Signs of Change: How a new font called “Clearview” is changing America’s highways
From time to time we take a break from economic stories to show you some of the other interesting things we see along the way. We call them “Detours,” and this is one of them.
Something was definitely up with the L’s.
In the first weeks of our trip, we began noticing something subtly but decidedly different on the interstate road signs we passed. Something about them was changing and it had to do with the lowercase L’s. On closer inspection, we realized there was a whole new typeface being used on some signs.
It was difficult to describe exactly what was different. THe letters were skinnier, curvier somehow. The L’s were the most obvious change from the old road sign font. The new ones had “feet.” Unlike the old L’s, which were essentially vertical lines, the base of the new lower case L curves sharply to the right. The new A, the G, the E and the T look quite distinctive as well.
Turns out the new font is called “Clearview” and has been in development for nearly 15 years by a team of traffic experts that includes graphic designer Don Meeker, Penn State Professor Martin Pietrucha, who runs the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute, and Penn State Senior Research Associate Philip Garvey.
We tracked down Pietrucha and Garvey at Penn State’s State College campus and learned that a font is sometimes more than just a font. Every angle, curve, shape and stroke on every letter of the Clearview alphabet was engineered, analyzed and tested to maximize readability and reduce the effects of glare.
In this story they explain why a new font was needed for America’s road signs and how Clearview is different from what came before. You may never look at a road sign quite the same way again.