating a halo effect it's that glow you see around a bright object on a tv screen like in the scene and once upon a time in hollywood right there in the upper right elderly drivers specifically were having Trouble reading these signs at night as lower case letters like e a and s started blurring into o's the counter of the e that's really very tight there even before you point a headlight at us at night even in broad daylight that would blur together but by this time a potential solution was on its way by the end of the 90s font designers and a crew of researchers From penn state and 3m had created the second typeface we see on highway signs clearview at first glance clearview and highway gothic look pretty similar but when you look closer you can see how different they really are decisions like the counter of the a and the counter of the e those internal spaces are made much larger because the a and the u They trend towards this kind of squarish shape i suspect that was done to further reinforce the enlargement of these internal shapes the hybrid gothic stumbles quite a lot if you take a close look at the lowercase s it does seem like one side of the curve is arguing with the other as it goes through that pretty complex track that has to follow d and S clearview tries to fix that by widening the spaces opening up these letters can help mitigate the problem inflation and during testing clearview showed a 16 improvement in recognition over highway gothic at night which meant that drivers that were driving at 60 miles per hour would have an extra one to two seconds to make a decision based on sign information in 2004 the federal highway Administration granted interim approval for clearview to be used on an optional basis mostly when old signs needed to be replaced around 30 states adopted clearview in some form the resulting mix of signs has caused some confusion and further studies have called into question clearview's improved legibility specifically on lighter colored signs And its more stylized number forms one study from texas a m in 2014 found that clearview's legibility was not statistically different than highway gothics i think in purely mechanical i would say clearview is more successful because it does create a more even texture than highway gothic there's something very distinctly american About highway gothic and it is a bit blunt and stumbling and loud and clearview is almost in that respect too polished today the fhwa still allows the use of clearview in some cases but they make no recommendation or endorsement of the clearview letter style which means if you go out on the highway right now there's a mix Two fonts that ultimately do the job they're designed to do get you where you're going with the least confusion [Music] [Music] you

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